Various Artists

Come and Get It: The Best of Apple Records

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Apple began life as a tax shelter for the Beatles, spiraled into a mad dream, collapsed into a mere record label, and then settled into its role as the trustees of the Beatles’ legacy. All the myth of Apple lies in its crazy hazy days of 1968-1972, particularly the early years when the Apple empire allowed the Beatles to indulge every one of their whims, a practice that soon brought them to the verge of bankruptcy. Come and Get It: The Best of Apple Records -- remarkably the first-ever compilation of Apple’s roster and the flagship for Apple/EMI’s exhaustive 2010 Apple reissues series -- captures the lunacy and fleeting brilliance of Apple Records, often making it seem like little more than the Fab Four’s playground. And, in a way, that is precisely what it was. Every one of the early singles and signings was driven by a passion by one of the Beatles crew: Paul McCartney always knew “Those Were the Days” would be a smash, so he hand-picked TV talent show winner Mary Hopkin to sing his sure-fire hit; George Harrison was intimately involved with Jackie Lomax, giving him the White Album outtake “Sour Milk Sea” for his first single; even road manager Mal Evans had a pet project in the pop group the Iveys.

These three acts were among the first four single releases from Apple, with the fourth being the McCartney composition “Thingumybob,” a television theme performed by the Black Dyke Band, a traditional British brass band that was the earliest evidence that Apple may not be an operation with success in the forefront of its mind. “Those Were the Days” did indeed turn into the smash Macca knew it would be, but “Sour Milk Sea” -- a dense, brilliant, and soulful psychedelic rocker featuring Paul, George, and Ringo -- strangely stiffed, as did the Iveys’ “Maybe Tomorrow,” then Brute Force’s silly, controversial psychedelic novelty “King of Fuh” never saw release, establishing a see-saw pattern of chart success Apple never really shook off, partially because the label was so undisciplined. Apple let its greatest talent signing, James Taylor, slip away before he could record a second album, but the label spent time to nurture the Iveys, changing their name to Badfinger, with McCartney giving them their breakthrough single, “Come and Get It,” as the first step in turning them into one of the great power pop groups.

Consistency was not the label’s strong suit, and good intentions could pay off (witness Billy Preston’s huge hit “That’s the Way God Planned It”) or they could backfire (Doris Troy’s “Ain’t That Cute” made no waves). A surprising amount of time was spent with Beatles covers, and not just unaired songs -- like when Ronnie Spector cut George’s “Try Some Buy Some” -- but Trash stiffly playing “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight,” the Hot Chocolate Band doing a bad rewritten reggae version of “Give Peace a Chance,” and Preston cutting an early version of “My Sweet Lord.” There were also detours that made little sense (the Cajun stomp of the Sundown Playboys’ “Saturday Nite Special”) and those that did (Radha Krishna Temple’s “Govinda,” which pretty much provided the blueprint for Kula Shaker’s career).

If this reads like a mess, well, it plays that way too, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. All the mythology surrounding the Beatles, particularly during this messy hazy era, inflates even the group’s pedestrian moves, but Come and Get It deflates the myth, humanizing the Beatles by presenting their obsessions and quirks in their ragged glory. There are not many major discoveries here -- the pleasures in the not widely circulated are minor, but Chris Hodges’ fuzzy-pop “We’re on Our Way” and Bill Elliot’s stomping John & Yoko-written protest “God Save Oz” are pleasures all the same -- so the nice thing is having a disc that puts everything, the good and the bad, in a tidy context, for it’s the closest aural representation of the unfettered weirdness of Apple as we’ll ever get.

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