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TERRY GROSS, host:

In 1968, The Beatles became the second huge selling act to own their own record label - the first being Frank Sinatra and Reprise Records. Apple Records not only released The Beatles' own singles and albums, but also music by other performers the individual Beatles liked. A new box set of 17 CDs includes 16 re-mastered albums and a CD of singles.

Our rock historian Ed Ward recently reviewed the singles compilation called "Come and Get It." Today he reviews the albums.

(Soundbite of song, "Yesterday")

ED WARD: Apple Records was intended to be a label like no other. For one thing, it had The Beatles. But it also had - behind the scenes - Derek Taylor and Peter Asher, two of the smartest and hippest men in the record business at the time, and in the beginning the world was anxious to see what it would do. The first thing it did was to throw a curveball.

(Soundbite of song, "Happiness Runs")

Ms. MARY HOPKIN (Singer): (Singing) Little pebble upon the sand, now you're lying here in my hand. How many years have you been here? Little human upon the sand, from where I'm lying here in your hand, you to me are but a passing breeze.

The sun will always shine where you stand, depending in which land you may find yourself. Now, you have my blessing, go your way. La la la la la la la la la...

WARD: The English have a word, twee, which is hard to define, but once you've been exposed to it, you know it when you hear it. Mary Hopkin, a Welsh singer who entranced Paul McCartney from her televised appearance on a talent search show, became Apple's first release with a single, "Those Were the Days," which hasn't improved with age, and an album, "Postcard," which includes "The Puppy Song," as well as Donovan's "Happiness Runs" and "There's No Business Like Show Business."

Fortunately, Paul redeemed himself shortly thereafter. Peter Asher had been half of Peter and Gordon, and the drummer of a band which had backed them on their American tours also played in a band called The Flying Machine, which had just broken up. Their lead singer and chief songwriter left for London with Asher's phone number in his pocket, unaware of Asher's new job. He sent in a tape, Asher played it for McCartney, and before James Taylor's jet-lag wore off, he had an Apple contract.

(Soundbite of song, "Carolina in My Mind")

Mr. JAMES TAYLOR (Singer-songwriter): (Singing) In my mind I'm going to Carolina. Can't you see the sunshine. Can't you just feel the moonshine and ain't it just like a friend of mine to hit me from behind. Yes I'm going to Carolina in my mind.

Karen she's a silver sun you got walk her way and watch it shine. Watch her watch the morning come. A silver tear appearing now I'm crying. Ain't I going to Carolina in my mind. Ain't no doubt...

WARD: This version of "Carolina in My Mind" is from the demo tape Taylor sent Asher, and it's easy to see why he got excited. The orchestrated versions of the songs on the finished album were very much of their times, and Taylor might have become a star had his heroin habit not put him in rehab while the tour was being organized. As it was, he'd have to wait until Asher landed at Warner Brothers in 1970 before his career took off.

McCartney's other find was The Iveys, more Welsh people, who were rechristened Badfinger and inserted into the soundtrack of the film "The Magic Christian," in which Ringo played a hunchbacked dwarf.

(Soundbite of song, "No Matter What You Are")

BADFINGER (Rock Band): (Singing) No matter what you are, I will always be with you. It doesn't matter what you do, girl, ooh girl with you. No matter what you do, I will always be around. Won't you tell me what you found girl, ooh girl won't you?

Knock down the old gray wall, be a part of it all. Nothing to say, nothing to see, nothing to do. If you would give me all, as I would give it to you. Nothing would be, nothing would be, nothing would be.

No matter where you go...

WARD: They wound up having four Top 20 hits on Apple, all very Beatles-esque pop, although the four Apple albums show them to have been very versatile and still stand up well today.

Paul McCartney wasn't the only Beatle signing acts to Apple. The Undertakers were a big deal on the Merseybeat scene The Beatles had emerged from, and their gimmicky appearance didn't hide the fact that guitarist Jackie Lomax was a guitarist and songwriter of some talent and George Harrison saw to it that he wound up on Apple for an album.

(Soundbite of song, "Take My Word")

THE UNDERTAKERS (Beat group): (Singing) Take my word, I'm the biggest fool you ever heard any day, any day, I drove my sweet lover far away. And I can't love you, no, no, no, I can't love you.

WARD: Despite the presence of George, Paul, Ringo, Eric Clapton and Keith Richards on the album, it and the single released from it stiffed. Harrison also used his awakening religious interests to sign the Radha Krishna Temple of London, as well as gospel prodigy Billy Preston and soul singer Doris Troy to the label.

Even Ringo got into the act with a signing you'd never expect. His brother introduced him to the music of composer John Tavener, whose 1966 oratorio "The Whale," about the biblical Jonah, and his "Celtic Requiem," both came out on Apple - although these pieces are very dated now, and Tavener has matured into Britain's best-loved composer.

And the Modern Jazz Quartet? That was Peter Asher. He'd heard the venerable jazz combo was out of a contract, so they got to make two excellent albums for Apple, which are reissued on one disc here.

Apple only lasted until 1973, and although it had limited success with its releases, most of them are worth revisiting today to see what you missed.

GROSS: Ed Ward lives in France. He reviewed the Apple Records box set.

You can download podcasts of our show on our website, freshair.npr.org.

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