In October of 1961, The Beatles were at the crossroads, between hope for a workmanlike future as touring musicians and desperation in the realization that they were several years in and not much closer to their goal. They were pleased that the Tony Sheridan session had gone well, but were well aware that Polydor was not going to place their music in the shops unless some excitement was generated.
That excitement came in the form of Brian Epstein, who was searching for something also. Brian desired to elevate himself from merely being the manager of a Liverpool record shop (even if he was to own it one day), and The Beatles provided the perfect fit: a very popular local act with a recent record release, but one which the knowledgeable proprietor did not personally know*. Seeking them out, he found them even more intriguing: leather-clad rockers with high intelligence, wit, talent, and sex appeal. Brian thus began a vigorous campaign to get them signed. The Beatles were likewise impressed with Epstein, a cut above their usual booking agent, well-spoken and sincere, who also happened to run the NEMS record store where their records might sell. As a consequence of this energy, Brian Epstein became manager of The Beatles on December 10, 1961, about one month after meeting them.
* See my separate article (webpage), "How Brian Epstein Met the Beatles"
Brian’s first action was to secure some publicity for the Liverpool beat scene. For some reason, the London music papers, and even the local Liverpool dailies and weeklies, had been generally ignoring Merseybeat. The Liverpool Echo, however, printed a pop music column by “Disker,” who Brian believed might be sympathetic. After writing a letter to Disker, hoping to solicit a favorable mention for The Beatles, Brian received a reply, not from the Echo but from Decca Records. “Disker” turned out to be one Tony Barrow, a London-based Liverpudlian who was also a sleeve-writer for Decca Records. Brian traveled to London to meet with Barrow, and played for him a scratchy acetate of a Beatles performance from the Cavern Club. Barrow was not impressed. Neither did Barrow feel able to accommodate a blurb in the Echo. Still, Barrow had a gut feeling.
After Brian left, Barrow placed a few calls around Decca, one strategically to the sales department which, as Barrow expected, contacted the A&R department to say that it would be a tactful move to allow The Beatles an audition, especially that NEMS was such a wonderful outlet for Decca product. Dick Rowe, head of A&R, agreed that it was in the company’s best interests to humor this great client. Thus, on December 13, 1961, Rowe sent Mike Smith, his young assistant, to see The Beatles in performance at The Cavern. Suitably impressed with that encounter, Smith made arrangements with his London office for a proper audition on New Year’s Day, 1962.
On January 1, Brian was already at the studio when The Beatles arrived, some trouble having preceded. At 11:00 am, the appointment time came and passed without Mike Smith’s arrival, much to everyone’s resentment. Smith finally came late, haggard from the previous night’s partying, and insisted that The Beatles use Decca’s equipment, which added to the bad mood, as the boys had gone to the trouble of bringing their own gear (to Smith’s defense, the Beatles’ equipment was quite shoddy). By all accounts, the band was nervous, even jumpy. Besides the aforementioned snags, The Beatles found out that Brian Poole and the Tremeloes were scheduled to be auditioned directly after them. On the line was a recording contract. Despite these jitters, 15 songs were recorded during a session that lasted probably two hours. How did The Beatles do? The consensus among historians is that the group sounded "ragged and tentative, at times with a sloppiness that verged on the unprofessional." Tempos were off and vocals wavered. John has been quoted: "We were all excited, you know, Decca and all that. So we went down, and we met this Mike Smith guy, and we did all these numbers and we were terrified and nervous. You can hear it on the bootlegs. It starts off terrifying and gradually settles down. We were still together musically. You can hear it's primitive, you know, and it isn't recorded that well, but the power's there." At first, Brian imagined they’d done quite well, and received no sign that they hadn’t. They celebrated with dinner in London that night. Expecting the best, they returned to Liverpool and resumed their schedule. Tony Barrow's column for January 27, 1962 even declared that "Mike Smith tells me that he thinks The Beatles are great." In early February, 1962, they received the devastating news that Decca had turned down The Beatles. John later said: "We found out that we hadn't been accepted. We really thought that was it. We thought that was the end."
