THIS JOURNAL DOCUMENTS MY INTAKE OF ONE BOOK, ZINE, CD OR DVD A DAY. RATINGS ARE: ***** = Godhead, **** = Great, *** = Good, ** = Fair, * = Why Bother?

Sunday, October 23, 2016

An Apple a Day (Various) ***

An Apple a Day: More Pop-Psych Sounds from the Apple Era 1967-1969 (RPM Records, 2008)

My wife Amy spotted this compilation in the used CD racks of Record Exchange in Frederick for a mere $5 (she has a real gift for thrift!).

Outside the Record Exchange in Frederick, MD

This was RPM Records' second release of material (demos, singles, and unreleased songs) by artists signed by "Apple Publishing" (not necessarily by Apple Records). Not every artist represented in the series attracted the Beatles' interest, though a select few - The Iveys (later to become Badfinger and have Paul McCartney write their first hit "Come and Get It"), Focal Point (fellow Liverpudlians Paul Tennant and David Rhodes were discovered in Hyde Park by McCartney and became the first group signed to Apple Records), and Grapefruit (the second band signed to Apple, with John Lennon producing their debut) - could claim legit Fab connections. The first was 94 Baker Street: The Pop-Psych Sounds of the Apple Era 1967-1968 (2003), named after Apple's original street address; it's now out-of-print and goes for outrageous sums ($50+ !) on Amazon. RPM's "Pop-Psych Sounds from the Apple Era" series continued with 2008's Treacle Toffee World and 2010's Lovers from the Sky. And just this year, RPM released Grapefruit's Yesterday's Sunshine: The Complete 1967-1968 London Sessions.

94 Baker Street: The Pop-Psych Sounds of the Apple Era 1967-1969

Just to clear things up right away, "Pop-Psych Sounds" is pure marketing: the songs here are purely "pop" with only the occasional lyrics or song title (e.g., Gallagher & Lyle's "Technicolour Dream," The U (Don't) Know U's "Strange People," Mortimer's "People Who Are Different" - produced by then Apple A&R man Peter Asher, Goldrush's "Somebody's Turning On the People") even remotely suggesting "psych"-edelic music, though the wild, distorted guitar solo in The Cups' "Good As Gold" probably comes closest. And Denis Couldry's wonderfully brassy "James in the Basement" (about a notorious local drug dealer) also suggests chemically influenced pop - albeit using horns! Couldry's basement dwelling ditty (the B-side of his "I Am Nearly There" single) sounds like the Bonzo Dog Band if they had been less artschool weird and more mainstream pop. The backing band on this track is actually Second Hand (Ken Elliott, Kieran O'Connor, Bob Gibbons, Grant Ramsey), considered one of the first (and most underrated) progressive rock bands of this era. (They even played a Mellotron!) Second Hand's "Fairytale" also appears on this compilation.

Listen to "James in the Basement."

But be that as it may, the main selling point here (for two admitted Beatles fanatics) was curiosity about the Apple-related artists represented, with four demo recordings by the pre-Badfinger Iveys the deal-maker. Of the four, the standout track is clearly Pete Ham's "Black and White Rainbow," a swinging affair that showcases the melodic craft and vocal harmonies that would later make Badfinger a critical success and elicit all those Beatles comparisons.

Listen to The Iveys play "Black and White Rainbow."

Ironically, Ham's "Girl in a Mini Skirt" is an out-of-tune mess of a song, with embarrassing lyrics and a musical  structure that can't make up its mind what it wants to be - pop, Northern Soul, Mod, what have you. There's a reason why this one remained a demo. It's the kind of dumb song I might have written in my punk days. (Yes, that bad!).

The Iveys - "Maybe Tomorrow" (Apple, 1969)

But Tom Evans's "Tomorrow Today" is a lovely ballad that features pretty boy Tom's lilting vocals and anticipates his future Iveys/Badfinger power ballad "Maybe Tomorrow," which appeared on both the Iveys's Maybe Tomorrow and Badfinger's Magic Christian Music. (It was allegedly Tommy's voice and tunes that initially turned the Beatles' heads and led to Apple signing the Swansea quartet.)

Iveys bass player Ron Griffiths - who would be replaced by Liverpool guitarist Joey Molland, with Evans taking over bass duties, when the band became Badfinger - is represented here by "Mr Strangeways," which is quite the humorous Mod-Art curio. Its R&B beat and goofball lyrics make it like it would not be out of place on an early Who album, like The Who Sell Out.

