ALL IMAGES/PHOTOS: Getty Images
Fifty Years of Apple Records
WE celebrated Trojan Records…
turning fifty last year and, in addition to hearing a lot of the label’s music being played, it was amazing to discover a label that had lasted that long! We look at labels and so many of them come and go; the ones that have lasted lose their power. This year sees The Beatles’ eponymous album turn fifty - a great time to celebrate the label they founded, Apple Records. I am going to publish a piece about Sir Paul McCartney this weekend and look at a genius whose magic and incredible music continues to delight the world. Although not every release from Apple Records was by The Beatles – solo work by George Harrison and Billy Preston is hugely notable – the boys’ 1968 (and after) work was the biggest draw. This TIDAL article looks at the record label and how it came to be; what it stood for an how it progressed:
“In 1967, following the death of manager Brian Epstein, the Beatles founded Apple Corps as an umbrella company for all of their creative endeavors, with sub-divisions that included Apple Retail, Apple Publishing and Apple Electronics. A year later, as the Beatles returned from their famous trip to India, the band founded Apple Records in London in 1968.
With a forward-thinking, artist-oriented philosophy, the label was designed to foster talent in a creative, nurturing environment, and provide an alternative to the traditional record companies that had dominated the British music industry since before World War II.
“…While never run on a wholly commercial basis, Apple Records was nevertheless a functioning and successful record label in its early years. Between 1968 and 1973, Apple issued around 50 singles and over a dozen albums by artists who weren’t known on a first name basis as John, Paul, George or Ringo.
It’s an electric, eclectic collection, spanning musical genres and drawing upon influences from around the world.
Especially in the beginning, most of the label’s signee’s were acts the Beatles personally discovered or supported, and in most cases one or more of the Beatles would be involved in the recording sessions. Artists including James Taylor, Mary Hopkin, Billy Preston, the Modern Jazz Quartet, the Iveys (later known as Badfinger), Doris Troy and Jackie Lomax were all signed to Apple within the first year”.
I find a lot of inspiration and guidance thinking about what The Beatles wanted to do with Apple Records. They wanted to create a safer space where artists could release the music they wanted; there was no leaning and pressure from big labels and it was especially beneficial for The Beatles. I find, fifty years after the record label started life; how many artists have been inspired. Big musicians around the world, Kate Bush included, have set up their own labels and have decided to do things their own way. There are a lot of big artists who, one feels, are being guided and controlled by the labels who represent them.
I am not suggesting there should be a huge mutiny but it would be good to see more mainstream artists setting up their own labels and breaking away from the big boys. I know artists who have their own label but not recruiting or attracting that many artists – maybe I need to have a closer look. James Murphy (LCD Soundsystem) and Jack White (Third Man Records) have their own brand; Jay-Z has Roc Nation, Chvrches have Goodbye Records. It is great to see artists show some autonomy or, at the very least, provide a unique and reliable space for artists. These musicians provide options for musicians who either cannot get signed by big labels or want some freedom in their work. The Beatles’ last big record before 1968, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, was released through Parlophone in the U.K. The Beatles was the first album released through Apple and, although the band were cracking and straining, I wonder whether Parlophone would have released a double-disc/four-vinyl album that was so scattershot and eclectic. Each band member was on a different page; songs were recorded in different studios and there were few tracks (of the thirty) that contained every band member. The unhappiness in the ranks did not translate into poor material: The Beatles is seen as one of their finest and a hugely ambitious work.
IN THIS PHOTO: The Beatles in 1968
After 1970; The Rolling Stones’ manager Allen Klein took over control of Apple Corps and a lot of the label’s talent was dropped. When The Beatles broke up that same year; most of the recordings were from solo Beatles members – fresh signings were uncommon. It was a slightly uneasy three-year period that saw, in 1973, a return to Beatles work on Apple Records. The brand is gone now but, since its inception, it was responsible for releasing some fantastic records and inspiring other artists to set their own labels up. The article I have already quoted listed a few notable records under the Apple Records banner. James Taylor’s eponymous album (1968) is one of their finest releases:
“James Taylor’s self titled debut was the first recording by a non-British artist released on Apple Records. It was produced by Apple A&R head Peter Asher during the time Beatles were recording The White Album. After being shown the demos by Asher, Paul McCartney recalled, “I just heard his voice and his guitar and I thought he was great … and he came and played live, so it was just like, ‘Wow, he’s great.”.
