The timeline in Barry Miles‘ memoir of his ever-so-brief tenure as manager of Zapple Records (“the brainchild of Paul McCartney“) says it all:
1 May 1969 — Zapple launched in the US
9 May 1969 — Zapple launched in the UK
June 1969 — Zapple closed. No announcement, funding simply cut off
Word had already gotten out the previous December that Apple was planning to put out a “low-price line” of spoken word and poetry releases aimed at “the college market”:
December 14, 1968
“The new records will be priced between $1.50 and $2 each“
Impossible not to notice that directly adjacent to the announcement of Zapple’s formation in Cash Box‘s April 12, 1969 edition is the much more prominent headline that foreshadows the impending doom — “ATV in Takeover Bid for Northern Songs; E.C. Silver, Dick James Exchange Shares” — related to the future ownership of John and Paul’s prized song publishing:
“From Apple to Zapple: Low-Priced Talk LPs“
April 12, 1969
NEW YORK — Apple Records has formed a new label with a paperback concept for the spoken-word market. The Beatles-owned company, celebrating its first year of operation on May 1, is calling the label Zapple which, while emphasizing the spoken word, will also offer some music releases. A lower-priced “flexible” price structure will be a feature of the label’s pricing policy.
Zapple will be administered by Ron Kass, who is also the chief executive officer for all Apple music activities. Supervising the Zapple program will be Barry Miles, a British writer-intellectual who is in his late 20s.
First three releases on the Zapple label are now being pressed and include:
– A new John Lennon/Yoko Ono album titled Unfinished Music #2: Life With the Lions;
– A George Harrison composed electronic music album which was recorded with a Moog synthesizer; and
– A spoken-word album recorded by poet Richard Brautigan [released in the US by Harvest in 1970].
Other well-known writers-poets already committed to Zapple releases include Lawrence Ferlinghetti – America’s best selling poet, poet-playwright Michael McClure, veteran literary leaders Kenneth Patchen and Charles Olson and poet-essayist Allen Ginsberg. Additionally, Zapple will release one of the late Lenny Bruce‘s last concerts as an album.
It is the hope of Apple Corps Ltd. that the new label will help pioneer a new era for the recording industry equivalent to what the paperback revolution did to book publishing.
Company is now studying new market ideas for the label, which will definitely be sold in bookstores as well as record stores. Additionally, albums will eventually be sold in all outlets where paperbacks, books and magazines are sold. College book stores and student stores will be emphasized in the initial distribution plans and a scheme is now being finalized for the Zapple product to be sold by subscription in much the same way as magazines.
Discussions are now in progress with several world figures as well as leaders in the various arts and sciences to record their works and thoughts for the label. The Beatles plan to tape several discussion sessions among themselves as an album release — perhaps for the fall. It is assumed that Zapple will have little difficulty attracting these people who might not normally record albums because of the educational tone of the project.
In the U.S., Zapple will operate out of the Apple Records Company headquarters in Hollywood (located at Capitol Records). Its worldwide headquarters will be in the Apple Building in London.
Rear cover of Unfinished Music #2: Life With the Lions
According to Discogs, liner notes by George Martin (technically true)
Seven weeks later, both Cash Box and Billboard published this full-page ad in their respective May 31, 1969 editions that announces price categories in British currency, with a footnote that states, “In U.S., price is optional with dealer”:
“Our future Zapples will include records by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Michael McClure, Charles Olson, Allen Ginsberg, and American comedian Lord Buckley.”
Three weeks prior, UK’s Melody Maker and New Music Express had both published a starkly minimalist version of this same ad in their 10 May 1969 issues, respectively, with a shortened headline but none of the accompanying text (not even the tiered pricing structures, curiously) that had been included in the American ads:
That same month, keyboardist Brian Auger — when confronted with “Cambridge 1969” from John and Yoko’s Life With the Lions LP as a guest on Melody Maker‘s “Blind Date” column (a waggish bit in which, as Beatle author Martin Creasy explains, a star is “asked to offer an opinion on some of the week’s new releases without being told who the performers [are]”) — managed to keep a sense of humor in his otherwise unsparing assessment of 31 May 1969:
“Mary Hopkin? No, definitely can’t be. It’s like Sunday morning at the Wailing Wall. It could be called ‘Sunday Morning at the Wailing Wall’ instead of ‘Cambridge 1969,’ or it could be called ‘The First Heart Transplant Without Anaesthetic.’ Either that or somebody has slipped a microphone into Graham Bond‘s Y-fronts [male underpants] and recorded them.”
