When The Beatles started their own record label Apple Records in 1968, it represented just how important the group was and how big they had become. Sure, the Moody Blues had Threshold Records, but Apple really set the standard and every artist-startup had that label as their template.
The Beatles themselves announced an open invitation to just about every new artist out there to have Apple subsidize their product.
Between 1968 and 1973, they released a rather staggering array of some amazing artists and albums, most notably Badfinger with “Come And Get It” and Mary Hopkin with her major across-the-board hit “Those Were The Days.”
But those original records were never, ever available on CD … until now.
Last week, the powers-that-let-it-be released the compilation album, Come And Get It: The Best Of Apple Records.
We’ve been listening and remember now more than ever, just how important these early records and artists where. Let’s take a look.
As the liner notes proudly say, “While never run intentionally on a wholly commercial basis, Apple Records was nevertheless a highly successful record label.
“Let it be remembered that around a quarter of its singles charted in the U.K. or the U.S. – that’s a hits-to-releases ratio that few other labels have ever achieved.”
Those Were The Days, Mary Hopkin: According to the liner notes, Hopkin was already making quite the name for herself as a performer in the tough men’s clubs around her home of Pontardawe, near Swansea in Wales.
Mary appeared on the local TV talent show called “Opportunity Knocks” and caught Paul McCartney’s attention. He eventually produced this worldwide hit, which ironically was a Russian folk song dating back to the 1920s. Yes, this was indeed the way to begin a new recording operation. Hopkin is also represented by her follow up hit “Goodbye.”
Carolina In My Mind, James Taylor: Recorded with McCartney on bass, George Harrison on guitar, and produced by Peter Asher (Peter and Gordon), this was quite the beginning for the now five-time Grammy Award winning singer.
Carolina is North Carolina where Taylor was raised. The line in the lyric “The holy host of others standing round me” is a reference to The Beatles. Listening now, it’s amazing how little his voice and style have changed. I saw him this summer on tour with Carole King, and, the presentation of this song, that night, is virtually the same. Sweet baby James indeed!
Maybe Tomorrow/The Iveys : The Iveys, who were part Welsh, came to the attention of Mal Evans, originally The Beatles’ main roadie. He soon became quite the producer and Apple-executive.
This recording came before the group changed its name to Badfinger, which ejoyed much success before internal friction resulting in the deaths of its two most prominent members, Pete Ham and Tom Evans.
This song was just exquisite. The song was a minor hit in the U.S., but got the group ready for its soon to come major-success with Harry Nilsson’s recording of Ham’s “Without You.” Interestingly enough, for true blue record fans, this song was produced by Tony Visconti.
Badfinger is also represented by the track “Come And Get It,” written by McCartney for the 1970 film “The Magic Christian” starring Ringo and Peter Sellers. It was a massive worldwide hit, reaching No. 4 in the U.K. and No. 7 in the US.
Also, Day After Day is included here. It was the group’s third single for the label and was a Top 10 hit in the U.K. and No. 4 on U.S. charts in January of 1972. And, that’s Pete Ham with Harrison doubling up on that delicious slide guitar solo.
Thingumybob, The Black Dyke Mills Band: I recall hearing this track very fleetingly and marveled at just how different it was.
McCartney was commissioned to write the theme song for Thingumybob which was a short-lived Brit-TV comedy drama shown in 1968. Over 30 musicians contributed to the recording, led by the BDMB’s Geoffrey Brand. Indulgent? Certainly!
King Of Fuh, Brute Force: Perhaps the most distinctive song of all in the Apple Records cannon. Brute is Brute Force, former lead singer of The Tokens, who had scored a big hit with “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.”
Brute then got it to John Lennon who loved the lyrical content (as did Harrison), and the overdubbed strings with the London Philharmonic. Apple issued it right away. Fuh, of course, rhymed with Uh, and so the Fuh King sounded a bit rude and crude for 1969.
UK Label EMI (which released the Apple catalog) declined the offer to manufacture it and so the label pressed a few thousand copies privately. Not surprisingly, it garnered no radio play and the single never made it to the shops. Forty years later, it has finally appeared on a full-blown Apple commercial release.
