Monday, March 24, 2008

Beatlesobit: Neil Aspinall

One of several people lauded with the honorific 'Fifth Beatle', Neil Aspinall has died.

Although an occasional instrumentalist on Beatles tracks, his real contribution to the band has been as chief executive of Apple Corps, leading the company from 1970 through to 2007 and doing as much to keep the Beatles legend stoked and shining - and earning - as any of the band.

Although a schoolfriend of McCartney and Harrison, Aspinall came into the band's ambit when another one of the Fifth Beatles, Pete Best, asked him to do some driving. Aspinall - as an accountant - worked out quickly that road-managing the band would make more than the day job, and quickly became a fixture in the band's machine. He nearly quit in solidarity when Pete Best was canned; Best persuaded him to say.

His appointment at the head of the Apple operation almost faltered when George Martin suggested his background would leave him struggling to deal with the upper-classes in charge of EMI; that wasn't so much of a problem but his lack of business skills did see him condemned in the Sunday Times in 1995 as 'merrily leading [The Beatles] to the brink of chaos and bankruptcy". However, Aspinall's plan - to try and maintain the band as a quality brand rather than a piggybank - appeared to pay off when the Anthology series appeared; a band who had largely kept aloof from the compilation market managed to make a bunch of offcuts (and a dreadful 'new' track in Free As A Bird) seem like an event. It sold in bucketloads.

Although once a wide-ranging business empirette, for most of its life Apple has relied on Beatles records and legal battles with Apple Computer and EMI.

Neil Aspinall was 66; it's believed his death was related to lung cancer.


4 comments:

Robin Carmody said...

Obviously, the Anthology series seemed more of an event because it coincided with Britpop and, more specifically, Oasis. Whether it would have seemed *quite* so big had it happened in, say, 1991 is something we'll never know ... it probably would have been with the original generation, but there may not have been so much apparent interest among the young.

On the Anthology series there was also "Real Love", which was (rightly) left off the Radio 1 playlist, prompting a Tory MP to threaten to (somehow) legally force the station to play it. You realise precisely why that government suffered the fate it did (although even Tony Banks - the Labour one, not the Genesis one - claimed that "Radio 1 chiefs were being pompous and silly" - yeah, how would you have liked it had some dreadful reunion effort by a 1930s dance band interrupted your favourite offshore station?).

simon h b said...

But you've got to love the idea of a government edict to play the record - I wonder if they'd do it like the Party Election Broadcasts?

"You're listening to Radio One. In a moment, Steve Wright In The Afternoon. But first: a new single by The Beatles..."

Chris Brown said...

Funnily enough, an album of studio outtakes was originally planned for the mid-eighties but it never happened (I guess they were sidetracked by the release of the original recordings on CD).
Given that a live album topped the charts in 1977, when their stock must have been at about its lowest, it's possible that there would have been *some* sense of event about Anthology, especially with the TV show to plug it. The passage of time certainly helped though, just because it made the idea of "new" Beatles material seem exciting - compare that with Nick Drake's only chart album being outtakes, perhaps.

Personally, I quite like 'Real Love' (it's certainly better than 'Free As A Bird') but it's hard to believe that even twelve years ago somebody took seriously the idea that it was in R1's orbit.

Anonymous said...

i love both songs and i aint ashambed to admit it.

ok. i am. but theyre still pretty good. better than cast or kula shaker anyway.

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