A newly discovered Iveys track is always a reason to purchase a record, and four in one package is a no-brainer. The only other thing I ever had by them other than their debut long-player was their "Maybe Tomorrow" single, which had the amusing B-side "And Her Daddy's a Millionaire." The later is now available (with three additional bonus tracks) on the 1992 CD reissue of the Maybe Tomorrow album.

Iveys "Maybe Tomorrow" b/w "And Her Daddy's a Millionaire" (Apple, 1969)

OK, as for the rest of the songs...

The album kicks off with the perfect Apple Records house song, The U (Don't) Know U's "An Apple a Day," an engaging slice of chamber pop that, alas, did not get the band signed to Apple Records!

Jigsaw's "Great Idea" (B-side of their "Mr Job" single) is also a tasty pop confection, its plonking piano riffs sounding like a variation of "Penny Lane."

Listen to Jigsaw's "Great Idea."

Gallagher & Lyle follow with the first of three songs on the compilation, the pretty folk ballad "Ivy Unreheased." "Technicolour Dream" and "In Your Wonderful Way" are also pleasant, with Crosby, Stills & Nash soft-rock harmonies, though "Wonderful Way" is a little on the wimp-rock side. At their best, L&G conjure the soulful ballad-rock of The Walker Brothers. The duo of Graham Lyle and Benny Gallagher also wrote songs for Mary "Those Were the Days" Hopkins. Another band on this compilation, The Cups, was actually Lyle and Gallagher recording with John's Children's bassist John Hewlett, who was an Apple Publishing employee.

Listen to The Cups play their 1969 single "Good As Gold".

Portsmouth pop band Lace are represented here by the would-be epic downer "Soldier," which stands out only because its singer sounds like a gloomy Davy Jones (the Monkees tambourine-shaker, not the future David Bowie Jones!).

The Goldrush song "Somebody's Turning On the People" is one of two songs on this compilation written by George Alexander, leader and vocalist of Grapefruit and one of Apple Publishing's most prolific songwriters with over 50 compositions (many of which his own band hadn't even heard of!). "Goldrush" were a studio project of American producer Terry Melcher, and the backing musicians may well be Grapefruit. Grapefruit actually recorded a version of "Somebody's Turning On the People," but it was never released (until RPM's 2016 Grapefruit release Yesterday's Sunshine: The Complete 1967-1968 London Sessions.) According to Grapefruit's Geoff Swettenham, lead vocals may be by American actor Christopher Jones and the song may even have turned up on the soundtrack of the 1968 movie Wild in the Streets. Interesting, that.

"Wild in the Streets" (1968)

The other Alexander tune is "Charlotte Rose," credited here to Majority One. (For more about this group, check out RPM's Rainbow Rocking Chair: The Definitive Majority One Collection, RPM 307).

Turquoise: Rhythm & Greenish-Blues

I had never heard of Turquoise, but I'm glad I've finally discovered them. "Sister Saxophone" (curiously lacking a saxophone!) is a solid pop romp recorded in the summer of 1968 but never released until its appearance on An Apple a Day, while "Woodstock" may be the compilation's stand-out track. While it dates from the Apple Publishing days, the single actually came out on the Decca label in 1968. At once sounding like a Ray Davies-penned Kinks classic  from their late "Golden Era (circa The Village Green Preservation Society, I'd say), it features an off-note-perfect vocal parody of Bob Dylan over a rock-steady melody. Sadly, the group released only two singles and disbanded after 1969, though a compilation oftheir recordings was put out by Rev-ola Records.

Listen to Turquoise play "Woodstock."

Jeff Peters and Ewan Stephens were the main songwriting team behind Turquoise, who had three songs picked up by Apple Publishing's Python Music subsidiary.

The album closes out with yet another Kinks-y tune (circa Muswell Hillbillies), Peter Cooper's "Evil Loving Woman." Not bad, not bad at all.

"Those Were the Days by Stefan Granados

To explore more of the core of Apple Publishing and these bands and recordings, see Stefan Granados's "Those Were the Days: The Unauthorized History of the Beatles Apple Organization" (Cherry Red Publishing, www.cherryred.co.uk).

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