Best Sneak Attack
Fans who bought Wow, Moby Grape’s second album, in 1968 received a bonus record. The two discs were packaged separately but sold together for the price of a single LP. Used copies of Grape Jam, the bonus record, are usually sold independently by record shops like ours today, and many collectors don’t even realize it was once a bonus for buyers of Wow.
Everyone who bought George Harrison’s much anticipated All Things Must Pass two years later were probably not as pleased with the bonus surprise, for they had paid closer to full price for the jam slipped into its attractive black and grey box. While Harrison’s proper debut has consistently earned masterpiece marks in the four decades since, Apple Jam remains misunderstood at best and maligned by most. Rolling Stone originally dismissed it as “mostly boring,” and today All Music pans it as “entirely dispensable.”
“Out of the Blue” from Apple Jam (in two parts)
Moby Grape wins this round — with the Wow/Grape Jam package they convinced Columbia to release an album that otherwise would not likely have seen light. George Harrison, on the other hand, could probably have released anything he wanted in 1970 (Wonderwall, anyone?). Their add-on jam also proved surprisingly influential, given its ad hoc nature, which we’ll see in coming rounds.
There’s one last sneak attack worthy of note, however. Grab you copy of All Things Must Pass and take out the Apple Jam sleeve (go ahead, we’ll wait). Look at the credits for “Out of the Blue.” Jim Gordon, Bobby Whitlock, Eric Clapton, Carl Radle … where have we seen these names together…?
That’s where — Apple Jam is where Derek and the Dominos begin! How’s that for a sneak attack?
Best Superstar Guests
In addition to 4/5 of Derek and the Dominoes, All Things Must Pass features performances by Bobby Keyes and Jim Price (from the horn section you hear on albums like Exile on Main Street and Mad Dogs and Englishmen), Gary Wright (the “Dream Weaver” guy) and Gary Brooker (of Procol Harum). Plus Badfinger. Yep, all four members of Badfinger back Harrison throughout the album, sometimes augmented by drummer Alan White (Yes) and — in an uncredited performance — a young, pre-Genesis Phil Collins.
Old Beatle pals contributed to All Things Must Pass, too — in fact, Ringo hits the skins on some of the album’s best tracks (“My Sweet Lord” and “Wah Wah” for instance). He does not, however, appear on Apple Jam. Billy Preston does, however, as well as Ginger Baker and Dave Mason. So many stars it’s hard to imagine quiet George keeping it together, but maybe that’s why it’s an informal jam.
Grape Jam, on the other hand, rests itself proudly on two distinguished guests: Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper. And Bloomfield plays the piano! What’s really remarkable about the appearance of these two is that they continued to work together, teaming up (with Stephen Stills) for the now-ubiquitous Super Session album which more or less solidified the rockin’ jam tradition to which Harrison’s Apple Jam is deeply indebted.
Credit for creating the jam session album hardly belongs to the Moby Grape crew, nor Bloomfield and Kooper — such sessions have a long history in jazz and their popularity owes much to producer Norman Granz, the founder of many favorite jazz labels, including Verve, Clef and Pablo.
Harrison’s Beatle connections earn him a win for this round, no contest. The passages on “Plug Me In” and “Thanks for the Pepperoni” during which the listener must wonder whether he’s hearing Clapton, Harrison or Mason are awesome. That said, Kooper’s piano romp on “Black Currant Jam” provides the best guest appearance moment to be heard on either record.
“Black Currant Jam”
Best Low Point
Yep. Best. If you can’t appreciate the low points, you’re never going to learn to love 70s rock records, which owing to the jam tradition borne of the era of Apple and Grape Jam are teeming with tedious moments of self-indulgence. The worst moments of these two records isn’t in their extended jams, however, as with Super Session, Jamin’ with Edward or the Derek and the Dominoes album. Harrison and Moby Grape include short tracks that feel like outtakes from the more polished product to which their jams are attached.