Zapple Records would make its next American media appearance in the pages of Cash Box on the “Top 100 Albums – 101 to 140” chart of the June 21, 1969 edition with the amusingly-misworded album title Unfinished Symphony#2: Life With the Lions:
#123 on the “101 to 140” LP Chart
How bizarre to observe John & Yoko’s unabashedly avant-garde album outperforming The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine soundtrack album (which peaked at #3 on March 8, 1969, to be fair) fourteen rungs further down the chart at #137. The following week’s June 28, 1969 edition shows Unfinished “Symphony” #2 moving up three spots to #120 as Yellow Submarine further falls to the #138 position, while July 5, 1968’s charts similarly finds John & Yoko up two spots at #118 — its peak position as measured by Cash Box — while the Fab Four risks dropping off the album chart altogether at #139.
Record World, similarly, would place Life With the Lions on its “LP’s Coming Up” chart, spending a total of five weeks and peaking at #124, as reported in the July 19, 1969 edition. Billboard, meanwhile, was the only major industry publication where George Harrison’s Zapple release (mis-titled as Electronic Music) experienced any chart action, spending two weeks in the lower reaches of its “Top 200 Albums” chart and peaking at #191 on July 12, 1969, while Life With the Lions fared a little better, riding the charts for a total of eight weeks and peaking at #174 on Aug. 2, 1969 & Aug. 9, 1969.
From Barry Miles’ fascinating insider account, I learned that Paul McCartney originally envisioned Zapple to be an audio equivalent of the experimental literary magazines once lent to him by Miles, co-owner of London’s countercultural Indica Bookshop and Gallery. McCartney, furthermore, “suggested an audio magazine that would come out monthly or even fortnightly, and instead of a review of a poetry reading or a book there would be a recording of the reading or the author reading from the book.” A serial publication, in other words, but in a non-print format — a radical concept.
The name of the label, however, would be a bone of contention for the outspoken avant-garde guitarist and bandleader — whose 1968 album We’re Only In It For the Money with The Mothers of Invention famously parodied Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band — according to Miles, who writes in the The Zapple Diaries:
In the end, the name came from John Lennon who said, “A is for Apple, Z is for Zapple.” The name had nothing to do with Frank Zappa, who was, however, miffed by the use of, as he saw it, his name. He was particularly irritated because Zapple appeared to be doing the same thing he was doing with his Bizarre and Straight labels: in 1968 he released albums by Lenny Bruce and Wild Man Fischer, both of which could be seen as anthropological studies of the late sixties culture. Zapple had also announced that they were going to release some Lord Buckley and Lenny Bruce tapes, so Zappa saw it as a commercial rival.
Newsweek’s Zack Schonfeld notes that the 1966 debut double album Freak Out by Zappa and the Mothers of Invention “had a profound influence on Paul McCartney, who reportedly kept repeating ‘This is our Freak Out‘ while in the studio with the Beatles” during the Sgt. Pepper sessions.
Poking fun at the Sgt. Pepper “cut-outs”
(included in early LP pressings)
Miles reminds us
This was a time when travel was difficult and very expensive; a ticket to New York costs three month salary“; as a result, “People listened to far more spoken-word and documentary records back then, particularly of recordings made in foreign locations.
Ed Ward, writing under the pen name Edmund O. Ward, reviewed John & Yoko’s Life With the Lions — along with Harrison’s Electronic Sound (mistakenly titled in the plural) — for Rolling Stone‘s August 9, 1969 issue, and rhetorically asks if we’ve ever had the feeling we’ve been cheated:
Well now Yoko has [referring to Grapefruit, Yoko Ono’s “instructional” art book from 1964] a brand new fruit — Apple. She and John were right in there in the first batch of releases trying to pass themselves off as saints or virgins or artists or something. Then Apple went through some financial difficulties, and announced the formation of a new lower-priced label called Zapple, to be used for experimental and spoken-word recordings. “If we’d thought of it in time, we’d have released Two Virgins on Zapple,” they said. And then came the ads in the trade magazines: Zapple was born. And a little thing in the price schedule, cleverly disguised in shillings, which said in effect there would be three price ranges: low, medium, and regular. And the first two released would be regular price, of course. You weren’t really expecting Bargain Beatles now, were you?
