The Beatles’ famous audition for Decca Records took place in London on New Year’s Day in 1962.
The session followed the label’s A&R representative Mike Smith’s attendance at a Cavern performance on 13 December 1961. The Beatles’ performance that night hadn’t been strong enough to secure them a record deal, but the label was willing to offer them a session in their studios at 165 Broadhurst Gardens, West Hampstead, London.
The group – John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Pete Best – travelled down from Liverpool with driver and roadie Neil Aspinall. Beset by snowstorms, the party eventually arrived just in time for the 11am audition. Brian Epstein had travelled separately on train.
The group was annoyed that Smith turned up late, having spent the night before seeing in the new year. Smith further unnerved them by insisting they use Decca’s amplifiers, having judged The Beatles’ own gear to be substandard.
The Beatles recorded 15 songs altogether. The likely order was:
- Like Dreamers Do
- Money (That’s What I Want)
- Till There Was You
- The Sheik Of Araby
- To Know Her Is To Love Her
- Take Good Care Of My Baby
- Memphis, Tennessee
- Sure To Fall (In Love With You)
- Hello Little Girl
- Three Cool Cats
- Crying, Waiting, Hoping
- Love Of The Loved
- September In The Rain
- Besame Mucho
Three of the songs – Like Dreamers Do, Hello Little Girl and Love Of The Loved – were Lennon-McCartney originals. It is likely that the majority of songs were recorded in a single take without overdubs; the entire session, which began at 11am, took roughly an hour.
Five of the Decca recordings – Searchin’, Three Cool Cats, The Sheik Of Araby, Like Dreamers Do and Hello Little Girl – appeared on the Anthology 1 collection in 1995. The rest have been widely available on bootleg since 1977.
Although nerves meant The Beatles didn’t perform at their best, all four members and Brian Epstein were confident that the session would inevitably lead to a contract with Decca. The label, meanwhile, was erring towards Brian Poole and the Tremeloes, who had also auditioned that day. As head of A&R Dick Rowe later remembered:
I told Mike he’d have to decide between them. It was up to him – The Beatles or Brian Poole and the Tremeoloes. 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 as they came from Dagenham.
The official reason given, meanwhile, was that “guitar groups are on the way out, Mr Epstein”. These words would become infamous, and Dick Rowe later became known as “the man who turned down The Beatles”. He did, however, sign The Rolling Stones on the recommendation of George Harrison.
Brian Epstein didn’t take rejection lying down. He travelled back to London for further meetings with Decca, even promising their sales team that he’d buy 3,000 copies of any Beatles single they released. Had Dick Rowe been informed of this, history could have been quite different.
I was never told about that at the time. The way economics were in the record business then, if we’d been sure of selling 3,000 copies, we’d have been forced to record them, whatever sort of group they were.
However, the Decca audition tapes did prove fortunate for The Beatles. Had they signed to Decca, their career may never have involved Ringo Starr, who joined the group only after George Martin expressed concerns about Pete Best’s drumming.
Furthermore, the audition gave Epstein some good-quality recordings of the group, on reel-to-reel, enabling him to take them around the remaining London labels.
The manager of the HMV record store on London’s Oxford Street suggested that Epstein transfer the recordings from reel-to-reel to disc, to enable them to be more easily played. Epstein agreed, and immediately took the tapes to a studio and pressing plant situated above the store.
Engineer Jim Foy was impressed with the recordings. When Epstein told him three of the songs were original Lennon-McCartney compositions, Foy contacted Sid Coleman, of music publishers Ardmore & Beechwood (a subsidiary of EMI), who offered Epstein a publishing deal.
Epstein’s priority was to get the group signed, and so Coleman arranged a meeting between The Beatles’ manager and George Martin, the A&R head at Parlophone. Upon hearing the Decca recordings, Martin was sufficiently interested to offer The Beatles an audition at Abbey Road.