Chapter 9

Phil Spector Series – Chapter 9 – The Apple Productions

The Apple Singles - For years the Beatles had said that if they did not have George Martin as a producer, Phil Spector would be their producer of choice.  In a November, 1969, Rolling Stone interview. when asked what artists he would like to work with, Phil listed Janis Joplin, Mick Jagger, Bob Dylan and the Beatles. In a meeting with Allen Klein, the Beatles current manager, John Lennon mentioned Spector’s Rolling Stone interview comments. When Lennon mentioned the Beatles working with Phil, Klein leaped into action. The Beatles were in turmoil (John and Paul had already said they planned to split from the group) with only one last project to be completed – the Let It Be documentary and album that the Beatles had recorded nearly a year before. Glyn Johns, George Martin, John Lennon himself and others had already unsuccessfully tried to make a reasonable album out of the mountain of tapes from the many sessions for the project. Maybe Phil Spector could salvage the mess. Lennon was not immediately convinced that Spector was the man to do it. John asked Klein to stage a trial run by having Spector produce his own next single, “Instant Karma.”  By late January, all the arrangements had been made and Phil flew to London. When he arrived at Abbey Road studios, John Lennon, Klaus Voorman, George Harrison and Alan White were there waiting. The sessions went well, and a final mix was created. Lennon loved it. Phil wanted to take it back to LA to add violins and a few frills. John refused. In Britain, Lennon’s version was released. Phil took the master take back to Los Angeles and “tweaked” it for U.S. release. John was shocked when he heard it and said, “He put a cleaner version out without telling me.”  Instant Karma” / “Who Has Seen The Wind” [Apple 1818] entered the charts on 2/28/70 and climbed to #3. It became Lennon’s biggest hit yet, the first solo Beatle effort to sell a million copies. Phil had passed his audition.

Spector knew the condition of the Let It Be tapes and realized there was no way he could win taking on the project, but he took it any way. Phil asked if any of the Beatles wanted to join him in the studio for the project. Not one did. Lennon said “the tapes were so lousy and bad, none of us would go near them …. None of us could face remixing them.” Phil spent most of January and February of 1970 reviewing the tapes. Finally, Phil arrived at Abbey Road Studios on March 23, 1970, to start remixing the tapes. Spector finished his final mix of the album on April 2, 1970. After hearing the final mix, Lennon said “Phil was given the shittiest load of badly recorded shit with a lousy feeling to it, and he made something of it.”  Harrison and Starr agreed, but McCartney bitched, whined, moaned, nagged and complained - especially about the song “The Long And Winding Road,” claiming it was just another example of how his erstwhile bandmates were trying to destroy his reputation. Despite Paul’s tantrums, the Let It Be album was released worldwide just as Phil had remixed it. Others who had tried (and failed) to make something of the tapes joined McCartney in condemning the album. The controversy has never ended.  It was amusing though, that Paul personally accepted the Best Original Score Written For A Motion Picture Of Television Special Grammy award that Spector's work had made possible.  “The Long And Winding Road” / “For You Blue” [Apple 2832] was released as a single from the Let It Be album. It entered the charts on 5/23/70 and quickly rose to #1. There would not be another Beatles single release that charted until 1976.

Based on the quality job Phil did on the Let It Be album, both John Lennon and George Harrison recruited Phil to produce their own next solo projects. In May, Phil was back in England working on George Harrison’s debut album.  By September, Phil began working with John Lennon on his next project while George Harrison put the finishing touches on his album. In November, Harrison’s album was finished – a three album set. The album, titled All Things Must Pass [Apple STCH 639], included two albums worth of conventional songs and a third album of jam sessions featuring Harrison and his friends including Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker, Dave Mason, Billy Preston, Klaus Voorman, Gary Wright, Alan White, Badfinger and a host of others. Eric Clapton had agreed to join the All Things Must Pass sessions provided that George would convince Phil to produce his new band called Derek & The Dominoes. (That effort will be discussed in the upcoming Loose Ends segment of this series.) Two singles were released from the album. “My Sweet Lord” / “Isn’t It A Pity” [Apple 2995] and “What Is Life” / “Apple Scruffs” [Apple 1828]. “My Sweet Lord” entered the charts on 11/28/70 and climbed to # 1 with both sides charting. “What Is Life” entered the charts on 2/27/71, and climbed to #10.

