EMI producer George Martin had first met The Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein on 13 February 1962. Although the meeting was cordial, Martin was underwhelmed by The Beatles’ music.
To start with, he gave me a big ‘hype’ about this marvellous group who were doing such great things in Liverpool. He told me how everybody up there thought they were the bee’s knees. He even expressed surprise that I hadn’t heard of them – which, in the circumstances, was pretty bold. I almost asked him in reply where Liverpool was. The thought of anything coming out of the provinces was extraordinary at that time. Then he played me his disc, and I first heard the sound of the Beatles.
The recording, to put it kindly, was by no means a knock-out. I could well understand that people had turned it down. The material was either old stuff, like Fats Waller’s ‘Your Feet’s Too Big’, or very mediocre songs they had written themselves. But… there was an unusual quality of sound, a certain roughness that I hadn’t encountered before. There was also the fact that more than one person was singing, which in itself was unusual. There was something tangible that made me want to hear more, meet them and see what they could do. I thought as I listened: Well, there just might be something here. At least it’s worth following up. I did not do handstands against the wall and say: ‘This is the greatest thing ever!’ I simply thought it was worth a shot.
All You Need Is Ears
The meeting came about after Epstein had acetate discs of some of the Decca audition recordings cut at HMV on Oxford Street, London. There he was introduced to Sid Colman, general manager of Ardmore and Beechwood. The publishing company, an EMI subsidiary, was situated on the top floor of HMV.
Colman expressed interest in publishing the original Beatles compositions, but Epstein made it clear that he was holding out for a recording contract. Colman brokered the meeting between Epstein and George Martin.
Although at that time Martin declined to sign The Beatles, a series of events mostly outside his control later took place.
Firstly, Kim Bennett, a record plugger working for Admore and Beechwood, expressed an interest in the Decca recordings and took them to EMI House to play to the label’s A&R men.
Bennett left disappointed, but suggested that Sid Colman approach EMI’s managing director Len Wood with the proposal that, if Armore and Beechwood were to fund the costs, EMI could put out a Beatles record. Wood, however, declined the offer.
In the succeeding weeks, however, during contract negotiations Martin had for royalty payments on hit singles he produced. Although his efforts were unsuccessful, and Martin signed a new three-year contract regardless, the request had made him unpopular with EMI’s senior management.
Furthermore, in March 1962 a minor scandal took place at EMI when it emerged that Martin was having a clandestine extra-marital relationship with his assistant, Judy Lockhart Smith. It came to the attention of Len Wood, who was appalled by their conduct.
Wood’s revenge was plotted during a subsequent meeting with Colman, who had asked again why Wood had blocked the proposed Beatles recording session. Wood hatched a plan to offer the band a recording contract, which would give A&B their desired publishing rights to ‘Like Dreamers Do’. And George Martin would be given the undesirable task of working on the session.
EMI invited Epstein to a second meeting with Martin, which took place at 11.30am on Wednesday 9 May 1962 at EMI Studios, Abbey Road. On this day, six months to the day after Epstein had first seen The Beatles perform at the Cavern Club, Martin gave him the news he had craved for months: Parlophone was offering The Beatles a record deal.
Epstein had, by this time, been roundly rejected by most record labels in London, and was scarcely in a position to negotiate the terms offered by Martin. And the producer, for his part, had little hope that the band would prove successful.
A standard recording contract was offered to Epstein. EMI committed to recording a minimum of six ‘sides’ (songs) in the first year, which would normally be released as three singles. EMI would retain the rights to the recordings, production and reproduction. All recording time and associated costs would be paid by EMI.
The Beatles’ royalty rate was the standard one penny per single on 85% of sales, paid quarterly. The remaining 15% was retained to cover promotional copies and store returns. LPs were calculated at the same rate, normally at six of seven singles.
The contract was for four years, although EMI had a break clause after one year. Should they choose to renew after that time, the royalty rate would increase by farthing (quarter-penny) increments up to 1½ pence. That rate only applied to Britain, however; elsewhere in the world The Beatles would receive half the amounts.
As their manager, Epstein took 15% of their income. The remainder was split between the four Beatles, meaning that they each stood to earn just 15 shillings for sales of 1,000 singles.
Martin and Epstein then settled on 6 June 1962 as the date of The Beatles’ first visit to EMI Studios. It was not to be an audition, as is sometimes claimed, but a proper recording session.
Immediately after the meeting, Epstein walked to the post office on nearby Circus Road and sent two telegrams. One was to The Beatles, who were in Hamburg performing at the Star-Club.
‘We were all still in bed,’ says Pete Best. ‘Whoever was first up always went for the post. George was first up this day and got the telegram: “Congratulations Boys. EMI request recording session. Please rehearse new material.”’