Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Discs resurface on Apple label

Apple Records promoted James Taylor's debut album
with this billboard advertisement.


Back in the late 1960s, an exciting new record label emerged.

Apple Records carried music by Badfinger, Mary Hopkin and James Taylor, among others.

Founded by the Beatles to release their group and solo recordings, Apple also provided aspiring musicians with an alternative to the staid music industry of the day.

I loved the new label because when fresh acts were signed, John, Paul, George and Ringo often participated in their recordings as songwriters, musicians or producers.

Ever the collector, I snapped up 45 rpm singles and long-playing record albums on the Apple label whenever I could afford them.

Some of the more obscure offerings, however, were hard to find at retail record shops.

Singles by Trash, Hot Chocolate Band and Ronnie Spector didn't turn on radio programmers or inspire the record buying public.

Apple carried an expanded roster until 1973, when it cut back to just records tied directly to the Beatles.

Although the label was revived later, Apple stopped issuing records in 1975 with the release of "Blast From Your Past," a Ringo Starr hits collection.

When it decided to phase out operations, the company still had its inventory of unsold product to unload.

Knowing many fans collected records, especially those related to the Beatles, Apple offered its excess stock for sale to the public.

Rolling Stone magazine carried a full-page advertisement from the company which listed the entire Apple catalog, with the exception of successful Beatles records, at wholesale prices.

Seeing a collecting opportunity, I bought every title I didn't already have.

When my shipment of Apple Records arrived, I was thrilled.

I played the singles first, because they were quick to listen to and often held the best songs.

Many of the records sported attractive picture sleeves depicting the artists in color photographs.

My treasure trove of vinyl included the Black Dyke Mills Band's take on "Thingumybob," McCartney's theme song for a British television show; Jackie Lomax's recording of a Harrison tune called "Sour Milk Sea;" and Bill Elliot and the Elastic Oz Band's rendition of "God Save Us," penned by Lennon and Yoko Ono.

Some of the Apple releases, like "Those Were the Days" by Mary Hopkin and Badfinger's "Day After Day" were gigantic hits, but many singles vanished without any chart activity.

In addition to the acts already mentioned, Apple also released singles in the U. S. by Badfinger (first known as the Iveys), Billy Preston, Radha Krishna Temple, Doris Troy, Ravi Shankar, Lon & Derrek Van Eaton, Chris Hodge and the Sundown Playboys.

Besides 45s, my box also held a stack of Apple record albums, including James Taylor's debut.

The label's first non-Beatles project, Taylor's album featured eleven original tunes and one traditional song, "Circle Round the Sun."

Paul McCartney played bass on "Carolina in My Mind" and George Harrison borrowed the opening words from "Something In The Way She Moves" for his own "Something," recorded by the Beatles in 1969.

Peter Asher, of Peter & Gordon fame, produced the singer/songwriter's record album.

Apple distributed a variety of discs in addition to Taylor's. Other artists meriting LPs were Modern Jazz Quartet, Mary Hopkin, Jackie Lomax, Badfinger, Billy Preston, John Tavener, Doris Troy, David Peel, Elephants Memory and Lon & Derrek Van Eaton.

After I examined my newly-purchased records, I was sure they would escalate in value. I guessed not many collectors would invest in out-of-print Apple recordings from acts quickly fading from memory.

When the compact disc era arrived, few Apple recordings, other than those by the Beatles themselves, escaped on the new format. Those which did see the light of day were quickly deleted.

Now, that is about to change.

Apple Records, brought back to life for the release of the Beatles Anthology series in the mid 1990s, has been busy mining the company's vaults.

The first fruit of that labor will be "Come and Get It: The Best of Apple Records," due to be released on Oct. 25.

Packed with music, the disc will contain 21 singles from 16 Apple artists. Some tracks were hits, while others have been rescued from obscurity.

The set will include three songs from Badfinger, including "Come and Get It," "Maybe Tomorrow" and "Day After Day," a No. 4 record from 1972. Mary Hopkin will be represented by "Goodbye" and "Those Were the Days," a No. 2 smash from 1969.

Mary Hopkin

Billy Preston's "That's the Way God Planned It" and "My Sweet Lord" are also included. Preston's take on "My Sweet Lord" was recorded two months before Harrison taped his No. 1 version of the song.

The Apple collection also includes "Give Peace a Chance" by Hot Chocolate Band and "Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight" by Trash, songs already familiar to Beatles fans.

If those selections don't appeal to you, consider singles by Brute Force, Jackie Lomax, Doris Troy, Ronnie Spector, Chris Hodge, the Sundown Playboys and Lon & Derrek Van Eaton.

Some of Apple's non-hit singles turned into cult classics, the company says.

In addition, 16 original Apple albums will be released, each will bonus material, according to a press release from Apple Corps Ltd. and EMI Music.

"Each of the albums has been digitally remastered at EMI's Abbey Road Studios in London by the same dedicated team of engineers behind the Beatles' recent remastered catalog releases of 2009," according to a statement.

The cache of albums will comprise James Taylor, Doris Troy, Badfinger, Mary Hopkin, Billy Preston, Jackie Lomax, Modern Jazz Quartet and classical musician and composer John Tavener.

A late addition to the reissue campaign is "Radha Krishna Temple" by the International Society of Krishna Consciousness, produced by Harrison. "Govinda" and "Hare Krishna Mantra" were both surprise hits in the United Kingdom. Harrison played lead guitar on "Govinda" and harmonium, lead and bass guitar on the chanting number.

Apple surprised many in the industry by announcing that the albums would also be available for digital download.

For unexplained reasons, the reissue program does not include several soundtracks and full-length albums recorded by David Peel, Elephant's Memory, Lon & Derrek Van Eaton and Ravi Shankar.

Now, if you were wondering why Apple let decades pass before getting this stuff into the marketplace, I don't know.

I'm just glad the wait is almost over.

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