By the end of October, 1970, Phil had finished work on the John Lennon project. What emerged was the album titled simply John Lennon / Plastic Ono Band [Apple SW 3372]. The album was recorded during Lennon’s primal therapy phase and is described as one of the most pain-filled albums ever made. It has also been called the sparsest sounding record ever to bear Phil Spector’s name. One single was released from the album. It was “Mother” / “Why” [Apple 1827]. It entered the charts on 1/9/71 and peaked at #43.

Phil had been appointed as head of Apple Records A&R, responsible for selecting new releases as well as producing records. Phil produced the next John Lennon / Yoko Ono single and a single by the Elastic Oz Band featuring Bill Elliot. The next Lennon / Ono single was “Power To The People” / “Touch Me” [Apple1830]. It entered the charts on 4/3/71 and reached #11. The Elastic Oz Band single was “God Save Us” / “Do The Oz” [Apple 1835]. It was intended by John to raise funds for an underground magazine, Oz, but it never charted in the U.S.

In February, 1971, Phil and George Harrison went in the studio with Ronnie Spector to record “Try Some Buy Some,” a song George had written and eventually recorded himself. With that song completed, they started working on a flip side. George supplied the song “You,” which he later also recorded himself. The session was dragging when John Lennon and a host of friends burst into the studio wanting to make a record with "Ronnie Ronette." Needless to say, the session turned into a party scene. They ended up ordering take out food from a nearby Indian restaurant, and when John finally asked what they were going to record, Phil proclaimed “Tandoori Chicken.”  Phil and George composed the song on the spot, and it was recorded. “Try Some Buy Some” / “Tandoori Chicken” [Apple 1832] entered the charts on 5/8/71 for a four week stay, peaking at #77.

The next Apple release with Spector production credits was a single by George Harrison, “Bangla-Desh” / “Deep Blue” [Apple 1836]. It was recorded in Los Angles and entered the charts on 8/14/71, climbing to # 23. The single was designed to raise awareness and money for the famine stricken nation of Bangladesh, home of George’s good friend Ravi Shankar.

The next major project Phil undertook at Apple was to produce a commercial album for John Lennon, one that showed that he, too, could make a great album like McCartney and Harrison had just done. John had recruited Alan White, Klaus Voorman, George Harrison and Nicky Hopkins for the album. The finished album, named Imagine, is generally regarded as the best album of Lennon’s entire career. One single was released from the album. It was “Imagine” / “It’s So Hard” [Apple 1840]. It entered the charts on 10/23/71 and climbed to # 3. 

On August 31, 1971, John and Yoko moved to New York and started planning their next project, an album documenting New York City with Phil Spector producing. The title of the new album would be Some Time In New York City. During the sessions for that album, work began on their next single. John was a huge fan of the A Christmas Gift For You album, and he wanted to make his own Christmas record with Phil. “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” / “Listen The Snow Is Falling” [Apple 1842] was written, recorded and released (most copies on green vinyl) within a matter of weeks. Just like the majority of the songs on A Christmas Gift For You, this song has been played during the holiday season every year since its original release in 1971.

Work continued on Some Time In New York City into 1972. When the album was finished, only one single was released from the album. That single, “Woman Is The Nigger Of The World” / “Sisters O Sisters” [Apple 1848], entered the charts on 05/20/72 and climbed only to #57.

The Apple Albums - Phil Spector produced, remixed or co-produced several albums and album tracks for Apple Records. The more interesting of these productions are mentioned in the following paragraphs.

The Let It Be [Apple 34001] album, remixed for disc by Phil Spector, was the last album recorded by the Beatles. It has been discussed ad infinitum and requires no further discussion here.

[EDITOR’S NOTE:  This is not entirely true … the tracks for “Let It Be” … then called “Get Back” … were recorded as early as January of 1969.  After it was shelved, the band regrouped and recorded their REAL swan song, “Abbey Road.” 

After the DISASTER that begat the GET BACK / LET IT BE recording sessions, leaving literally HUNDREDS of hours of tapes to sort through (and ultimately be "cleaned up" enough to release under the "Produced By PHIL SPECTOR" banner), the band regrouped and recorded their swan song masterpiece, ABBEY ROAD.  (The famous line, of course, has PAUL McCARTNEY literally BEGGING Producer GEORGE MARTIN to come back and make one more album "like we used to do it in the good old days.")  They put ALL their differences aside and recorded what MANY believe to be their very best work in order to go out on a high note. 