Moby Grape’s “The Lake” features fan poetry (Michael Hayworth had also won San Francisco’s FKRC radio songwriting contest) and a sound collage in the style of Edgar Varèse and John Cage, likely introduced to the band by the fourth side of Frank Zappa’s Freak Out! The result probably led to Grape Jam’s reputation as a throwaway disc.
Apple Jam’s shortest track, “It’s Johnny’s Birthday,” celebrated John Lennon’s thirtieth birthday. Here’s where Harrison fucked up: he based his short little silly song (forty-nine seconds) on Cliff Richards’ song from the 1968 Eurovision Song Contest (“Congratulations”) without crediting the original authors. Legal action followed and subsequent pressings of All Things Must Pass credited them. This, of course, was not the only accusation of plagiarism Harrison faced from the album (the decade-long legal battle over “My Sweet Lord” and it’s appropriation of the Chiffon’s “He’s so Fine” ended when Harrison purchased the plaintiff’s publishing company, Bright Tunes, from his former manager, for more than a half-million dollars).
George’s costly, embarrassing birthday message to John is perhaps the last indulgent crap track he put on an album (not to say everything on his subsequent nine albums hit the mark). This is just about the complete opposite of his former bandmates, who seemed to litter each album with novelty fillers. Let’s give him this round, too.
Because this is the sort of thing music journalists write about. Apple Jam led to “Layla.” Grape Jam gave us the Super Session and The Live Adventures of Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper, which in turn gave us Carlos Santana. No Grape Jam no “Jingo”? Hard to say.
One band clearly influenced by Grape Jam was Led Zeppelin. They like “Never” so much they borrowed its lyrics and melody for a track on Led Zeppelin III (“Since I’ve Been Loving You”). But they didn’t like it enough to credit Moby Grape — Kind of like what they did with other songs by Willie Dixon, Sonny Boy Williamson, Howlin’ Wolf, Eddie Cochran, Jake Holmes, and about ten more….
People seem to like the two jam records for different reasons, but our record shop experience has taught us that collectors are more excited about a nice copy of Grape Jam than Apple Jam. Even torn up copies of All Things Must Pass are pretty clean on sides five and six. Our two part tribute to Harrison’s epic included a defense of Apple Jam (read it here and here), which didn’t sit well with friends and fans. We’re not saying Moby Grape fans are just a little more easy going, but well…there’s that.
When you think about it, that’s what it’s all about. Which one has the best jam?! The rest of it’s just academic.
Let’s just admit there’s no beating a Beatle — look inside your copy of Living in the Material World. That’s George Harrison’s house. The guys from Moby Grape, on the other hand, had to fight over their name. They also faced all kind of other troubles, like homelessness and mental illness, and kids today haven’t even heard of them.
As for the records themselves — Even though Bobby Whitlock and Billy Preston both play with intensity, Apple Jam is a guitar-drive affair. Grape Jam, on the other hand, is so piano driven that Mike Bloomfield doesn’t play guitar on it at all. This puts Apple Jam much more on the “in” side of the music scene of 1968-70, where keyboards begin to become marginalized in rock and roll. It also lends a ho-hum quality to “Thank for the Pepperoni” after a couple minutes.
Harrison’s longer jam, “Out of the Blue,” slows and re-builds itself (right around the point where we split it into two tracks above). It also features a few notes from Keyes’ saxophone and for a moment a leading role for Whitlock at the keys.
The heaviest moments of Moby Grape’s “Boysenberry Jam,” feel more collaborative and jazzier. Their rhythm guitarist Peter Lewis didn’t appear on Grape Jam, and Harrison and his famous guests could probably shred circles around lead guitarist Jerry Miller. The song falters a little for lack of direction where “Out of the Blue” seems propelled forward.
“Thanks for the Pepperoni”
The best jam is “Black Currant Jam,” which you heard up above there a ways. Kooper steals the show but the whole band is in fine form. Mosley and Stevenson don’t fall behind for a moment. It’s the only jam on either record that captures the feeling from the notes on the back of the album:
Just laying down some music when the mood struck, indifferent to the microphones, with no afterthoughts and postmortems and retakes, laying it down just the way it happened — finding out again that music can be fun, and that the fun is easily shared….