January 1, 1962 — On this day, the Beatles – scruffy, clad in leather and unknown outside their home town of Liverpool – travelled through snow in a van for 220 miles to make a recording audition in London. And they were turned down.
In charge at the Decca studios where the audition was held was senior A&R man Dick Rowe. His assistant, Mike Smith, had seen the Beatles perform at what was to become the famous Cavern Club and had put forward the audition suggestion to their manager, Brian Epstein.
It lasted about an hour and the Beatles – John Lennon, George Harrison, Paul McCartney and the original drummer, Pete Best – performed 15 songs. They were nervous and the session did not go particularly well but Smith told them afterwards that he “saw no problems” and they would have a decision “in a few weeks”.
Epstein let the “few weeks” pass, then, fed up with waiting, phoned Rowe and asked for a decision. It was not what he expected. “Groups with guitars are on the way out,” Rowe allegedly said, adding that he believed “the Beatles have no future in show business”.
Rowe, who died in 1986, always denied the story, saying it was actually Mike Smith who turned down the Fab Four. Another group, Brian Poole and the Tremeloes, also had an audition on the same day and according to Rowe: "I told Mike he'd have to decide between them. It was up to him – the Beatles or the Tremeloes. He said, 'They're both good, but one's a local group, the other comes from Liverpool.' We decided it was better to take the local group. We could work with them more easily and stay closer in touch."
Whoever made the decision, Rowe went on to redeem himself by subsequently signing, among others, the Rolling Stones, the Animals, the Moody Blues, the Small Faces and Tom Jones.
And on musical grounds, maybe it was the right verdict. Years later, George Martin, the Beatles’ legendary producer at EMI, said that he, too, would have turned them down on the basis of the mediocre Decca audition tape.
Published: April 24, 2016
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