Well, here they are, folks. The first two Zapples, a logical extension of the Beatles sweatshirts, wigs, and fan magazines of the Beatlemania period, packaged for an audience that considers itself too hip and turned-on for that kind of a shuck. Instead, they buy these things and go home and get good and loaded and nod their heads uncomprehendingly. Yeah. Freaky. Heavy. As I write, both of these albums are on Billboard‘s LP charts. P.T. Barnum is alive and well at 3 Saville Row, London, W.1.
Immediately adjacent to Ed Ward’s unflinching review is a poem – coincidentally or not – by Richard Brautigan, whose lone LP Listening to Richard Brautigan had been intended for Zapple but ended up being released by EMI subsidiary, Harvest, in 1970 after the powers-that-be had pulled the plug on Zapple. Allen Klein would tell Rolling Stone, for a staff report in the magazine’s November 29, 1969 issue entitled, “Allen Klein: ‘I Cured All Their Problems‘”:
As far as doing low-budget records, my theory is that if they are good, we’ll charge. Otherwise, we’ll give it away free.
Nov. 29, 1969 cover
Future Starday-King artists, The Coasters
It is tragicomic to know of Zapple’s demise in June of 1969 after-the-fact and then read announcements of the “new” label’s launch, for example, in the “Italy” column of Cash Box‘s July 19, 1969 edition —
EMI Italiana is introducing for the first time on the Italian market the new record label presented by the Beatles called Zapple. At the same time, the Beatles will appear in one of our top TV series “Settevoci” where a film will be presented showing their performance of their latest success “Get Back.”
Nov. 1, 1969
Another example of the disconnect within Apple Corps Ltd. appeared in a November 1, 1969 article for Cash Box — “Apple Into 2nd Year With Renewed Vim” — that announced an elaborate John & Yoko experimental LP project that would have been a perfect fit for Zapple had the label not been shut down months earlier:
The low-priced Zapple line, introduced earlier this year, will market John & Yoko’s Wedding Album, a boxed set that will include pictures (of John by Yoko and of Yoko by John), cartoons, film strips and other pop art works, along with another trip into the experimental world of music.
Film strip from John & Yoko’s Wedding Album
[US release – Oct. 20, 1969 on Apple]
Rolling Stone‘s Pat MacDonald would also make a late-in-the-game reference to Zapple in an article for the June 25, 1970 issue — “Swok, Slurp, Swok, Swok” — that documented Ken Kesey‘s visit to Bellingham, Washington’s Multiarts Festival:
Somebody found some flutes, harmonicas, drums and bells and Kesey and friends began playing music first in the vacant lot, then down in Toad Hall where people were gathering for the daily free meal.
Kesey had come to Bellingham that morning with his Paul Sawyer and spent part of the morning on the Western Washington State College campus, the afternoon rambling through Bellingham’s several hip bars and most of the rest of the day around Toad Hall talking with the people there, sometimes individually.
He talked about a visit to London to record, a reading of some of his works for Zapple, the electronic and experimental music arm of Apple, and how much he liked the Beatles despite the fact that their organization was [fugged].
Kesey also briefly turns up in the memoir by Apple’s “house hippie,” Richard DiLello, 1972’s The Longest Cocktail Party:
Ken Kesey became the first tangible candidate for Apple’s Spoken Word series, which had been under consideration since the late spring. In a joint decision that included [Derek] Taylor and [Peter] Asher, Kesey was supplied with a portable tape recorder and the use of an electric typewriter; the record was to be an informal street diary of his London visit.
The Press Officer [Taylor] warned Kesey about the press.
“Watch out for them—“
“Why?” he wanted to know.
“Because they’re straights—“
“Well, you’re sitting behind a straight desk—“
“True, true. I forget about that sometimes—“
DiLello’s book also includes a large-format photo of Kesey in London holding a bottle of Coke and leaning against a Cadillac, with a British call box and Savile Row sign framing the right side of the image.
