Strange Fruit: The Beatles' Apple Records

Strange Fruit: The Beatles' Apple Records

5.0 1

Cast: Tony Bramwell, Badfinger, The Iveys, Elephant's Memory

This documentary traces the history of Apple, not the influential computer company, but the record label founded by The Beatles after the death of their manager Brian Epstein. Not only would Apple function as the group's own label, but they set about signing new talent to record for the new venture. The filmmakers sit down with artists who were signed to Apple


This documentary traces the history of Apple, not the influential computer company, but the record label founded by The Beatles after the death of their manager Brian Epstein. Not only would Apple function as the group's own label, but they set about signing new talent to record for the new venture. The filmmakers sit down with artists who were signed to Apple including members of Badfinger, as well as with rock historians who provide context for this unique chapter in rock and Beatle history.

Editorial Reviews

All Movie Guide - Bruce Eder
This documentary from Chrome Dreams appeared on the heels of Martin Scorsese's George Harrison: Living In The Material World, and it is a good companion piece to the latter film, if not nearly as well put together, or as thorough. Whereas the Scorsese movie was authorized by the family and estate of its subject and, by extension, a product of the filmmaker's all-but-unlimited access to Harrison's music and video archives (plus friends and family members), the makers of this film lacked the cooperation of the surviving Beatles, or the families and the estates of John Lennon or George Harrison, and had to skirt around most of the group's music as well as any solo recordings by the members -- the latter, though key to Apple's solvency, are represented by little more than the occasional flash of artwork on the screen. Across almost three hours, however, the filmmakers do manage to take us on a real-life magical mystery tour, from mid-1967 and the early, idealistic origins of the Beatles' company Apple -- which initially included a chain of boutiques and an electronics division, in addition to the better known record label -- to the corporation's disappearance as anything but a holding company in the mid-1970s. And in a string of interviews, surviving executives and an entertaining array of historians, along with three major artists associated with the label -- soul singer Jackie Lomax plus Ron Griffiths and Joey Molland, the two surviving members of the group variously known as the Iveys and Badfinger -- carry us across the sometimes confused, often dazzling history of this unique recording venture. The company arose out of the Beatles' decision in 1966 to cease performing concerts, and the death a year later of their manager Brian Epstein. Left to their own devices, with no trusted adviser to turn to and in need of some activity beyond touring to justify the continued existence of the group, and a way of protecting their massive royalty income from England's then notoriously high upper-income tax rates, the quartet decided to incorporate, and, in the process, also try their hand at helping other artists -- especially musicians -- achieve their goals. Thus, from the start, Apple was not like any other corporation or record company ever seen before, being less a total business enterprise than a vehicle for experimentation, particularly in music, with artists seeing to the needs of other artists. That, at least, was the original idea and intention -- that idealism gave way within a couple of years to a commercial mentality embodied by the appointment of Allen Klein as head of the company. Klein, an accountant by training, began putting artists' projects and recording careers on hold as he reassessed the company's activities, in the process firing half the staff of 40 people or so within a 10-day period. In the end, he was left with a smaller, leaner company that was making actual profits (mostly by virtue of the ex-Beatles' solo projects, augmented by a handful of other Apple artists who were successful), but one which was also too small and ill-equipped to market or properly promote the work of the artists it still had under contract. This transition is inevitably accompanied, in the accounts here, by a profound sense of loss, a tone that permeates this whole documentary, which is an odd mix of the celebratory and the elegiac, often in the same section of the same recollection. The film is divided up into general chronological sections, covering the company's