Grapefruit sound like ’68 pop personified yet commercial success largely eluded them. Despite Lennon-McCartney endorsement and an Apple association, their singles never made it into the Top 20.
Sounds of ‘68
The pop group of 1968 was The Herd. Much as I love their production heavy, playfully apocalyptic creations (From the Underworld, Paradise Lost) The Herd owe much to a pre-Pepper DDDBMT sensibility and were actually fairly untouched by psychedelia.
It’s Grapefruit, who encapsulate the sound of post-Pepper ‘68 pop not just with their flute and harpsichord embellishments but in their chord progressions and an all-round trip-friendly sensibility, a youthful, often exuberant take on a colourful, kaleidoscopic world.
On a scale between pop and psych, Grapefruit are maybe three quarters pop to one quarter pysch but what a good place to be that was (musically if not commercially) in ‘68.
Seen from the psych end of the scale, July and Blossom Toes may have cornered the warped, time bending side of things but Grapefruit had something more substantial than just treated vocals and uber reverb. They had brilliantly sparky songs. The solidly melodic songwriting of George Alexander made sure of that. George Alexander wrote everything bar two tracks on their first album, Around Grapefruit, and was also their wonderfully clicky bassist. It’s Alexander’s solid songwriting which puts them above their more radical rivals.
And seen from the other side, the pop side, Grapefruit embrace the demands of psychedelia with a freshness and persistent confidence which their poppier elder peers – Tremeloes, Hollies – sometimes lacked. There’s no see-sawing between King Midas in Reverse and Jennifer Eccles, no resort to supper club fare such as Suddenly You Love Me.
Grapefruit came together via Apple Publishing in 1967. Terry Doran paired songwriter George Alexander with ex Sugarbeats and Tony Rivers and The Castaways John Perry and Geoff and Pete Swettenham. John Lennon christened them and thus Grapefruit was born. It’s their first album, Around Grapefruit (1968, released 1969) I’m mainly concerned with in these two posts.
Around Grapefruit really impressed me 25 years ago when a then friend gave me a handful of cassettes, one of which was labelled simply: ‘Grapefruit’. The name meant nothing to me. I gave it a listen and instantly liked what I heard. This band didn’t just produce the occasional brilliant pop song, they produced brilliant pop songs across an entire album.
A few years later, I tracked down their Around Grapefruit LP. The only bad thing about it was the drab, uninspiring ‘grapefruit as ash tray’ cover which failed to hint at the sparkling contents. That cover must have looked very dated indeed come release in 1969.
It feels as if there’s been a growing appetite for Grapefruit over the last fifteen years or so.
2002 brought RPM’s 94 Baker Street, a compilation of groups signed to Apple Publishing. It included a number of alternative takes and unreleased songs by Grapefruit and in many ways marked the beginning of the search for further unused recordings which culminated in May’s release of Yesterday’s Sunshine: the complete 1967-1968 London sessions [RPM, 2016, Retro 977]. This gathers together recordings before producer Terry Melchor remixed and redubbed the tapes for the Around Grapefruit album in early 1969, plus there are six entirely new tracks.
Meanwhile Around Grapefruit was finally given the digitally re-mastered treatment in 2011. A fourteen track BBC compilation, Around the BBC had appeared four years earlier.
If you’re new to the band, I would say Around Grapefruit is the place to start. Follow that up with Yesterday’s Sunshine to give new insights into the album. Several songs are radically different from their finished versions – more on this in Part 2
But what of those six entirely new tracks on Yesterday’s Sunshine?
There are two highlights: the cheeky escapade Sweet Little Miss No Name (rather this had made it onto Around Grapefruit in place of C’mon Marianne) and Trying to Make it to Monday in which George shows a more introspective, doubtful face with a melody hinting at both defiance and melancholy.
The other previously unreleased tracks are Somebody’s Turning on the People, Breaking Up a Dream – a choppy instrumental crying out for a vocal (it was never committed to tape) – and the soul party pop of Do What You Want to Do (aka Learn to Love Me).
The sixth track is One More Try. Better known as Charlotte Rose, this fine George Alexander composition was recorded by The Majority for a January 1969 single. Grapefruit’s version rocks out a little more though I’d give The Majority’s the edge.
The new tracks are all worthy contributions to the Grapefruit oeuvre but can’t eclipse their prime cuts: Another Game, Yesterday’s Sunshine, Yes, Lullaby, Ain’t It Good and Theme for a Lonely Queen.
Join me for Part 2 when I’ll listen to Around Grapefruit and its alternative versions with complete track listings.