Another missing piece of the Apple Records puzzle has just emerged thanks to Cherry Red’s RPM Records label. Between February and April 1969, the New York band Mortimer worked with producer Peter Asher (Peter and Gordon, James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt) at London’s Trident Studios to craft an LP for The Beatles’ Apple Records label. The Fabs’ imprimatur was firmly in place: John Lennon had passed their music onto Apple, George Harrison had encouraged their signing, and Paul McCartney had given them a song: a little Lennon/McCartney ditty called “On Our Way Home,” which would become much better known as “Two of Us,” the opening track on Let It Be. When Allen Klein shook up Apple Corps, however, Mortimer was shown the door, and their album – and recording of “On Our Way Home” – sat collecting dust for five decades. On March 17, RPM premieres the complete album plus four outtakes on a new CD release.
Tom Smith (vocals/guitar), Tony Van Benschoten (vocals/bass/guitar), and Guy Masson (vocals/drums/percussion) first came together as three-fourths of The Teddy Boys, recording four singles in 1966 for Philadelphia’s Cameo-Parkway Records and serving as the house band for Sybil Burton’s New York discotheque Arthur. Jamming after sets at Arthur, the band honed an approach of playing full-on rock with acoustic guitars and conga drums, and this sound got them a deal with Philips Records. By the time of the release of their album in May 1968, the band had changed its name to Mortimer and lost one member (vocalist-guitarist Bob Ronga). Despite some regional success, the Philips album never gained national traction, and Mortimer headed to England.
Through a series of events recounted in producer and Apple historian Stefan Grenados’ comprehensive liner notes for RPM’s release, a copy of the Philips LP had gotten to John Lennon, and from John to Mike O’Connor of Apple Publishing. Soon, George Harrison was saying “Sign them up!” and Peter Asher, fresh off James Taylor’s Apple debut, was ushering them into the studio first for a demo session and then for the album that’s now finally being released.
On Our Way Home opens with the song that was recorded last; the finalized album was already circulating within the Apple offices when Paul McCartney offered Asher and Mortimer a demo of the future “Two of Us,” then known as “On Our Way Home.” It’s not hard to see why; the tune was ideally suited to the trio’s primarily acoustic style. Mortimer’s May 1969 take on the song adheres to the contours of the familiar Beatles version (recorded earlier, in January ’69, but not released until May 1970) – perhaps too closely, as the group members even seem to adopt British accents in the opening lines. Asher’s production is less intimate and more polished than The Beatles’ own version, and Mike Vickers’ synthesizer line feels a bit out-of-place. But this lost piece of Fab history nonetheless offers up a fascinating “might-have-been” for “Two of Us.”
The balance of On Our Way Home blends acoustic rock tracks with more pop-flavored cuts featuring brass and strings by frequent Beatles/Apple associate Richard Hewson (who also played piano at the sessions). All of the album’s songs were jointly written by the three bandmates and reflect a Beatle-esque knack for pop melody. The resulting collection is a diverse one from a group with ambition to spare.
Masson’s percussion drives the breakneck “You Do Too” which musically evokes “Sympathy for the Devil” in its arrangement if not its feel. “Miles Apart” and the funky “No Business Being Here” aptly showcase the band’s style as an acoustic power trio, while Mortimer’s softer side is in evidence on the pretty kiss-off “Don’t Want to See You Anymore” with its British Invasion-esque group harmonies. Textures are varied throughout On Our Way Home. An alternately earthy and ethereal choir threatens to overpower the spare acoustic ballad “Dolly,” while the lengthy “People Who Are Different,” with a jazz-inflected upright bass part played by Spike Heatley, shows off the less commercial side of Mortimer.
A couple of tracks were earmarked as possible singles before McCartney delivered “On Our Way Home,” which likely would have received that honor. The bright, string-and-horn-flecked “You Don’t Say You Love Me” has a bit of a Cook/Greenaway-style pop feel to it, with a vibrant pulse driven by Van Benschoten’s electric bass and Masson’s drums. Peter Asher, no stranger to pop vocals thanks to his success as one-half of Peter and Gordon, sang on the brash track. Another possible choice for single release was “I Don’t Know,” a wistful breakup song boasting a strong Hewson horn riff and chart, not to mention compelling dynamics as its melody shifts. “Pick Up Your Heart” blends a country-rock vibe with baroque orchestration; the late Tom Smith is quoted in the liner notes as recalling it, too, was a possibility for the 45 RPM format. These three tracks represent the melodic apex of On Our Way Home.
Four bonus tracks have been appended to the 11-song album, including two tracks which were part of the original running order before “On Our Way Home” was recorded: the catchy, uptempo ode to “Christine Tildsley” with tight guitar and vocal interplay, and the adventurous “Last of the H,” with African percussion and chanting. Two further outtakes round out the release: the attractive, gentle ballad “Laugh, Children Laugh” and the swaying “Ingenue’s Theme.”
Mortimer’s career came to an end when Allen Klein assumed control of Apple Records and the decision was made to shelve the band’s recordings. It was an uncomfortably familiar scenario. When The Teddy Boys had been on the Cameo-Parkway roster, Klein purchased controlling shares of that company and subsequently dropped most of its artists, including The Teddy Boys. Following the breakup of the band, Guy Masson returned to New York and played on Van Morrison’s Moondance, but Mortimer ceased further recording.
RPM’s CD reissue, following past Apple-related releases including Brother from Lon and Derrek Van Eaton and Yesterday’s Sunshine from Grapefruit, does this unsung band justice. In addition to Grenados’ informative liner notes featuring quotes from band members, there are also plentiful images in the booklet including a photograph of the album master tape from which Simon Murphy has beautifully remastered. With On Our Way Home, a missing piece of the Apple Records legacy has finally come to light, and the results are fab, indeed!
On Our Way Home is due this Friday in the U.K. and on March 24 in the U.S.; a vinyl edition will follow in April.
- On Our Way Home (Two of Us)
- I Didn’t Know
- You Do Too
- People Who Are Different
- You Don’t Say You Love Me
- Miles Apart
- Don’t Want to See You Anymore
- No Business Being Here
- In Memory of Her
- Pick Up Your Heart
- Christine Tildsley
- Last of the “H”
- Laugh Children Laugh
- Ingenue’s Theme