87: The Beatles’ Decca Audition

January 6, 2017

Podcast, Podcasting

1161-99-37The New Years Day 1962 showcase at Decca Records in London did not pan out as The Beatles and Brian Epstein had hoped. But the decision to turn down the Beatles has long been regarded in rock history as one of the most bone-headed executive decisions ever made. But was it? Should it more properly be regarded as a lucky break? Find out what Robert and Richard have to say as they analyze the material performed and what it said about the group’s thought process. Songs include “Like Dreamers Do,” “Hello Little Girl” and “Silence is Golden.”

Find Richard’s books here.

Find Robert’s books here.

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    14 Responses to “87: The Beatles’ Decca Audition”

    1. Jim Mawer Says:

      Very entertaining guys, thank you, brought back some wonderful memories of my Cavern Club days!like seeing Stu Sutcliffe sing “Love me tender”on his one and only lunchtime session appearance with the Beatles! I was also in the Cavern on the day Brian Epstein first visited the club! I purchased all my early vinyl collection from NEMS…Ah…Happy days!


      • Keith Moore Says:

        Great memories there you lucky man. I was too young to see them at The Cavern (still at school) but my mates older sister used to tell me about this great group who played every lunchtime in town. That’s the first time I had heard the Beatles mentioned. Summer 1962.


    2. Erick King Says:

      The Decca audition is so embarrassing. Paul in particular in the early songs is so timid and weak he gets better on the last few songs. Lennon was also so timid and of course the selections are just damn bizarre! All for the best as it turned out. And whoever mic’d the guitars obviously hated the instrument.


    3. Bill Says:

      I would have signed the Tremelos over these guys, too. Really weak work from all four, especially Paul and John in that order. George and Pete are actually pretty solid on “Sheik Of Araby” but as you both point out that wasn’t going to break it for them down south.


    4. Gil Says:

      “Silence Is Golden”?


    5. Pismotality Says:

      Enjoyed the programme and the judicious mix of original versions with the Decca recordings Re the falsetto trilling on “Bulldog Drummond” in Searchin’, is it possible that could be a conscious imitation of Goon Show character Minnie Banister as played by Spike Milligan? Something done to amuse each other, perhaps.

      My only other thought is with regard to Joe Brown and where *he* got the song The Sheik of Araby from. When he was interviewed by Brian Matthew on BBC Radio 2 in the 1980s Matthew played him the recording of I’m Henery the Eighth I Am by Harry Champion, complete with verse. Brown expressed surprise at hearing the verse and said that because he was brought up above a pub he knew the chorus from singalongs but had never heard the verse before. I imagine he heard The Sheik of Araby in the same way.


      • Bill Says:

        Good catch on the Minnie Banister thing. John especially was a huge Goon Show fan, writing an introduction to a collection of Goon Show scripts Spike Milligan put out in the 1970s. It is her voice, right out of “The Dreaded Batter Pudding Hurler of Bexhill-on-Sea” or something.


    6. Pablo Ramon Says:

      Generally, let’s all be grateful they underperformed so mightily at Decca. Had they wowed the Decca folks they never would have found their way into the sympathetic arms of George Martin and…well there’s no telling how history would have played out.


    7. Kevin Says:

      Their early repertoire was so diverse that they really had a tough time defining themselves musically, I think. Lewisohn really blew my mind with the revelation that J&P stopped writing for years and had to be prodded into playing their own tunes. It seems ludicrous in retrospect. George Martin really helped bring the band into focus. They did a few semi-corny cover tunes on the early LPs, but really steered clear of the wackier ones.


    8. BW Says:

      The questions about “Why this, why not that?” I’m wondering if a lot of it had to do with Pete’s drumming. The songs we know that they tore up in Hamburg and later on Beatle albums had Ringo on the kit. Man, if you listen to these Decca tunes, with Pete, there’s like, ONE beat that he’s mastered. It’s POSSIBLE that those other great songs (Long Tall Sally, Roll Over Beethoven, etc.) sucked with Pete on drums and therefor wouldn’t have been good for the audition. I mean, look at what Ringo does at the end of Both of those tunes- NO WAY Pete could’ve done that from everyth8ing we’ve heard.


      • Kevin Says:

        I know from personal experience that it is next to impossible to give a good performance with a crap drummer on the kit. You can’t relax to sing properly, for a start. Poor Pete. His playing really never developed despite the endless hours of stage time.


    9. Keith Moore Says:

      Who was it that said ‘guitar groups are on the way out’ and that’s why they didnt sign them. So what did thet do? Sign The Tremeloes. A guitar group!
      Thank god for all of us they failed the audition.


    10. Dan Says:

      Really interesting show. I had a few thoughts. First off, I think there’s a sort of rhetorical “where’s the atom beat” question thrown out there by one of you and, although Pete is clearly not up to the challenge in general, the atom beat is there, it’s just buried in the mix, a case of something that worked well in a boomy live setting not cutting it in the studio.

      My second thought delves into the big question, the should-they-have-signed-them question. Although I certainly heard these tracks in the 80s (via those Deccagone singles), I hadn’t heard more than a snippet or two until I was in Concerto Records in Amsterdam last summer, when they were actually playing it in the shop. For a split second, I thought “huh, sounds like the Beatles but with a different drummer,” and then realized what it was. But I did listen as I shopped and then bought a copy for further investigation.

      Of course I agree that the drumming is mostly terrible. And both John and Paul disappoint with many of their lead vocals. But George sings really well and the backup vox throughout are not only nicely conceptualized, but they’re well-executed, too. And, as Lewisohn speaks about in Tune In, rock groups singing with harmony where not exactly a common thing at that moment in time. Aside from Pete, they mostly play really well. But the question I found myself asking while listening to your show was whether or not there was enough material for a single, because that’s what they would’ve been signed up for. And my answer is that yes, there’s definitely – at minimum – a single here, something Decca could have pushed. Of course, they’d have to pull an “Andy White,” but I think there’s no question that the Beatles – at that point in time – could have made a completely competent 45. And, assuming that Decca’s rejection was solely about quality, that’s where they blew it. But that assumption is probably a flawed one, as the mythologizing about this day began pretty quickly and so it’s impossible to know what exactly was going on that day.

      So who really knows? Were they really only going to sign one band that day? How big a role did the fact that they weren’t local play? Was the audition only a favor to an important retailer? Did they know Epstein would order however many copies he later said he would have? Interesting.


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