Apple, Inc. (formerly Apple Computer) and Apple Records (the label for the Beatles) have finally laid to rest all legal problems involving use of the name “Apple” (according to a CNET News.com report by Caroline McCarthy). This marks an end to the long-running copyright feud between the two companies and replaces an earlier agreement that limited Apple Inc.’s abilities to distribute music.
Great news, but no Beatles music is available yet in the iTunes store except The Beatles & Tony Sheridan – In the Beginning (USA), which is a collection of songs recorded in Germany with Tony Sheridan, of “My Bonnie” fame, as lead singer (including “Ain’t She Sweet” sung by Lennon) — and obviously not a recording controlled by Apple Records.
Although we can only speculate how much influence, if any, Apple Records had on the formation of Apple Computer, we know that Steve Jobs likes the Beatles. But there are far more interesting connections and coincidences.
Start with the fact that Apple Records included an Apple Electronics division — way back in 1968 (other divisions included Apple Films, Apple Publishing, and Apple Retail). A friend of John Lennon called Magic Alex (alias Yanni Alexis Mardas) worked on all sorts of electronic devices for this division; not just audio recording equipment (some of which found its way into Apple Records’ basement recording studio and was used for some of the Let It Be album), but also light boxes and prototype consumer devices including an apple-shaped radio. He had impressed Lennon with his “nothing box”, a small plastic box with randomly blinking lights, and his ideas for futuristic electronic devices. It turned out that his main electronic experience had been as a TV repairman.
But Lennon and McCartney were serious about starting an alternative music, film, publishing, and electronics company. In addition to providing an umbrella to cover their financial and business affairs, Lennon and McCartney intended Apple to be an innovative company that would capitalize on worthwhile artistic projects. Above all, Apple epitomized the style of its era, as each new Beatles album broke new ground in music and cover art. McCartney came up with the name Apple Corps and the logo from a RenÃ© Magritte painting. The following dialog from the 1968 press conference in New York to announce Apple Corps is particularly illuminating:
Interviewer to the Beatles: Could you tell us about your newest corporate business venture [Apple]?
John Lennon: It’s a business concerning records, films, and electronics and, as a sideline, manufacturing or whatever. We want to set up a system whereby people who just want to make a film about anything don’t have to go on their knees in somebody’s office, probably yours.
[ Interviewer asks more questions ]
John Lennon: The aim of this company [Apple] isn’t really a sack of gold teeth in the bank. We’ve done that bit. It’s more of a trick to see if we can actually get artistic freedom within a business structure, to see if we can create nice things and sell them without charging three times our cost.
Interviewer to the Beatles: How will you run your new company?
John Lennon: There’s people we can get to do that. We don’t know anything about business.
Interviewer to the Beatles: Will you sing a song for us?
John Lennon: No. Sorry, we need money first.
Apple Computer followed in Apple Corps’ footsteps a decade later, not only with a modified version of the logo but also with a sleek new style that invoked the Sixties (with metaphors of a “personal computer revolution”). Again, a company named Apple epitomized the style of its era. You can even faintly hear the influence of Beatles-style irreverent humor in Steve Jobs’ speeches. Both companies hired lots of designers and paid exquisite attention to style, and both companies fostered intense loyalty and dedication in their employees.
The first Apple nearly flamed out in the longest-running cocktail party ever, but it emerged decades later to serve up billions of dollars worth of Beatles content in the form of CDs and the Anthology series. The second Apple has emerged from oblivion to take on the largest consumer electronics companies in the world. The two are now at peace to capitalize on their revolutions.