Another Beatle-insider account, Tony Bramwell‘s Magical Mystery Tours – My Life With The Beatles, offers this perspective on the Zapple era:
The idea of Zapple, Apple’s Poetry and Spoken Word project, which had started well, and then faded with the disappearance of Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, hadn’t really gone away. Paul was very open to ideas and John and Yoko, were also still keen on it and they mentioned it to [Allen] Klein. Naturally, he took a good look at it. I was particularly into beat poetry and all the Kerourac On The Road, Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby type of writings, and looking back, neither were most of the staff at Apple. We just like rock music I suppose and didn’t see any market, or more to the point, didn’t really see any reason for Apple to be doing this spoken-word experimentation. But while the walls had been resonating at Savile Row with endless bickering and in-fighting. Barry Miles, one of the founders of Indica, had been out of sight and almost out of touch for months, roaming around the United States with a mobile recording unit, compiling interviews and recording sessions with the new breed of avant-garde writers.
What killed it all stone dead was one of Miles’s big ideas to make an album in New York with the granddaddy of beat poets, Allen Ginsberg, whom he had first met in London, at Indica. Ginsberg agreed, but perturbingly businesslike for a hippie, he said he wanted some sort of special contract with Zapple, a real piece of paper with words and percentages and amounts on it. He didn’t know what a mistake this was because Klein was now involved in the financial Apple/Zapple setup. Klein said he and Ginsberg would have to have a meeting to discuss this piece of paper. Miles brought Ginsberg along. To say that the pair of them didn’t hit it off was something of an understatement. Here comes the shuffling unkempt Jewish beat poet with peanut butter in his beard talking about his projected royalties, and across the desk there’s a glaring Klein the archcapitalist Jewish lawyer/accountant, who abhorred the idea of giving anybody any royalties, especially to what he called a “fake fagellah poet.”
No they did not get on. Ginsberg apparently adopted the asana position and was doing a quick, “Ommmmmm.” He invited Klein to join in to get the right vibes going. Klein would have none of it. He shouted, “Get offa my carpet and outa my office, you [goshdarn] queer hippie!”
Soon, strange as it may seem, Klein withdrew all Zapple funding and scrapped the whole idea forthwith. Miles was mortified. He was stuck with all these tapes and living in the Chelsea Hotel in New York, absolutely out of money, out of everything, and going out of his mind. Eventually he got his tapes compiled and they were released by various other specialist labels.
Paul had put money into the Indica bookshop, which Miles ran, above which Ginsberg came and lived for a while. Ginsberg had been heavily involved in the great Pro Pot rally at Hyde Park, at Speakers’ Corner. Gonzo Ginzo, as we called him, had gotten up on a soapbox, played his little squeezebox and declaimed his poetry, but most of the thousands of people who went along that sunny afternoon did so because Eric Clapton was playing. As for Bukowski, I met him in Los Angeles, but it was impossible to hold a conversation because he was always falling over drunk. Mickey Rourke played Bukowski in a movie, but William Burroughs was a different kettle of fish. A beat novelist as against a beat poet, he was around London all the time and came into Apple a lot. For a while, like Ginsberg, he lived virtually next door to the Indica bookshop in Masons Yard. Eventually, Zapple joined Apple Electronics and the Apple Boutique in losing money and being closed down.
* * *
One of the more powerful moments in The Zapple Diaries — a must-read for any serious Beatleologist — can be found in the chapter about recording with Charles Olson (“The Big O“) less than a year before his passing; in recalling the details of his arrival at Olson’s doorstep, Barry Miles makes a pointed commentary on the casual cruelty of the health care system here in the United States, in contrast with our industrialized peers:
February is not the best time to visit Massachusetts. The streets of Gloucester were filled with snow, with only the main road being ploughed, and we had to walk the last few blocks to Fort Square, a spit of land projecting out into the harbour with about a dozen low white-painted wooden clapboard houses. The sea looked grey and very cold, and I had never before seen snow on the beach. Olson’s apartment was on the top floor of a two-storey building at 28 Fort Square, reached by an outside wooden stair. His kitchen windows looked out over the rooftops to the harbour: a low mansard roof, electricity and telephone cables slicing the view. Olson was not in when we arrived, but he had left a note taped to the windowpane of the back door to say he would be back soon. It was written on the back of a threatening letter from a hospital about an unpaid bill. I was shocked; it always came as a surprise to remember that America did not have a national health system like we did at home.
