Fifty years ago, Apple Records released “Our First Four,” led by The Beatles’ “Hey Jude”/“Revolution” single. Bill King recounts how he’s followed the Fabs’ record label ever since. …
My fascination with Apple Records began in the summer of 1968, when I was watching “It’s Happening,” a Dick Clark-produced weekday rock ’n’ roll variety show hosted by Mark Lindsay and Paul Revere of the Raiders. It was a spinoff of the “Happening ’68” program seen Saturdays on ABC after “American Bandstand,” and must see viewing for teenage music fans in that era.
A news segment on the show included a report on a young Welsh woman for whom Paul McCartney was producing a single. (Being half Welsh, I paid particular attention.)
I had heard of The Beatles’ London boutique called Apple, which had closed down recently with a massive giveaway, but I think that TV report was when I first became aware that the Fabs were launching their own record label.
That young woman was Mary Hopkin, and I remember the first time I heard her “Those Were the Days” single that Paul produced — late one night in the car when my Dad and I had the radio tuned to WOWO in Fort Wayne, one of those clear-channel stations that could be heard over much of the country.
I also distinctly remember going to a local discount department store to buy 45s of “Hey Jude” and “Those Were the Days.” I thought the green apple logo on the discs was very clever, especially the sliced apple on the flip side! (I noticed the store had Jackie Lomax’s “Sour Milk Sea” single, also on the Apple label, but I didn’t buy it at that time because I hadn’t yet heard it.)
My next non-Beatles Apple single was Badfinger’s “Come and Get It,” which I knew had been written and produced by Paul for Ringo’s new movie, “The Magic Christian.”
I was laying in bed with the flu when it came on the radio, and, from that point on, I was a forever-fan of Apple’s second-greatest band.
Sometime in the fall of 1970, I came across a list of all the Apple Records releases to that point (I think in a Badfinger songbook I picked up), and I decided I’d try to collect as many of them as I could. After all, it was The Beatles’ label, and they were involved in so many of the recordings. Plus, how often do you get the chance to collect an entire record label’s output?
Eventually, my friend Keith Parnell, a fellow Beatles fan who worked at a local record shop in my hometown of Athens, GA, became my Apple connection for new releases. No matter how obscure it was (even the Sundown Playboys disc!), Keith would order at least two copies — one for me and one for him.
I also managed to pick up some of the past Apple releases I’d missed, thanks to another local shop, Ort’s Oldies. The owner, a town character with an encyclopedic knowledge of singles and albums, periodically would go to Atlanta to the EMI distribution office and pick up any Apple releases they had on their shelves for me.
Meanwhile, I devoured any book that dealt with The Beatles’ Apple Corps era (a particular favorite being Richard DiLello’s “The Longest Cocktail Party”).
Probably because of its Beatle owners, but also because of its eclectic releases — ranging from rock to r&b/gospel to jazz to modern classical — Apple Records developed a certain prestige within the music industry. Being signed to The Beatles’ label was a big deal.
I was struck by that fact one time when a disc jockey friend and I first heard Chris Hodge’s sci-fi tune “We’re On Our Way,” a modest radio hit for Apple late in its first era. My friend wrinkled his nose and said, “I expect better from Apple.”
The Beatles’ label maintained a very cool image. I’ll never forget when Keith and I were flipping through an issue of Billboard magazine at The Music Shop and came across a full page ad consisting of a very large black & white photo of an eyeball, with a small green Apple Records logo right in the center of it. That’s it. They didn’t need to spell out the visual pun; everyone immediately got it.
Keith and I even came up with our own Apple Records compilation, spending one Sunday afternoon at his house putting together a “best of” collection of the label’s singles, using a recorder he had that allowed you to make your own 8-track tape cartridges. (This was before cassette tapes had become the preferred format for mixtapes.)
After Apple wound down as a full-fledged label, becoming essentially the custom imprint for solo Beatle recordings, I continued to collect anything to do with it.
I filled in most of the remaining gaps in my collection in 1976, after Apple had gone dormant, and Capitol Records, which distributed the label in the U.S., cut out its Apple inventory. A dealer placed a large ad in Rolling Stone magazine listing most of the Apple releases; I ordered everything I didn’t already have.
I indulged my Apple obsession in other ways, too. On visits to London, I not only made the traditional fan pilgrimage to No. 3 Savile Row, but searched out the more obscure sites where Apple offices had been located.
And, once my wife Leslie and I had started Beatlefan, I wrote and published numerous articles about The Beatles’ label (the latest of which are in Beatlefan #233).
That first year of the magazine included our running a multi-part interview I did with Joey Molland and Tommy Evans of Badfinger. They complained that Apple was loaded down with too many of The Beatles’ old pals, and I still recall Leslie’s amusement, when she was transcribing the interview, with Evans complaining of the “outright fookin’ corruption” at Apple.
On another occasion a few years later, my friend John Sosebee and I got to chat with Joey and Badfinger drummer Mike Gibbins, and hang out backstage with them before an Atlanta show. At that time, they still were awaiting a release of their Apple royalties, hung up by The Beatles’ seemingly interminable business disputes. (Eventually, they got their money.)
I also was fortunate enough, over the years, to talk several times with Apple’s legendary press officer, Derek Taylor — the first time being a delightful lunchtime chat in a lounge off the lobby at Liverpool’s Adelphi Hotel, where we both were attending a Beatles convention. Asked what went wrong at Apple, Derek memorably replied: “We actually believed we could do what we promised. We believed we could save the world and we were wrong — due to mad enthusiasm, overconfidence and what we were taking.”
Needless to say, once Apple started cranking out reissues in the 1990s, I was an enthusiastic buyer, snapping up both CD and vinyl releases.
Sure, the original driving force in my Applemania was the Beatles connection, but I found that I thoroughly enjoyed much of what the quirky British label put out (with a couple of notable exceptions — the not very subtle novelty record “King of Fuh,” and David Peel’s mindless hippie anthems, a product of John & Yoko’s radical chic period).
So, I’m an Apple lifer. If I didn’t know it already, I knew it for sure back in 1988, when Apple finally issued an official VHS release of The Beatles’ “Magical Mystery Tour” film. When that green Granny Smith logo came on the screen at the beginning, a slight shiver went down my spine. It felt like the return of an old friend.
Apple of my eye, indeed!
— Bill King