Doris Troy and Badfinger proudly put their work in Apple Records’ hands – I wonder how far the label could have gone if it was controlled by one of the Beatles boys or branched out. That lone and proud apple did a lot of great work but, as we mark its fiftieth anniversary; I ask whether we will see anything like it. Look around the biggest bands of our time and could you ever see them establishing their own label and giving other artists a chance to join them?! It seems unlikely we will ever see the like again but, as I mentioned, the fact we see other big musicians with their own label, in many ways, came from The Beatles. We look at that iconic apple symbol and it is synonymous with quality and reputation. This is a great article that gives a full and frank history of Apple Records – in addition to highlighting several albums released through Apple and what made them so special. It seems, during the label’s brief regency, there were many highs and lows:
“Controversy also dogged the Scottish band White Trash, who issued two singles on Apple. While political correctness could be happily dispensed with if within the realm of TV satire, when it came to rock music, even a suggestion of reverse racism was stamped out by the cultural custodians of the day. Hence the truncated name, Trash, for the band’s second Apple 45, a storming cover of their paymasters’ ‘Golden Slumbers’/’Carry That Weight’.
The late Errol Brown, the much-loved voice of Seventies disco kings Hot Chocolate, was first heard on record thanks to Apple. In 1969, the group gave John Lennon’s ‘Give Peace A Chance’ a reggae make-over, and when they sent their recording to Apple for approval, Lennon loved it and instructed the label to release it forthwith. Intriguingly, the record goes beyond a note-for-note rendition of John’s Plastic Ono Band anthem — check out the changes in the lyrics for a true Apple original.
“…Bill Elliot & the Elastic Oz Band’s ‘God Save Us’ is a Plastic Ono Band single in all but name. The song was John Lennon’s fundraiser for the underground magazine Oz. In 1971, the editors stood in the dock, charged with that old chestnut, obscenity. Among the crimes committed in their ‘Schoolkids’ issue of May 1970 was a pornographic cartoon featuring a sexually aroused version of ‘Rupert the Bear’, whose ursine unimpeachability had been scurrilously corrupted into a Robert Crumb character from the waist down, in flagrante delicto with all his naughty parts clearly displayed. The editors ended up in prison, briefly, but their convictions were overturned upon appeal”.
It is clear there were some great releases and an impressive ethos behind Apple Records. There was speculation from the press that Apple Records was The Beatles’ way of tax-dodging and having to pay less money. That, as this piece explains, was refuted by Paul McCartney and John Lennon:
“From the beginning, The Beatles' members used Apple to put out records by other artists they liked, as Lennon and Paul McCartney explained in a 1968 television interview.
"We hope to make a thing that's free, where people can come and do and record," Lennon said.
"It'll be big, I think," McCartney added. "It's like a top. We're gonna set it going and hope for the best."
Apple put out three other singles on the same day it released "Hey Jude," including "Those Were the Days" by Welsh singer Mary Hopkin. That song also topped the charts”.
Most artist-established labels pre-Apple Records were vanity projects: they held little substance, business acumen or long-term ambitions. The Beatles, John Lennon especially, wanted it to be a bigger beast that could inspire the world. From music to film and T.V.; it was this huge idea that was much more than the world’s biggest band adding to their bank balance. Many can look at the subsequent Apple computers and the iPod as a realisation of what The Beatles were trying to achieve. Although today’s Apple is not run by any of the surviving Beatles or has their D.N.A. in its marrow; you can look at the unity of music and film as, in a way, stemming from that initial idea. People assume Apple Records was one of these dreamy and idealistic ideas that held little weight. The fact albums like The Beatles and Abbey Road was released through the label is big enough; other artists were releasing through them and, if things had worked out differently, I think the label could still be going today. We remember Apple Records and not only the material tied to The Beatles - everyone from Ravi Shankar and Ronnie Spector released music through the label. It was a busy, eclectic and ambitious label that made a big impact in its short life. Fifty years after its inception; we remember its heart, soul and huge mindset. That need to go outside a traditional label and, in many ways, create a special and safe community. Many of us associate Apple Records with different things but, for me, there are few things as powerful and iconic as…
THAT incredible logo!