Given Mike Smith’s enthusiasm, the rejection seemed odd. The Beatles were told they “sounded too much like The Shadows” and “guitar groups are on the way out.” Brian didn’t like the taste of this, and he traveled to London to meet Dick Rowe. There, he was greeted with a kindly rejection and a patronizing request that he stick to the retail end of records. Brian exploded, exclaiming that The Beatles would be bigger than Elvis, an outburst which wasn’t a surprise to the jaded Decca executives. Naturally, Decca was blowing smoke. The Beatles were nothing like The Shadows, and Decca actually chose The Tremeloes, a guitar group, for the prized recording contract. The lads were rejected not truly for ineptitude or perceived obsolescence, but for financial reasons and convenience. In short, Decca lied. Subsequently, Mike Smith said that he (naturally) bitterly regretted missing the chance to sign The Beatles. Dick Rowe reportedly denied even making his infamous statement. Some mythologies surround the recording session. One is that John blew it by yelling anti-Semitic and other slurs at Brian Epstein, in front of Mike Smith. Another is that Brian ruined their chances by insisting on a particular choice of songs. These may fairly be dismissed. Less fantastic is that Brian, after the rejection, offered to buy 3000 copies of The Beatles’ first single from Decca if they would sign the band. Rowe claimed that if Brian had made this offer he would have been not only willing but literally forced to sign the Beatles. Although it appears that Decca made a foolish move, many historians have stated that the Fab Four were not so fab nor deserving of a contract, as much as they might have desired it. Paul said: "Listening to the tapes, I can understand why we failed the Decca audition. We weren't that good; though there were some quite interesting and original things."
On the same day he was rejected in person by Dick Rowe, Brian shopped The Beatles to the Pye and Oriole record labels in London, meeting with rejection there also. By no small coincidence, he entered the HMV record shop on Oxford Street, owned by Bob Boast, whom Brian knew. Boast was in no position to help Brian, but suggested it might be easier and better to transfer the tapes to vinyl discs. Brian was led to a small studio on the first floor where 78 rpm records were cut. As engineer Jim Foy was making these discs, he told Epstein he liked what he heard. Brian, cheered, told Foy that three of the songs were originals, whereupon Foy directed him to Sid Coleman (who ran the music publishing subsidiary of EMI, Ardmore & Beechwood, on the top floor of HMV) to give the tapes a listen. Coleman offered a publishing deal, but Brian declined, seeking instead a recording contract. Coleman called George Martin, head of A&R at Parlophone, another subsidiary of EMI. This led to a meeting between Brian and Martin, which in turn led to the Parlophone audition in June of that year. The rejection by Decca was thus the best thing for the Beatles. Mike Smith later stated that wouldn’t have worked with the band the way George Martin did, and would have retained Pete Best.
Interestingly, George Harrison was instrumental in recommending to Dick Rowe a little group called the Rolling Stones, who signed with Decca in 1963. In another twist, Pete Best, after leaving The Beatles, was signed by Decca as part of his next group, Lee Curtis and the All-Stars.
Between 1976 and 1978 (or 1979, depending who you ask), fourteen of the 15 songs from the audition tape were distributed via a series of colored-vinyl bootleg singles (Deccagone label), issued by Beatles fan magazine (Strawberry Fields Forever) publisher, Joe Pope. I recently discovered that Pope obtained a reel-to-reel of the production master, and recorded the 45's straight from this reel. In 1978, Pope issued an LP, The Deccagones, which collected the 14 singles cuts plus "Take Good Care of My Baby." Also in 1978, Audiofon, under the label Circuit Records, produced the LP The Decca Tapes, claiming this to be from original Decca tapes recently sold at auction. However, this has been disputed if not refuted, for another source asserts that Audiofon received only a "manipulated" copy of Pope's tape. By the early 1980's, the Decca tapes had been used to produce a few quasi-legal albums (ownership of the tapes not yet legally ascertained), such as Dawn of the Silver Beatles (PAR Records) and Silver Beatles - Like Dreamers Do (Backstage Records), which were actually sold in legitimate record shops. In 1988, Apple began to fight this grey-market activity beginning, but by that time the digital age had begun and the flow from the underground was unstoppable.
