Various Artists

The Complete Apple Singles Collection, Vol. 1: 1968-1969

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This mysterious double-CD set (which claims to be a promotional release), one of four volumes, sort of gives the Bear Family-style treatment to Apple Records' singles output, assembling the A- and B-sides of each 45 rpm side issued by the Beatles-spawned label in chronological order. There's no big book to accompany the music on The Complete Apple Singles, Vol. 1 1968-1969, but fans of either the Beatles or the label will probably still want to have these handy sets in their slim double jewel boxes. The sound quality is excellent throughout -- no surprise there, as virtually everything on the label has shown up in a legitimate digital source of some sort over the years -- and the listening is usually fun and always interesting. The Beatles' own "Hey Jude" and "Revolution" open the set and the series, followed by the nearly as ubiquitous (at the time) "Those Were the Days" by Mary Hopkin. The music gets a lot more interesting from there, with the latter's B-side (which was much more representative of what Hopkin was about as an artist) and then the jump to Jackie Lomax's "Sour Milk Sea" and "The Eagle Laughs at You." Some of what's here, such as "Thingumybob" and "Yellow Submarine" by the Black Dyke Mills Band, or "Hare Krishna Mantra" by the Radha Krishna T will be more of an acquired taste than other parts; and it is also surprising how well certain acts, such as the Iveys, who would undergo a major change in lineup and a transformation in name and image before finding success, sound in this context, just taken on their own terms. And then there are the Zapple obscurities such as Trash's "Road to Nowhere"/"Illusions," and oddities like Brute Force's not-so-subtle censor-challenging A-side "King of Fuh" (followed by its less crass "Nobody Knows"), which are in a class all by themselves, and sound particularly odd sandwiched in between releases by more familiar artists, including Hopkin, the Beatles, Billy Preston, the Plastic Ono Band, Yoko Ono (whose "Remember Love," the B-side of "Give Peace a Chance," is one of the more beautiful sides here), Hot Chocolate, James Taylor, and morel. There's no essay or explanation of the material, other than an insert card that gives the release dates and provides explanations of variations and anomalies in the labeling, numbering, and other label info. It's a fun two-and-a-half hours of listening, and the set is a must-own for Beatles cultists and anyone else with a legitimate interest in the music of the period.