It was ONLY to provide a soundtrack to their film that LET IT BE was resurrected and released in early 1970 ... by which time ALL of the former BEATLES were already recording solo albums.  With the group in the process of splitting up, “Let It Be” was finally released in its Spectorized version. 

To be fair, a few last minute sessions … George’s “I Me Mine,” for example, and a new lead guitar solo on the title track “Let It Be” … were dubbed in in early 1970 … but those isolated overdubs were only done to enhance the final product.  “Let It Be” was recorded BEFORE “Abbey Road” … but released afterwards … simply put, “Let It Be” was NOT the last album RECORDED by THE BEATLES … it was simply the last album of new material RELEASED by THE BEATLES.  – kk]

The John Lennon / Plastic Ono Band [Apple SW 3372] album gave production credits to John & Yoko and Phil Spector. The most interesting track on this 1970 album, other than the single release “Mother,” was “Working Class Hero.” It was a Dylanesque folk type protest song proclaiming “a working class hero is something to be.”

The All Things Must Pass [Apple STCH 639] album was George Harrison’s debut album. It contained three LPs filled with some of Harrison’s best songs, all co-produced by Phil and George. Many songs from the album could have been major chart hits if they had been issued as singles. Among those are: “Wah Wah”, “The Art Of Dying,” “Beware Of Darkness,” “Awaiting On You All, “All Things Must Pass,” and “If Not For You.”

The 1971 Imagine [Apple SW 3379] album is generally regarded as John’s best album. Though only the title track (and its flip side “It’s So Hard”) was released as a single, the album contained many fine tracks. Two of the more interesting tracks were “How Do You Sleep,” a tirade against Paul McCartney and “Gimme Some Truth,” a tirade against politicians in general and Richard Nixon in particular.

The Concert For Bangla-Desh [Apple STCX 3385] album was another three LP release produced by Phil Spector. The single “Bangla-Desh” was followed by a live benefit concert in August, 1971, at Madison Square Garden. Spector was commissioned to produce the live concert and subsequent album. The concert included a star-studded cast including Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Leon Russell, Badfinger, Ravi Shankar and many others. It was Dylan’s first live appearance is six years. The album was a huge success, topping the British charts and receiving the 1972 Grammy for Album Of The Year. No singles were released from the album.

The 1972 Some Time In New York City [Apple SVBB 3392] album was credited to John & Yoko / Plastic Ono Band With Elephant’s Memory Plus Invisible Strings. Production credits were given to John & Yoko and Phil Spector. The most remarkable thing about this double album is its cover which looked like a newspaper and included a corner printing of the Apple Records logo design with Phil Spector’s picture inside subtitled “To Know Him Is To Love Him.”  The album was highly political in nature and universally panned by critics and buyers alike. The second disc in the set was a live jam session recorded with the Mothers Of Invention at the Fillmore East in June of 1971.

Nine years after the original release of A Christmas Gift For You From Philles Records, the album saw it first re-release as Phil Spector’s Christmas Album on Apple Records. The album has since been re-released on various labels at least a dozen times.

The John Lennon Rock N Roll [Apple SK 3419] album was a collection of songs from John’s “lost weekend" tapes. It was recorded in Los Angeles during the latter part of 1973 when John had gone to Los Angeles during his separation from Yoko Ono. The album credits Phil Spector as producer on "You Can’t Catch Me," "Sweet Little Sixteen," "Bony Maronie" and "Just Because". On the other songs, John Lennon is given production credits. Many of the songs recorded during the “lost weekend” did not make it onto this album. There were other releases made from the “lost weekend” sessions, and they will be discussed in the upcoming Loose Ends segment of this series.

The John Lennon Shaved Fish [Apple SW 3421] album was a greatest hits album released in 1975. It contained “Instant Karma,” “Power To The People,” “Mother,” “Woman Is The Nigger Of The World,” “Imagine” and “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” - all produced or co-produced by Phil Spector. The other tracks were produced by John Lennon. They included “Cold Turkey,” “Give Peace A Chance,” “Whatever Gets You Through The Night,” “Mind Games” and “#9 Dream,” - the last two of which could easily pass for Spector productions.

Today’s songs:

John Lennon – Instant Karma

George Harrison – What Is Life

George Harrison – Art Of Dying

Bill Elliott & The Elastic Oz Band – God Save Us

George Harrison – Awaiting On You All

George Harrison - Wah-Wah