The tales of things being brazenly stolen are often hilarious, and really not too far from the scene in the Rutles film, where George Harrison plays an interviewer talking to Eric Idle as people walk out with floor lamps and rolled up carpets and the like.
Not specifically released together, it seems entirely appropriate to treat these two as two parts of a whole, or two slices of an Apple, if you prefer, because they are entirely complementary. Those Were The Days 2.0 , published by Cherry Red Books, is an updated edition of a book by author Stefan Granados, previously published in 2002, telling the story of the rise, fall, and partial rise again of that most idiosyncratic of record labels, Apple – while Good As Gold is a five-disc compilation of material released on the label between 1967 and 1975. The CD set can effectively be your soundtrack as you read the book, which is a neat dovetailing release. Let’s start with the book first, however – as that is what I did, it being published prior to the CD release.
Now, straight away I have to confess that I approached this volume with no small amount of trepidation. I’ve read quite a number of books about The Beatles, as I’m sure have many others, and not only did I wonder how this could tell me anything much new, I was concerned even more about the prospect of a 350-page tome which purported to be the story of a business venture. After all, business is business, and sales figures and profit-and-loss for a record company are not all that much different to those of a power-tool manufacturer, when it comes down to numbers. With a lot of text crammed on to each page, it bore all the hallmarks of a potentially dry read, and a real battle to get through. Fortunately, I needn’t have worried on that score, as right from the first chapter (the Beatles and their business affairs pre-Apple) it became clear that the book was written in an easy-going style which somehow made even the business dealings seem like quite the fascinating cut-and-thrust affairs. It’s a bit like playing a game like Sim City or Theme Park or something – you know full well that there is a bone-dry business model simulator under the hood, but it’s just made into such an engaging experience that you don’t care. The cast of characters here are vibrant, and the sometimes appallingly naive business decisions fascinating to observe, like a slow motion car crash.
The formation of Apple itself is gone into in minute detail, and what a story it is; the idealism and counter-culture mindset of both the Beatles and the times themselves making some of the early parts of the organisation (much more than a record company in those early days) quite incredible. There was Apple Electronics for example, presided over by an eccentric called Magic Alex, whose contribution was to keep inventing things which were entirely useless – and yet this division ended up worth a fortune when the company name was held onto in visionary fashion, ready for the entry over a decade later into the arena of … yep, Apple Computers! Man, did they have problems doing things that Apple Electronics already had theoretically ringfenced. The small matter of Apple Computers agreeing early in their existence never to produce an electronic device capable of playing music would be a decision which didn’t so much come back to bite them as attack them like the shark in Jaws.That was one business success among a litany of failures, however, with the Apple Boutique lasting only a few months due to high cost, niche clothes design and rampant shoplifting. The tales of things being brazenly stolen are often hilarious, and really not too far from the scene in the Rutles film, where George Harrison plays an interviewer talking to Eric Idle as people walk out with floor lamps and rolled up carpets and the like. Particularly hilarious is the account of young office boys going up onto the roof and stripping the lead during the day while people were working, including an example of one of these enterprising youths dragging the lead through the office in a sack, entirely unmolested! So much of this tale is like that, filed very much under ‘stranger than fiction’.
Of course, all of that changed when Allen Klein came on board, mainly supported by John Lennon as a blatant ploy to stop McCartney getting his new in-laws, the Eastmans, in charge. The sheer butterfly effect of the pair’s squabbling has never been so apparent as within these pages, as they often behave like overgrown schoolboys, McCartney getting his own back on Klein by arranging a meeting at Hyde Park Corner, not turning up, and leaving a drenched Klein standing in a biblical rainstorm. The effect of Klein on the business is starkly told, with things being tightened up, but often at the expense of loyal staff and with cost-cutting levelled at the wrong areas, as the Beatles’ own expenses were left to their own excessive devices. Indeed, the firing of staff and the working practices levelled on those remaining under Klein are in astonishing contrast to the early ‘hippie collective’.
The story continues on after the original dissolution of Apple (other than as a Beatles record imprint) in the mid-’70s, until its resurrection in the ’90s for the Anthology series and an altered presence in the market which continues to this day. Along the way of course we meet many of the good, the bad and the downright weird who were signed to Apple Records, from the very early signings who scarcely recorded anything before being dropped, through successes like Mary Hopkin and Badfinger, to highly touted failures such as Jackie Lomax. There are so many you won’t remember or believe. Such as the unsurprisingly-banned King Of Fuh by a guy billed as Brute Force (yes, the chorus really did celebrate ‘the Fuh King’…) through to Paul McCartney’s bizarre decision for one of the first single releases to be Yorkshire brass band The Black Dyke Mills Band performing one of his compositions called Thingummybob, backed with a version of Yellow Submarine. Yes, it did come out, right next to Hey Jude in the catalogue!
All of these weird and wonderful recordings are collected together on the Good As Gold compilation, spread extensively over five discs, released on the Cherry Red Records ‘Grapefruit’ subsidiary label. No Beatles stuff, but you don’t need that. What you do need as you read through the book is just what long-forgotten bands such as Focal Point, Mortimer, The Cyrkle and White Trash actually sounded like. The only frustrating omission I found was that of the excellent Jackie Lomax single Sour Milk Sea / The Eagle Laughs At You (once nominated by Lemmy no less, as his favourite ever single), neither side of which appears here. You can’t have everything even on five discs however, and with this set, you not only get a range of music which is, while occasionally hilariously terrible, often of a very high quality, but also you get to fill in those audio questions your mind starts asking you as you read. It’s like having the book in 3D in a sense, and I cannot stress enough the benefit of having both of these items. The book puts the recordings into context far beyond what even the most comprehensive booklet might do, while the recordings bring the pages of the book to life. It’s a real slice of living history, and absolutely essential for Beatles fans of course, but for anyone with an interest in that glorious late-’60s and beyond period in popular culture. There are real downs as well as ups – the suicide of Pete Ham from Badfinger in the early ’70s gives a tangible sense of the seismic shock it was, and the deaths of several of the characters later on who you have really come to know well through the pages are oddly affecting.
From one which I approached nervously, I can honestly say that this book is one of the most interesting Beatles-related works I have read, if not the best – and as a record of the Apple organisation itself it surpasses anything else I have seen. It’s an important work often told through the eyes of those who were there, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Together with the Good As Gold CD set as well, it is everything the discerning Beatle fan could want this year. As one of those early Apple singles by Badfinger had it, Come And Get It…