Apple Scruffs (song)
Norwegian picture sleeve for the 1971 single, "What Is Life" backed with "Apple Scruffs"
|Song by George Harrison|
|from the album All Things Must Pass|
|Released||27 November 1970|
|Producer(s)||George Harrison, Phil Spector|
|All Things Must Pass track listing|
"Apple Scruffs" is a song by English musician George Harrison, released on his 1970 triple album All Things Must Pass. It was written as a tribute to the die-hard Beatles fans known as Apple scruffs, who would wait in certain London locations where the band members were likely to appear, even long after the group's break-up in April 1970.
The recording has been noted for its Bob Dylan influence, featuring Harrison on acoustic guitar and harmonica, and is recognised as a departure from the big sound synonymous with All Things Must Pass. "Apple Scruffs" was also released as the B-side to "What Is Life", gaining further popularity through airplay on US radio, and became the preferred side of the single in some countries.
Background and composition
The name "Apple scruffs" was first coined by George Harrison during the late 1960s. Although well known for his aversion to fan worship, particularly to the Beatlemania phenomenon, Harrison had formed a bond with a number of the scruffs; he acknowledged in an April 1969 interview with Disc magazine: "their part in the play is equally as important as ours". His song "Apple Scruffs" was written as a tribute to the fans who had kept vigil outside the various recording studios he had been working in since late May 1970, during the sessions for his All Things Must Pass triple album, as well as the Apple headquarters on Savile Row. Although Harrison makes no mention of the song in his 1980 autobiography, Derek Taylor, in his role as editor, describes the Apple scruffs as the "central core" of fans, long after Beatlemania had subsided, adding that "We were all very fond of them".
New York Post writer Al Aronowitz was present during much of the All Things Must Pass sessions. He later wrote: "Outside the studio door, whether it rained or not, there was always a handful of Apple Scruffs, one of them a girl all the way from Texas. Sometimes George would record from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. and there they would be, waiting through the night, beggars for a sign of recognition on his way in and out."
Harrison recorded "Apple Scruffs" late in the proceedings, during the overdubbing and mixing phase of All Things Must Pass. Uniquely among the tracks on All Things Must Pass, "Apple Scruffs" was performed solo by Harrison – except for a percussive, tapping sound provided by Beatles assistant Mal Evans. Harrison recorded the song live on acoustic guitar and harmonica, in the style of his friend Bob Dylan. Due to his heavy beard and moustache, Harrison struggled while attempting to play the harmonica; sessions tapes also reveal he needed to coach himself on the sucking and blowing technique required for the part.
Using take 18 of his performances that day, the released recording was edited together from the full take, lasting around two-and-a-half minutes, with the section comprising the song's chorus and the following instrumental passage repeated, thereby extending the track length to 3:04. Earlier in the year, co-producer Phil Spector had similarly extended Harrison's song "I Me Mine" when preparing the Beatles' Let It Be album for release. Harrison overdubbed backing vocals, credited on the album to "the George O'Hara-Smith Singers", and two slide-guitar parts onto the basic track.
Harrison invited the Apple scruffs into Abbey Road Studios to hear the results. A teenager at the time, Gill Pritchard later recalled that Harrison told them: "Well, you had your own magazine, your own office on the [studio] steps, so why not your own song?"
Apple Records released All Things Must Pass on 27 November 1970, with "Apple Scruffs" appearing as the second track on side three, in the triple LP format. In the wake of the Beatles' break-up seven months before, author Peter Doggett writes, "Apple Scruffs" and tracks such as "Run of the Mill" and "Wah-Wah" presented the band's fans with "a teasing glimpse into an intimate world that had previously been off-limits to the public".
The song was afforded further exposure when issued as the B-side to "What Is Life", released internationally (though not in Britain) in February 1971 as a second single off the album. Its inclusion on the single marked the first in a short-lived tradition of what author Simon Leng has called Harrison's "upmarket busking" acoustic B-sides, other examples being "Miss O'Dell" and "I Don't Care Anymore". The US picture sleeve gave both sides of the single equal billing, the song titles printed above a Barry Feinstein photo of the top of a tower at Harrison's new home, Friar Park.
A popular track on radio, "Apple Scruffs" received as much airplay as the A-side in America, while in some European markets and Australia, its popularity led to the song being favoured as the lead side over "What Is Life". In Australia, "Apple Scruffs" and "What Is Life" were listed as a double A-side when the single topped the Go-Set National Top 60 in May 1971. The two sides were also listed together on the US chart compiled by Record World, where the single peaked at number 10.
On release, reviewers were quick to point out the Dylan influence on "Apple Scruffs"; Alan Smith of the NME described it as "a Dylanesque, pacy piece with harmonica and a girlie chorus". Rolling Stone's Ben Gerson considered "Apple Scruffs" to be "One of the most wonderful cuts on the album" and added: "it sounds as if it was recorded while co-producer Phil Spector was out for coffee."
In his combined review of all the former Beatles' 1970 solo releases, Geoffrey Cannon of The Guardian described All Things Must Pass as "relaxed, well resolved, and, as ever with George, magnanimous" and said he especially admired the sentiments in "Apple Scruffs", despite it being "one of the slighter songs". Billboard magazine's reviewer wrote of "What Is Life" and "Apple Scruffs" as "intriguing rhythm follows-ups" to Harrison's international hit "My Sweet Lord", and songs that were "sure to repeat that success" and "prove big juke box items".
More recently, Beatles author Bruce Spizer has written of the song: "Sandwiched in the middle of an album full of elaborate wall-of-sound productions, Apple Scruffs breaks through like a breath of fresh air." Simon Leng praises the track's bottleneck parts, and particularly the backing vocals, which he describes as "the best on the album". The same passage, towards the end of the song, has been referred to by Tom Moon in his book 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die as "an explosive peak-experience refrain that comes direct from heaven's songbook".
In a 2001 review for the 30th anniversary reissue of All Things Must Pass, James Hunter of Rolling Stone highlighted "Apple Scruffs" among other tracks on an album that "helped define the decade it ushered in", advising listeners to "proceed to music that exults in breezy rhythms", which included "the colorful revolutions of 'What Is Life' … bluesy and intricate on Harrison and Dylan's 'I'd Have You Anytime,' fizzy on 'Apple Scruffs,' grooving on 'Let It Down,' and spookily proto-disco on 'Art of Dying'".
- George Harrison – vocals, acoustic guitar, harmonica, slide guitars, backing vocals
- Mal Evans – wooden block
- Clayson, p. 272.
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- George Harrison (Song artist 225), Tsort pages (retrieved 16 October 2012).
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- Moon, p. 345.
- James Hunter, "George Harrison All Things Must Pass 30th Anniversary reissue", Rolling Stone, 29 March 2001; quoted in The Super Seventies "Classic 500", George Harrison – All Things Must Pass (retrieved 26 July 2014).
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- Madinger & Easter, pp. 430–31.
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