Happy 50th birthday to you, Apple Records
Tomorrow (August 31) marks the 50th anniversary of Apple Records, the artist-friendly label that The Beatles founded when when they returned from their famous mind-expanding trip to India. Back then, the venture was touted as a compassionate alternative to the stranglehold of major labels, with an emphasis on an open-minded, creative atmosphere, rather than one designed to make its bosses bags of money. (They already had bags of money).
By 1970, Rolling Stones manager Allen Klein had been appointed as head honcho at Apple Corps, the umbrella company that ran the label, and it’s true that he significantly curtailed its creative output. When Klein departed in 1973, the label came to focus on reissues of Beatles material and the band members’ solo output, but those first few years were incredibly forward-thinking and fruitful. Let’s look, then, at some of Apple Records’ tastiest albums.
James Taylor, ‘James Taylor’ (1968)
Taylor was the first non-Brit to take a bite of the proverbial apple, and his debut was recorded when The Beatles were making ‘The White Album’. Nevertheless, Paul McCartney lent the folkie a helping hand, playing bass on ‘Carolina In My Mind’, which is also rumoured to feature backing vocals from George Harrison. Of hearing the demos, Macca has said, “I just heard his voice and his guitar and I thought he was great.”
Billy Preston, ‘That’s The Way God Planned It’ (1969)
The Beatles single ‘Get Back’ was originally partially credited to Preston (‘The Beatles with Billy Preston’) – the only track on which the band shared a billing. His solo album combines funk and gospel to create a impressive and soulful record that still sounds pretty fresh today. George Harrison produced the record and John Lennon once suggested Preston should join the band, calling him ‘The fifth Beatle’. George Martin must have been gutted.
Badfinger, ‘Straight Up’, 1971
You know, the band that features at the end of Breaking Bad. The Welsh group were one of Apple’s greatest successes, and were once even tipped to outshine the Fab Four. Readers, that never came to pass, but ‘Straight Up’ was a cracker nonetheless. Perhaps in a bid to live up to their billing, Badfinger toned down their rock sound in a move towards pop – and the single ‘Baby Blue’ was such a success that it came to soundtrack Walter White’s plight all those years later. Badfinger also have the honour of having the last non-Beatle album released on Apple Records: 1974’s dubiously titled ‘Ass’.
David Peel and the Lower East Side, ‘The Pope Smokes Dope’, 1972
Apple was home to some fairly left-field releases, though few veered quite so far to the left as this oddity overseen by John and Yoko, who can be heard chatting away at the beginning of ‘The Ballad of New York City’. It’s sort of anti-folk, recorded many decades before that term came to be widely applied in the mid-noughties, consisting of spit-and-sawdust guitar and chanted anti-establishment lyrics that succeeded in riling up the suits. Peel re-released the album himself in 2005 under his own label, the winkingly titled – ho ho! – Orange Records International.
Mary Hopkin, ‘Postcard’ (1969)
Here’s one of Apple’s most telling releases. While David Peel and cohorts represent John Lennon’s influence, this record has Paul McCartney’s fingerprints all over it; they’re both folk albums, but they’re cut from completely different cloth, as McCartney picked out simple, beloved numbers (such as covers of Donovan) for the Welsh musician. An indication of the breadth of label’s impressive output in those early years.