The Beatles' Rotted Apple Records Ripe for Rediscovery

Strange Fruit: The Beatles' Apple Records Chrome Dreams, 162 mins., $19.95.

While the Beatles' formation of their Apple company had roots in a tax dodge, the foursome really did (at least originally) seek to create a haven where creative types across different genres from art and film and design to literature and -- of course -- music could create in an "artist-friendly" atmosphere.

That this hippie Utopian ideal eventually dissolved in business chaos, lawsuits and ill feelings (not to mention the waxing and waning involvement of the Beatles themselves) has been the subject of numerous books and memoirs over the years.

But the better-than-expected and lengthy Strange Fruit really concentrates on the artists. And any label that could offer releases by the Beatles, James Taylor, the Modern Jazz Quartet, Billy Preston and the Radha Krishna Temple, not to mention Yoko Ono, certainly can't be accused of playing it safe.

The DVD features lengthy interviews with Beatles experts, a few insiders and Apple artists like Jackie Lomax, David Peel, and members of the Iveys (Ron Griffiths) and Badfinger (sole surviving member Joey Molland), and Elephant's Memory.

After the catalog was out of print for decades, most of the Apple releases have since been reissued with generous bonus tracks and historical liner notes, so it's easier than ever to go back and sample what many music fans missed the first time around. And Strange Fruit tells the story of the label -- and its artists -- pretty well. It's a definite buy for Beatlemaniacs.

Sadly, no James Taylor or Mary Hopkin. And of all, it's Lomax -- looking more like Buffalo Bill Cody than an aging British rocker -- who has the most insightful and, ultimately, bittersweet reminisces.

Of all the Apple artists, Lomax is the "shoulda made it" one. And the fact that Apple had no real system for artist touring and support, relying mostly on album sales, certainly stunted artists like Lomax to a degree.

Also of note in the narrative were the artists that Apple could have signed or who showed interest in being on the label, but never actually got a contract for various reasons: Yes, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Fleetwood Mac and David Bowie.

And then Taylor's first post-Apple record, Sweet Baby James, catapulted him to superstardom. It's tempting to think what would have happened to the company if they had any piece of those acts' ultimate commercial successes.

Since the documentary is not authorized by Apple or the Beatles, there is very little actual music heard or official video seen (often in snippets short enough to qualify for "fair use," presumably).

However, it's not as big a stumbling block as with some other non-authorized Beatles DVDs, which often show the same footage and soundalike music over and over again. Of particular note was hearing a bit of Paul McCartney's original demo of "Come and Get It," which became Badfinger's first hit.

Still, archival interviews of, say, press man Derek Taylor, Apple head Neil Aspinall or artists like Billy Preston would have been welcome, if not financially possible for the makers.

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