The Beatles audition for Decca Records

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:

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.
Dick Rowe

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.

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17 responses on “The Beatles audition for Decca Records

  1. Joseph Brush

    I have a three-record box set entitled The Beatles.
    Two records are referred to as GEMA (HIS 10982) and are listed as Beatles Live (Hamburg) while the third record is entitled Silver Beatles and is referred to as STEMRA (HIS 11182) and contains 12 of the 15 Decca Audition songs.
    Two of the three songs mentioned above (Take Good Care Of My Baby and September In The Rain) are contained on this third record of the set.
    All three of the Lennon-McCartney Decca recorded originals are omitted from this collection.
    All of the labels on the records contain commercial quality printing and facing with correct spelling and contain historical info as well.
    The white box that contains the records is commercial quality as well.
    If this is a bootleg, it’s a pretty damm good one.
    It was purchased by me through Reader’s Digest many moons ago.

  2. Jim

    Joseph–I have the same box set. I don’t remember where I bought it. I don’t think it’s a legitimate release.
    Pete Best was involved in the release of a Silver Beatles album (on Backstreet Records) which also contained the Decca recordings.

    Paul and George tried very hard to keep the Star Club tape from getting out. They managed to limit its release pretty well, but of course once something’s out there, you can’t control the bootleggers.

  3. shawn dean

    this may sound crazy, but i have a reel to reel of” to know her” it is a one sided, studio quality version, once verified to be studio quality by the cbc in edmonton alta canada. my father was a recording artist in vancouver canada in the late sixties early seventies, he somehowe aquired this tape. my mother ended up with it in 1970 and still has it to this day. how can this be?

  4. Bill

    There’s something about the Decca sessions that always puzzled me until recently. I wondered for years (decades, actually) why the group would go and do a serious audition like this on a holiday? Well, I just recently found out that New Year’s was not a holiday back in the early ’60s in Great Britain, just another regular work day. Being from the US, I didn’t know that. Problem solved!

    Another thing, does the Tremeloes’ audition tape from that day still exist, and if so, has anyone here heard it? I’d love to be able to compare the two groups’ talents, especially at this stage in their careers. I know that it’s always been said that Decca’s choice was based more on logistics & economics (due to the fact that The Tremeloes were local & The Beatles weren’t), but if I could hear both auditions, it would put the matter to rest once & for all.

    Also, why hasn’t the complete Decca audition been legally released by now? I’m pretty sure that it was originally owned by the Epstein family (since Brian paid for the session himself), but obviously, the legal hurdles have been overcome since 1/3 of the audition has been released on “Anthology I”… C’mon, let’s get the show on the road!

    1. Leonardo Aranguibel

      Bill, the remaining 10 songs of the Decca Audition not included in Anthology 1 were issued in 2013 in a record named The Beatles I Saw Her Standing There (RMMCD101)… A very interesting double album, by the way…

  5. Bill

    From a historical perspective, the Decca audition would be the equivalent of other artists’ pre-fame recordings, such as Elvis Presley’s Sun sessions, The Beach Boys’ pre-Capitol recordings for Candix, & Buddy Holly’s pre-Crickets recordings for US Decca.

  6. Ross Megson

    I have just received a copy of Sure To Fall b/w Money on 7″ blue vinyl with a very new p/c on a label called Deccagone. It also says its a promo.Im sure this is a Pirate record. Im sickened that people are out there conning all us record lovers by passing this off as the genuine article.Got an AC/DC Pirate 7″ last year and im wondering if its been churned out by the same racketeers.I would mind having a record pressing machine of my own but I sure wouldn’t sell them fraudulently.

  7. Barry Smith

    I remember the flood of albums that were released in the early 80s featuring the Decca audition. They were usually budget albums, found in the bargain bins of K-Mart and Sears stores. In 1982, I picked up “The Complete Silver Beatles” (which was on the AudioFidelity label) at Filene’s Basement in Manhasset, New York. It featured all of the audition songs except for the three Lennon/ McCartney originals. The legitimacy of the LP did not phase me a bit.
    In fact, I loved the record and played it constantly. The silver album cover was cool, and there were insightful liner notes on the back. My favorite tracks were “Three Cool Cats” “Searchin” “September In the Rain” and “Crying Waiting Hoping.”

  8. Bill

    A few things about the post-Decca audition/pre-EMI signing (Jan-Jun ’62) puzzle me. George Martin has stated that one of the songs that Brian Epstein played him was “Your Feet’s Too Big”, which is not on the Decca tape. The only known Beatles recording of that song is from the Dec ’62 Star-Club gigs, which is not the recording George is referring to. If George’s memory is correct, that means 1 of 2 things… Either there’s more to the Decca audition than the 15 songs we know of, or George heard an audition tape that we currently know nothing about.

    That brings up another thing. Why do we automatically assume that the Decca audition is the only one that exists? John Lennon said, “We made tapes for Decca and Pye, but didn’t actually go to Pye”. Were the tapes submitted to Pye from the Decca session, or were they from something else?

    Also, keep in mind that the boys were doing their earliest sessions for the BBC during this time. Some of those songs never made it to actual broadcast. Couldn’t they be used to submit to record companies as demos also? It’s a very good possibility that Brian Epstein had more recordings in his briefcase than just the Decca ones while he was making the rounds in London. Tantalizing thoughts…

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