Sour Milk Sea, Jackie Lomax : Lomax is the one Apple star who could have indeed reached a mass audience. Maybe not like The Beatles, but, big. First off he was a songwriter; in fact Apple first signed him to a publishing deal, then with Harrison produced an initial album.
The song has been called “the greatest record The Beatles never made.” Harrison and Eric Clapton on guitars, Ringo on drums and the late-great Nicky Hopkins on keyboards. Terrific song, terrific production. Lomax is also represented by another strong, strong song and production, “New Day,” produced by Lomax and Mal Evans.
That’s The Way God Planned It, Billy Preston: Prior to recording for Apple, Preston had worked and learned from the likes of Little Richard, Sam Cooke and Ray Charles. This track, produced by Harrison is beautiful in every way. It’s easy to see why The Beatles themselves virtually had him join the band during their Let It Be-period.
He is also represented by his cover of Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord,” which George produced. Interestingly, Harrison is quoted that he was a bit reluctant to release a song with the word “Lord” in the title. So, Preston’s actually was released first.
Golden Slumbers-Carry That Weight, Trash: Trash was a powerhouse of five, gig-hardened Glaswegians. Without a songwriter in the band they depended on outside material. Their version of this medley was released in October 1969, a week after the release of Abbey Road. It entered the charts in the U.K., hitting No 35.
Give Peace A Chance, Hot Chocolate Band : When this reggae version of Lennon’s song was recorded, there was no band yet. The version of the song the Apple had released was in fact the demo the collective had written in London’s Tin Pan Alley.
Songwriters Errol Brown and Tony Wilson quickly formed the band, signed a publishing deal and enjoyed much commercial success. The group formed its name when press officer Derek Taylor’s secretary served him some warm cocoa beverage.
Ain’t That Cute, Doris Troy : Harrison met Troy at the recording sessions for Preston and immediately signed her. Harrison and Troy wrote the song, as well as four others. Her unvarnished soul is compelling, even now.
Try Some, Buy Some, Ronnie Spector: Harrison had met Ronnie Spector as Veronica Bennett, who was a member of the influential early 60’s group The Ronettes.
The trio’s producer was Phil Spector, who among other things, went onto becoming Harrison’s producer. Listening to it now, it sounds like it could have come off Harrison’s own All things Must Pass album. Harrison, in fact, did re-record it for his 1973 solo album Living In The Material World. It is a fantastically produced song.
Govinda, Radha Krishna Temple” So many people out listened to Harrison’s preachings and did try in earnest to get into Krishna. This track is just so beautiful, yet so tagged to his ever growing religious fervor it got lost before it got found. Some got it, most didn’t. Listening today, it’s as lovely as it was back in 1970.
We’re On Our Way, Chris Hodge: The story goes that Hodge called Apple and said he had some good songs about UFOs. Ringo heard it, signed it and it came out in the summer of 1972. It became a hit in the U.S. and actually, could well have been a major, major single for Apple.
Ringo was working with T. Rex and immediately appreciated the new generation of pop idols. His music was very clearly not a million light years away from Marc Bolan’s. Listening now, it still sounds great. Terrific instrumentation, and, wait, listen for the sitar!
Saturday Nite Special, The Sundown Playboys: The Sundown Playboys are a Cajun band based in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Band member Pat Savant got Apple to listen to the band by sending a copy of the song to Harrison, which he loved.
God Save Us, Bill Elliot & the Elastic Oz Band: In May 1970, the British magazine OZ held a fundraiser and Lennon and Yoko Ono wrote the song. Interesting to note, how much of Lennon’s later work sounded much like this. He originally sang the lead vocals, by then offered them to Bill Elliot, who later became part of the Harrison-produced group Splinter. Fun.
Sweet Music, Lon & Derrek Van Eaton: Lon was recently profiled in TheImproper, so we don’t need to go through his magical story again. You can read it here. But, suffice to say that their track “Sweet Music” could well have been a Harrison-written track.
I can well imagine their surprise and enthusiasm when they entered Harrison’s home and found all the musicians sitting round playing this. Their full album Brother is a beauty to behold and should be re-released, this time on CD. Lon also revealed that he played the sax-filled solo on the track. Just exquisite.