[22 November 2010]
The formation of the Beatles’ Apple Records in 1968 was one of those strange events that occurred during the ‘60s which showed the internal contradictions of the times. Apple began as a tax haven organized as a non-money-making collective dedicated to promoting unknown artists. However, the very presence of the members of the Beatles on the various projects, back when the group was at the height of its popularity, guaranteed the music would receive positive attention by their fans. Money flowed within and without the corporation, despite its noncommercial intentions.
Books have been written about Apple’s mismanagement, internal squabbles, and strange goings on. What’s usually been missing is a discussion of the music that poured out during its first five years operation, when more than 50 singles were released, many of them international hits. 15 of the original albums are being remastered and re-released by artists such as James Taylor, Mary Hopkins, Billy Preston, and Badfinger. In addition, we have Come and Get It, a collection subtitled The Best of Apple Records that contains 21 tracks mixing the well-known with the obscure. Whether these are the best 21 tracks is a matter of debate. Actually, this would not be much of a debate, as the answer is clearly “No.” There are esoteric novelties here, such as the Hot Chocolate Band’s reggae version of Plastic Ono Band‘s “Give Peace a Chance”, with different, childish lyrics, and Trash’s organ-heavy re-creation of “Golden Slumbers—Carry That Weight” from the Beatles’ Abbey Road, that do not need to be reheard.
Both of these tracks are inferior to the originals and seem to detract luster from them, as these cuts were made with the Beatles’ approval. In contrast, Billy Preston’s gospel-inflected cover of George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” adds value to the reputation of the first one, and perhaps if Harrison had done the song this way he would not have been liable to a plagiarism law suit. Ronnie Spector’s version of Harrison’s “Try Some, Buy Some” falls somewhere in the middle between better and worse than the more well-known versions of Beatles songs, but was released before Harrison’s (who used the same backing tracks).
Apple’s real treasures were those songs that may have had some Beatle finger-prints (in production and such), but did not owe as big a debt to the Fab Four. McCartney’s production of Mary Hopkins’s two tunes here (“Those Were the Days“ and “Goodbye“—which he also wrote and played percussion on), as well as the Badfinger tracks (McCartney wrote and produced “Come and Get It”, while Harrison produced and played on “Day After Day”), are shining examples of happy pop. All four of these tracks hold up well as hook-filled, polished music that would please listeners of all ages. Jackie Lomax’s rendition of “Sour Milk Sea”, a Harrison track left off the White Album, features Eric Clapton on lead guitar and McCartney and Starr accompanying on rhythm instruments, and is a bluesy aural pleasure as well. The same could be said of Billy Preston’s singing sermon “That’s the Way God Planned It”, which featured the incredible superstar line up of Preston on keyboards, Harrison on guitar, Keith Richards on bass, Ginger Baker on drums, and Eric Clapton on lead guitar.
Of course, it’s the more esoteric material that’s the draw here. Brute Force’s ode to beauty, “King of Foh”, is a heartfelt masterpiece that barely saw the light of day due to the censorship by the record’s distributor (the way the words “Foh King” sounded together was deemed obscene). Radha Krishna Temple’s “Govinda”, a Sanskrit hymn to Krishna, sounds as beautiful as any piece of any faith’s modern liturgy. American R&B singer Doris Troy’s “Ain’t That Cute” skillfully captures the reason why she was known as “Mama Soul”, as her voice is in fine form on the horn laden track.
The other tracks have their charms, although it’s doubtful that New Jersey natives Lon & Derek van Eaton’s “Sweet Music” would ever be a hit anywhere at anytime, or the Cajun French “Saturday Nite Special” by the Sundown Playboys would ever cross over and be successful. That does not mean these cuts lack value, only that one wonders about the business acumen of the person responsible for launching them as singles. Nevertheless, the reason this compilation is released, as well as the other 15 Apple albums, is to make money. Apple Records is under the auspices of EMI Music, a major label record company known to be in financial difficulties. There is something ironic about the fact that a record company originally started to deal with a surfeit of cash now functions to help save one that needs money, but perhaps that’s more emblematic of the music business in 2010 as compared to1968 than any particular lesson.
In any case, now is as good a time to take a bite of the Apple as any other. The music may not always be sweet, but hey, its emblem is the sour Granny Smith, not a Red Delicious or some heirloom variety. This music is too flavorful to pass up.