year-by-year story -- and each year brought changes to Apple's original structure and intent, as the company evolved (or devolved) from its creative, unorthodox origins into a much more tightly run business entity that was too small to compete in the marketplace of the 1970s, yet also too unwieldy to survive. As this film was done without the participation of the Beatles or that of the late Allen Klein's family, none of the key players in this narrative are on hand in any form to present their side of the story -- but the perspective of Tony Bramwell, who was as far inside of Apple as anyone this side of Paul McCartney, seems to treat the four Beatles' contributions fairly and respectfully, whilst he and the various participating Beatles historians and authors point up the flaws in some of the company's ventures. As an example, Apple's signing of Mary Hopkin -- a Paul McCartney discovery -- represented one of the label's great worldwide successes; but McCartney's directing of her recording career -- choosing much of her repertory and producing her debut album -- also carried Hopkin very far from the kind of music she was interested in making, and led to her eventual departure. On the other side of the ledger, McCartney provided a talented but struggling band on the label, the Iveys, with a song that he had written but had no interest in recording himself, "Come And Get It." The latter song, coupled with a group name-change to Badfinger, proved their worldwide breakthrough record. Similarly, George Harrison took both Liverpool soul singer Jackie Lomax, and American organist Billy Preston under his wing, producing a pair of albums by each -- in Lomax's case, the records were superb productions but not commercial successes, while Preston began his rise to stardom under Harrison's guidance; and in the process, Harrison also re-defined Preston -- previously known exclusively as an instrumental artist -- as a soul singer with a significant international following. Strange Fruit continually reminds us that, for all of the independence that their massive success (and income) granted them at Apple, and their brilliance as pop musicians, the Beatles were ultimately very human, with all of the flaws that this trait entailed. They were also not entirely professional as producers, at least in this early stage of their solo careers. Thus, we see McCartney's massive talent as a songwriter and producer also fueling an ego that caused him to overwhelm Mary Hopkin (whom he apparently saw as a kind of younger, more innocent Cilla Black, another McCartney protégé of a slightly earlier era), driving her to huge pop success with a sound that wasn't really her own, and ultimately causing her to leave the label; and Harrison's musical eclecticism, and his admiration for his fellow musicians helped him to put Lomax into the musical spotlight with some beautifully produced singles and albums, none of which represented the sound that Lomax himself necessarily saw as his own. And the artists themselves were usually caught in a bind in the midst of this -- admirers and even sometimes friends of the Beatles, they were grateful for the attention and effort, in not always wholly comfortable with the results, but unwilling to resist or walk away from the honor implicit in those efforts. One fascinating revelation to be garnered from this film is the near-total lack of interest in the company or its activities by John Lennon, who, for the first four years of its existence, simply treated Apple as a cash-cow, covering the costs of his various artistic and political statements (in tandem with Yoko Ono) -- and the point is made, conversely (and very emphatically) that, whatever weaknesses existed in its management structure, Apple's notorious money losses (apart from the boutique line, a grotesque failure from the start) were far more the result of the various Beatles' self-indulgent post-1967 lifestyles than the product of any excess spent on recording or any of the other activities in which the record label was supposed to be engaged. And whereas McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr all brought significant artists to the company early on -- with McCartney's and Harrison's discoveries, in the cases of Mary Hopkin and Badfinger, earning a lot of money for the label -- Lennon didn't contribute in that area at all, apart from bringing Yoko Ono aboard as an artist in her own right (an addition to the roster that many Beatles fans wouldn't or couldn't appreciate for decades). That changed in 1972, when he established a residence in