(ref: Winn, Way Beyond Compare; Lewisohn, Chronicles; Unterberger, Unreleased Beatles Music and Film; The Beatles Anthology; Berkenstadt and Belmo, Black Market Beatles; Sulpy, Complete Beatles Audio Guide)
"LIKE DREAMERS DO" (Lennon/McCartney) (actually, Paul)
"MONEY (That's What I Want)" (Barrett Strong)
"TILL THERE WAS YOU" (Meredith Wilson) (from the musical The Music Man)
"THE SHEIK OF ARABY" (Smith/Wheeler/Snyder)
"TO KNOW HER IS TO LOVE HER" (Phil Spector, adapted)
"TAKE GOOD CARE OF MY BABY" (Goffin/King)
"MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE" (Chuck Berry)
"SURE TO FALL (In Love With You)" (Cantrell/Claunch/Perkins)
"HELLO LITTLE GIRL" (Lennon/McCartney) (actually, John)
"THREE COOL CATS" (Leiber/Stoller)
"CRYING, WAITING, HOPING" (Buddy Holly)
"LOVE OF THE LOVED" (Lennon/McCartney) (actually, Paul)
"SEPTEMBER IN THE RAIN" (Warren/Dubin)
"BESAME MUCHO" (Velazquez)
A Theory. From the jump, I've always believed "Sheik of Araby" to have overdubs on those two moments when a voice shockingly sings along in a nasal English twit voice. Furthermore, I think it's John using that voice. To me, this invokes an image of John playing at home in New York while being a househusband, in his spare time making an overdub tape of funny noises from his copy of the Decca tape (or acetate from it). Farfetch'd? Possibly. But how and from whom did Joe Pope get his reel? And who else could that be fumfing around on "Sheik of Araby"?
Speed and Other Issues. Joe Pope's 45's were in Mono, dry, and at about the right speed. The Audiofon LP turned out to be Mock-Stereo, processed, and too fast (not too slow, as often reported). Even worse, as the market became flooded with reissues of Pope's tape, liberties were taken, such as removing moments of studio chatter and noise after the song proper was ended, history erased as it were. And, of course, the usual mis-tracking, vinyl pops, and label errors, not to mention incomplete collections. But, in recent years, most if not all of these issues have been resolved.
Recommendations. Here's where we stand:
Both Sulpy and Winn gave a recommendation to March 5, 1963 Plus The Decca Tape (Vigotone) for the bulk of the recordings, Anthology 1 for "Like Dreamers Do" and "Three Cool Cats," and The Ultimate Collection Vol. 1 (Yellow Dog) for "Searchin." This list is now obsolete.
Dr. Ebbetts' New Years Day (2001) brought to the table better mastering, and his improvement The Decca Audition (ca 2008) found him recording 14 of the 15 songs from Joe Pope's original singles, which also provided the full endings for each song.
In the meantime, Purple Chick produced I Hope We Passed the Audition, which collected the best-sounding masters (in their opinion). The accompanying documentation states that they lost the original construction notes for their collection, but endeavored to reconstruct the information from memory. Some of that information may be incorrect, but it is nonetheless a fascinating potpourri of sources, including endings edited in from the Deccagone singles.
I recently went back and listened to a variety of sources, including March 5, 1963 Plus the Decca Tape (Australian copy), I Hope We Passed the Audition (PC FLAC), Anthology 1 (CD), The Decca Audition (TOCP-6211 Japanese CD 2009), a 2010 fan remaster from TheOneBeatle, The Deccagone Sessions vinyl from 1977, and The Decca Tapes vinyl (Circuit 1979).
Here are the winning results for each song:
Like Dreamers Do. Anthology 1. Purple Chick is a straight copy. About the best tape we're likely to hear, and a complete ending.
Money. I Hope We Passed the Audition. Taken from March 5, 1963. Includes a hair more drift after the final bass swoop, edited in from The Deccagones LP (not to be confused with The Deccagone Sessions LP). The Japanese 2009 remaster is less bright, so I like it also. And take a listen to TheOneBeatle's remaster, which dries out the track so that the vocals swell.
To Know Her is to Love Her. I Hope We Passed the Audition. Taken from March 5, 1963. Includes a couple of seconds more at the end, with a guitar note and some odd hollow noise (cool!) edited in from The Deccagones.
Memphis. March 5, 1963. Purple Chick is a straight copy.
Till There Was You. New Years Day. Purple Chick is a straight copy. This is very full. Interestingly, channel inversion makes a nice Mock-Stereo.
Sure to Fall. I Hope We Passed the Audition. Taken from New Years Day. Supposedly some extra noise, edited in from The Deccagones, but I don't hear it. A small step up from March 5, 1963, not really changing the dynamics, but minimizing (not killing) the buzz. Right on the cusp of taking the prize is the Japanese 2009 Remaster, with just enough highs taken off to eliminate the buzz completely without making things muddy. Channel duplication solution for a little bit of electronic imbalance present, and you're good to go.
Besame Mucho. March 5, 1963. I'll go against the grain here, and say this is slightly better than New Year's Day, though it does have a slight wrinkle trying to catch a buzz from the highs. Close behind is I Hope We Passed the Audition, taken from New Years Day, which is just missing that extra bit of necessary high frequency.
