“Strange Fruit”: The Beatles & Apple Records’ failed attempts at “Western communism”

By on May 21, 2019

Strange Fruit: The Beatles’ Apple Records (2012) — a nearly three-hour UK-made documentary about the Beatles‘ multi-faceted artist-owned organization, the home of any of their future recordings — is now streaming on Night Flight Plus.

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Paul McCartney once explained that he thought Apple would be, “A beautiful place where you can buy beautiful things… a controlled weirdness… a kind of Western communism.”

He later admitted he had no idea what the phrase meant, only that it captured the late Sixties’ optimistic mood.

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Strange Fruit features archival footage of Apple artists as well as vintage interviews, rare photos and, of course, lots of samples of the music Apple released during their short-lived heyday.

The documentary delves deeply into the careers of many groups and artists at Apple’s core, including Jackie Lomax, the Iveys (who became Badfinger), Mary Hopkin, Billy Preston, James Taylor, the Radha Krishna Temple, Doris Troy, David Peel, Brute Force (that “Fuh King” guy Stephen Friedland) and Elephant’s Memory, among others.

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Strange Fruit features interviews with Apple Films head Tony Bramwell (listed here as “Promotions Manager, Apple Records), Joey Molland of Badfinger, Ron Griffiths (bassist with the Iveys), Jackie Lomax (we love his “Sour Milk Sea“), Gary Van Scyoc (bassist from Elephant’s Memory) and David Peel, as well as musician & Beatles expert Chris Ingham (The Rough Guide to The Beatles), author & MOJO scribe Mark Paytress, and Apple biographer Stefan Granados (Those Were The Days).

Among the more interesting anecdotes we learned was that David Bowie, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Grace Slick and Fleetwood Mac were all under consideration as future Apple recording artists (none were ever signed) and that Apple Films had, at one point, wanted to release Alejandro Jodorowsky‘s El Topo.

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The idea for Apple had initially conceived a year earlier by the band with their longtime manager, Brian Epstein. It was originally going to be under the umbrella of Epstein’s music publishing company, NEMS Enterprises.

After Epstein’s death in August ’67, the Beatles decided to launch a brand new, stand alone company of their own, founding Apple Corps. Ltd. (the pun was intended) in January of 1968.

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It was McCartney who came up with the “Apple” name after an art dealer, Robert Fraser of the Chelsea Set, had given him René Magritte’s painting Le jeu de mourre, which showed a green apple printed with the words “Au revoir.”

From the start, Apple was planned to be different from most of the other major record labels in that they were going to have an open-door policy allowing anyone creatively interested in joining them — musicians, writers, artists, filmmakers, inventors, designers, etc. — to become part of the Apple core.

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Apple was always planned to be run by their friends — regardless of their talents or previous experience — including their former PR man, writer/journalist/publicist Derek Taylor.

Taylor — who after working with the Beatles had moved to Southern California — was talked into joining Apple by George Harrison, who thought they couldn’t run it without him.

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On December 7, 1967, the Beatles’ Apple Boutique clothing store opened its doors at 94 Baker Street, at the corner of Paddington Street, in Marylebone in London’s West End (their offices were on its upper floors). The Dutch collective The Fool painted large psychedelic murals on the building’s exterior.

After briefly moving to 95 Wigmore Street, at the end of July 1968, Apple Corps eventually moved its HQ to a Georgian townhouse at 3 Savile Row, in the heart of London’s tailoring district, which was seen as something of a culture shock to uptight Brits.

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On January 30, 1969, the Beatles gave their last live appearance as a band on Apple’s rooftop during an impromptu lunchtime concert.

They played new songs  — which ended up on their final studio album, Let It Be, released on May 8, 1970, about a month after the Beatles had broken up — before the local police arrived to shut them down.

Read more about Apple Corp. Ltd. below.

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On May 14, 1968, at a press conference in New York City, John Lennon and Paul McCartney introduced their new business concept to the world.

The Beatles hadn’t forgotten how difficult it had been to get a major UK label interested in signing them to a recording contract, and now they wanted to use their power to help fellow artists break through those same barriers.

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Right from the jump, Apple wasn’t like other companies, employing an in-house astrologer/tarot card reader, and a bartender who provided employees with mixed drinks and rolled joints.

One secretary’s job responsibilities included gathering up loose drugs to flush down the ladies’ loo during a police raid (which thankfully never happened).

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After Apple placed an advert in New Musical Express and Rolling Stone, all sorts of freaky people showed up, wanting money for their crazy ideas.

An Irish tramp planned to protest the Vietnam War by burning dolls with napalm on the King’s Road, while a family from San Francisco wanted to travel to Fiji, where they planned to create an “alternative universe” with John and Yoko.

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“Magic Alex”

One of the more interesting Apple employees was a former TV repairman from Greece named Yannis Alexis Mardas — Lennon nicknamed him “Magic Alex” — who became the head of Apple Electronics.

He talked the Beatles into investing in several outlandish schemes, like electric wallpaper which emitted both sound and light, a voice-activated telephone, and a home security “force field.”

Here he is in the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour movie. (Mardas died in January 2017).

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Watch Strange Fruit: The Beatles’ Apple Records on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.