New York and brought Lower East Side activist/musician David Peel and the politically-motivated rock & roll band Elephant's Memory to the roster. Peel, ever the rebel and iconoclast, makes an entertaining appearance for a brief interview late in the film, as does Elephant's Memory bassist Gary Van Sycoc. Their contributions -- especially Peel's account of the company's efforts to promote his album The Pope Smokes Dope -- lighten up an otherwise relatively downbeat section of the film. The company lost James Taylor early on, as the singer/songwriter and his producer Peter Asher (who had nearly become McCartney's brother-in-law) left for the more stable surroundings of Warner Bros. Records. By 1972, Allen Klein had jettisoned the personnel and performers that he considered superfluous to the record label's needs, but was left with the shell of a record company, unable to promote or market the talent that he still had signed to the company. And then he lost Badfinger, the most commercially successful act on the label, in a tragic serious of missteps and missed cues that ultimately led to the deaths by suicide of it two key members, Pete Ham and Tom Evans (events that are not spoken of directly here). Although the makers avoid addressing the issue, one of the major causes of the undoing of the Apple label lay within its origins -- it was such a personal endeavor for the Beatles, as a statement of their growing maturity and the desire to prove that they could do more than just write and record music, that their egos were heavily invested in it, at least as much as their financial resources. And once Allen Klein was brought in to run the company by the other three Beatles over his objections, McCartney's interest in the company vanished. Similarly, Lennon was so heavily involved in proving his seriousness as a political activist and artist, in tandem with Yoko Ono, that he had no time for involvement with the company, until he had found two artists -- David Peel and Elephant's Memory -- who had political statements to make. Thus, the company was never running on all cylinders, in terms of the gifts of the four personalities behind its creation, and was subject to the constant tidal shifts of egos and personalities. By the mid-1970s, with the four ex-Beatles all in the process of divorcing themselves from each other and their original record label, EMI, Apple's days were numbered as well. The film jumps carefully between interviews, newsreel footage, and archival promotional/performance clips, and the mix and duration of each is just right -- this could be considered a fairly talky documentary, but the music leaps over any excess verbiage on the part of the participants. It's a testament to the strengths of Apple's roster that performances by Hopkin, James Taylor, Billy Preston, Badfinger, Doris Troy et al can still command attention four decades or more on -- Jackie Lomax, Ron Griffiths and Joey Molland are, alas, the only performers interviewed at length, but they give extensive and unique information on their work and the contributions of McCartney and Harrison. Lomax, one of Apple's earliest signings, seems to be the most contented, despite the fact that he fared less well commercially than most of his label-mates. (The producers even work in mention of Apple's one classical artist, composer John Tavener -- who was signed by Ringo Starr -- and the brief flourish of Apple Films and its success with El Topo). The rest is an entertaining set of talking heads, historians presenting their perspectives laced with some humor and occasional irony, intercut with performances and music. And it all works, giving not only an informative and entertaining overview of Apple, but the times in which it existed, and the careers of its key artists -- this film could easily be a part of a course syllabus on 1970s Pop Music 101. (Strangely enough, there is barely any mention of Apple's more recent activities as the corporate holding company of the ex-Beatles' musical and joint creative interests; or the fact that one of the company's most valuable assets over the decades has been its name, the use of which by Apple Computer had led to various lawsuits and settlements in the hundreds of millions of dollars -- but that is all complicated enough to justify another film entirely. The whole production is a superb coda to any of the existing biographical films about the Beatles, and a fine introduction/companion to portraits of James Taylor and Badfinger, who 40 years on remain the two most enduring commercial discoveries by the label.