Love of the Loved. I Hope We Passed the Audition. Taken from New Years Day. Includes a touch more noise at the end, edited in from The Deccagones. Gained a tad high, but not to distortion.
Hello Little Girl. I Hope We Passed the Audition. Taken from Anthology 1, which is absolutely the right choice (a nice sound). Supposedly some extra noise edited in from The Deccagones, but I don't hear it. A slight imbalance in Anthology's track was fixed here. A close second is the Japanese 2009 remaster. Though gained hot, nearing a little distortion, I think this track benefits. I'm not willing to call it best, but it's very good.
Three Cool Cats. I Hope We Passed the Audition. Taken from Anthology 1. Excellent sound, and a complete ending.
September in the Rain. I Hope We Passed the Audition. Taken from New Years Day. Includes the full ending, edited in from The Deccagones.
Take Good Care of My Baby. I Hope We Passed the Audition. Taken from New Years Day. Includes the full ending, edited in from The Deccagones. Japanese 2009 remaster had an edgier sound, possibly from the gain or a little less mid-range, and could be called best here.
Crying Waiting Hoping. I Hope We Passed the Audition. Taken from New Years Day. Includes the full ending, edited in from The Deccagones. Not much different than March 5, 1963. The Japanese 2009 remaster's excess gain gives this track a rough edge I liked.
Sheik of Araby. Anthology 1 . Purple Chick is a straight copy. Very nice, and a complete ending. The Japanese 2009 remaster sounded identical to me.
Searchin'. I Hope We Passed the Audition. The story here is a little strange. Speed-corrected on The Ultimate Collection Vol. 1, it was nevertheless an inferior mastering job. Vigotone upped that ante for March 5, 1963, but lost quality control when an unnoticed glitch ruined their work. When Anthology 1 was released (from a different source tape), the glitch was naturally absent, but the start of this track included a voice-over. Purple Chick took the best of the Anthology and March 5, 1963 tracks, and edited from them a new and better master.
(1) March 5, 1963, good for its time, it actually quite uneven. In general, it's too bright, and this is especially noticeable on "Like Dreamers Do" and "Till There Was You." Some of the songs (such as "September in the Rain") are missing full endings.
(2) The 2009 Japanese Remaster is erratic, and gained very hot, causing distortion. The EQ is also a little off, sounding muted much of the time. One of the interesting positives to this CD is that the endings to all the songs are kept at normalized volume, so you can hear every bit without knob-fiddling.
(3) I hate to be a party crasher, but in the main the remaster by TheOneBeatle is muddy, like hearing the music through blankets. There are also new buzzes where none existed. The one bright spot is "Money."
(4) As previously noted, The Decca Tapes vinyl runs fast and is Mock-Stereo, so I haven't considered them for anything but reference.
(5) The Deccagone Sessions vinyl is now clearly not in the running for anything.
(6) However, I think the Joe Pope colored-vinyl singles are worth obtaining, if you can.
(7) Results pending for Ebbetts' The Decca Audition
Some of the tracks were cut to disc, possibly by Decca. One for "Like Dreamers Do" can be viewed: here. Apparently, Dick James also believed "Like Dreamers Do" to have the most potential, as he pressed a demo acetate on his private label, viewable: here.
A visual collection of the Deccagone picture sleeves is: here.
DRAMATIZATION: Brian's first encounter with The Beatles, as well as the Decca audition and Brian's confrontation with Dick Rowe, is depicted in the film Birth of the Beatles. Just so you know, when Brian first comes down the Cavern stairway, The "Beatles" are playing "Cry For a Shadow."
TOURISM: The Cavern Club Wikipedia page is: here.
The offices of The Liverpool Echo are at Post & Echo Building, Old Hall Street, Liverpool.
NEMS (North End Music Stores) comprised two shops at 12/14 Whitechapel and 50/52 Great Charlotte St, in Liverpool. The latter was Brian's domain. Both are closed. A very interesting webpage (and website), with photos, is: here.
Decca Studio, London. You can see the Decca audition location, read the Tony Barrow article from January 27, 1962, and hear many of the Beatles' audition tracks: here.
HMV, originally at 363 Oxford St, London, moved, but a plaque was erected at the original site. More on this building: here.
Although I use quotes from sources, or cited fact, much of the material on this and other pages of my blog is original, from my own pen. This is not cut-and-paste, it is a work of art. Copyright © 2010 Tom Wise.