Forty-four years later, “Two Minutes Silence” (from Life With The Lions) would find itself included (without permission) on a prankish compilation of other such silent tracks transferred directly from various vinyl pressings — versus the original master tapes, thus making for a rather audible experience — on a CD mix that also featured Sly & the Family Stone (“There’s A Riot Goin’ On“), John Denver (“The Ballad of Richard Nixon“), and The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band (“Anniversary of World War III“), along with offerings from Andy Warhol, Yves Klein & Charles Wilp, Robert Wyatt, Afrika Bambaataa, Orbital, Ciccone Youth, and Crass, among others. This 2013 anthology, unfortunately, is a bootleg release out of Italy that was conceived initially as a graduate school marketing exercise, possibly.
1969 Zapple Press Release
– Words From Apple –
Fine and fresh and new it is; obvious it may be, the A to Z bit — but that’s okay. Not so obvious that it came easily that now Zapple becomes a branch of Apple, full of growth and strength … no limit to [its] power to reach and touch whomsoever himself can reach and touch and be touched and be reached.
Zapple is a new label from Apple Records, an extension of everything new and different which Apple has tried to bring to the record business. It is the realization, the beginnings of the realization of the hopes of those at Apple, and in Apple’s orbit — which is the world — who’ll believe that innovation and change are not only attractive adventures but also, a cheerful and inescapable duty.
On Zapple you will hear eccentricities — if that is how you will see them to be, or rather hear them to be — minority things, sometimes just things, but never, never nothing. Our duty folks, is to entertain … or maybe it isn’t anything of the sort but just to turn you on, real good, to really good things. It is, in humility hoped, that Zapple is a label with something to say.
Zapple will bring sounds of all kinds — not necessarily music as you know it, love it, or fear it.
There will be electronic sounds, spoken word, recorded interviews … thoughts and views of well known people and people you haven’t heard of but should have and will. We may — and whisper it with infinite subtlety, only loud enough so that it may be heard, no louder — have some classical music.
So, Zapple, in fact, means variety … although we don’t want to be locked in, ever. Not ever, please.
Will Zapple cost you more?
In a word, no. In fact in some cases it will cost you a lot less.
It all depends on production. If the costs are low, it will be cheap for you to buy. We’re not greedy.
Future artists include work by Ken Kesey, Richard Brautigan, Lenny Bruce, Lord Buckley, Charles Olson, Charles Bukowski, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Michael McClure, Ken Weaver, and Allen Ginsberg, to name but a few.
Now here’s Richard DiLello, an elegant Californian — so Californian he comes from Queens — who works at Apple in London, to tell you in his own words about the first Zapple releases.
[Note: Flip side of the press release features DiLello’s cosmic ruminations on John & Yoko’s Life With the Lions LP followed by similarly baroque commentary on George Harrison’s Electronic Sound album]
In February 1969 in a mounting vortex of decibels there came to pass a wrecked chord of environmental sounds that went beyond the genre of hashish cocktail music …
The bass line has been milked through the Moog machine and lo and high we behold electronic music … music that becomes sounds that food for the mind, not to forget the soul, o solo mio.
Dear George, would you be so kind and fulfill this request and play the lost chord, the one I like best. Under the Mersey wall, science fictionalized horrors float free and one is left to speculate as to the fate of man in his lyrical home grown simplicity. A wind blew in Esher. No time or space side two.
In California through the machine gun of his mind, George through [sic] aloud to himself and in his composure he has exposed the thought patterns beating on his brow and diametrically opposed he has exposed through the medium of the Moog, a pottage of space music. And on and on we go … George Harrison versus Godzilla and King Kong in space and Bernie Krause was there to give a helping hand. Dear George, say hi to Bernie.
Zapple LPs for the US market were pressed at the Capitol Records Pressing Plant in Scranton, PA.
Doff of the cap to Cincinnati’s Shake It Records, where I purchased The Zapple Diaries for a righteous price.