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Scene Index

Disc #1 -- Strange Fruit: The Beatles' Apple Records
1. Introduction [2:15]
2. Life Before Apple [4:55]
3. Apple Forming [4:35]
4. 1968 [5:34]
5. The First Signings [8:43]
6. The First Releases [14:23]
7. Utopia [11:46]
8. 1969 [14:22]
9. Enter Allen Klein [4:27]
10. A Calming Presence [6:19]
11. Come and Get It! [7:01]
12. 1970 [6:25]
13. 1971 [18:04]
14. Mrs. Lennon Unleashed [14:34]
15. 1972 [10:16]
16. 1973 and the End of Apple Records [18:54]


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Strange Fruit: The Beatles' Apple Records 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
rogerlb More than 1 year ago
Comprehensive at 2 hrs 42 min yet not enough! Very nice and very in-depth and long discussion of the Apple years, which is beginning to capture historian's imaginations 40 years on. For decades all the Beatles books ended when they broke up in '69. Quite early on Richard DiLello's "The Longest Cocktail Party" was the only available document about the Apple years/scene (1973) that went rather unrecognized. Lately a couple writers have been delving into the solo years (Doggett's fine (if gossipy) "You Never Give Me You Money" (2010) is the first comprehensive bio of the solo years, after FAQ 2.0 outlined the shape of the '70s decade in anecdotes). This docu has a lot of ground to cover and at 2 hours and 42 minutes takes its time telling various nuances of the story in depth but only appears to have access to a limited number of key people. This is not an authorized or official film so naturally the Beatles do not appear - Tony Bramwell of Apple is the only true "insider" who speaks on camera. A handful of Beatle authorities as well as Jackie Lomax, Joey Molland and Ron Griffiths (Badfinger & Iveys) and Gary von Scyoc (Elephant's Memory) make up the vast majority of the interview time as well as numerous clips, music "videos" and newsreel footage. And at that, therefore, there seems to be inordinate time spent first on Lomax's travails, then Iveys/Badfinger releases and history, and then a bit near the end with Lennon in New York and Elephant's Memory and David Peel. Don't get me wrong - all of this is great and to have critics (and the players themselves) actually explain what went right - and wrong - with their relationships with Apple, with the Beatles and with the record companies is fascinating stuff and the 2.42 went by for me like a breeze. I actually think the film is too short - if only they had access and footage of for example James Taylor or Mary Hopkins or John Tavener or, imagine it, Yoko Ono or one of those Krishna singers, to explain some of the other aspects of the story, or the outer fringes of the producing arc which is only alluded to in this film. The DVD is ultimately limited in its ability to get deep into all of the story. It tells the history from 1968 to 1973 well with the critics who know their stuff and can deconstruct what was going on culturally at the time, but the film must ultimately fall back on Lomax (little more that a flash in the pan, with that basso-boiler warble on "Sour Milk Sea," the only song anyone can remember from him), Badfinger (whose ex-members seem more than willing to talk) and endless clips of Mary Hopkins who hit very big very early but doesn't appear in person to talk. And damn it, clips of Elephant's Memory with Lennon on Mike Douglas (available elsewhere) would have been nice to fill out that segment. The film's extensive use of clips is generally effective, using many period-specific segments of almost all the artists mentioned usually in short 10-second snippets (probably for legal reasons, assuming a "limited and appropriate amount" is acceptable for fair use/ journalistic-reporting). We also see many Apple print ads. We see and hear short segments of the Beatles' "Penny Lane" promo film (about 5 minutes in) and the "Hey Jude" performance on David Frost (about 50 minutes in) as well as various newsreel shots of them, including the shots entering Apple offices famously seen in Anthology. The filmmakers affect a slightly off-putting visual affectation - they or the editors have put on "artificial" film scratches and wear over a lot of the older stills and clips - a visual cue that makes us associate the shots with "archival" or "authentic" but is unnecessary and a little overdone. (A slow zoom-in of a record cover should not have film scratching or wear - it's a static shot and not unique rare footage of the cover of a record, is it?) While there is a wealth of rarely seen footage here (including television and concert appearances of the groups) to obscure it slightly with digital effects is a misguided aesthetic decision. A word about legal clearance problems with this title: this DVD has apparently been pulled or delayed from some websites (including Amazon) and are only available through secondary sellers because the copyright holders (Apple) feel the music and/or clips have not been cleared. I was able to get this film after the kerfuffle from B&N and it appears intact - reports that some material has been deleted or music replaced are at this time unsubstantiated. All music is original and not dubbed over by "sound-alikes." Note that no Beatles are seen speaking on camera. Newsreel footage from the time in which John and Paul talk about forming Apple would have been ideal and perfect for this film and yet does not appear. This suggests to me the filmmakers were careful to choose what they thought would pass "fair use" muster (basically, news footage and 10-second clips of songs) and did not push past accepted best practices ... although with Apple even a little push may invite the attention of lawyers. The running time of 162 (2 hours and 42 minutes) seems to be consistent so any rumored variants would possibly not be shorter, only have music replaced? More information and empirical evidence is needed. That said, although epic in length and obsessive in its attention to certain artists (the ones they were able to locate and interview) I would have welcomed another 3 hours of information - about White Trash, Modern Jazz Quartet, Ringo's involvement, Apple Films (never mentioned), Alex Madras (never mentioned), the office itself and/or Derek Taylor and/or Richard DiLello's take on the scene there, the studio... and on and on and so on. Enough quibbling. For Beatle and Apple completists this DVD is a must and as I said it was the fastest 3 hours I spent this year watching. Required viewing for those of you who know who you are, and only wanting more is a good thing, right?!