The Beatles Flunk An Audition

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At the end of the last Beatles public performance, held on the roof of their Apple Corps building on January 30, 1969, John Lennon remarked, “I’d like to thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves and I hope we passed the audition . . .”

Seven years earlier, they didn’t. On January 1, 1962, The Beatles, consisting at that time of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Pete Best, auditioned for the Decca Record label in London; the Decca producer was Tony Meehan.

Decca Records rejected The Beatles, saying that “guitar groups are on the way out” and “the Beatles have no future in show business.” Of course, this verdict, delivered by an expert in a suit (no one at Decca Records would ever admit who it was) is the single most egregious mistake in the history of show business.

In the last few days, news outlets have been breathlessly reporting that the original Decca audition tape has been found after 50 years and will soon be sold at auction. What the articles usually fail to say is that Beatles manager Brian Epstein had several copies of that original tape made and that the audition has been available to Beatles fans for many years in very good-quality audio bootlegs.

Here’s CNN’s report:


And here’s TIME Magazine’s:


One factor that might have lead to their rejection was the selection of songs that Epstein insisted they play at the audition. Epstein’s thinking was to show the range of material that The Fabs could handle, and he wanted to move them away from the rough-edged, leather-clad image they had developed on their own.

He put them in nice suits and chose their songs for them on this important day.  There were a few original Beatles songs mixed in with Broadway show tunes, a Buddy Holly cover, a couple of Coasters covers and some romantic ballads. There were no rough edges.

The order of the songs at the session was:

Like Dreamers Do (Lennon–McCartney)

Money (That’s What I Want) (Gordy/Bradford)

Till There Was You (Meredith Wilson)

The Sheik of Araby (Smith/Wheeler/Snyder)

To Know Her Is to Love Her (Phil Spector)

Take Good Care of My Baby (King/Goffin)

Memphis, Tennessee (Chuck Berry)

Sure to Fall (In Love with You) (Cantrell/Claunch/Perkins)

Hello Little Girl (Lennon–McCartney)

Three Cool Cats (Leiber/Stoller)

Crying, Waiting, Hoping (Buddy Holly)

Love of the Loved (Lennon–McCartney)

September in the Rain (Warren/Dubin)

Bésame Mucho (Consuelo Velázquez)

Searchin’ (Leiber/Stoller)

Here are some of the tracks from that session:

01 Like Dreamers Do

07 Memphis

09 Hello Little Girl

14 Besame Mucho

Epstein continued shopping this audition tape around and on June 4, 1962, The Beatles were signed by EMI-Parlophone comedy-record producer, George Martin, who could see the group’s potential. Ringo Starr (Richard Starkey) replaced Pete Best on drums in August of ’62.

Decca Records, stung by the ridicule they received after The Beatles became the most successful music group in world history, signed The Rolling Stones on the advice of George Harrison. And John Lennon told Brian Epstein to keep away from the musical side of The Beatles.

Ladies And Gentlemen . . . The Beatles! And A Theory!


When The Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show on Sunday night, February 9, 1964, it was a very big deal, at least to the kids in this country. Our family was living in Fernandina Beach, Florida, and for once, I put my foot down and told my mom we had to have a new TV. Our old one had conked out a couple of months before, and I wanted to see and hear The Beatles on TV.

At that point, I was on the fence about whether I liked them or not, but I wasn’t going to miss out on the chance to see them and make up my mind. Amazingly, my mom caved in and bought us a new GE 19″ portable, and, of course, it was a black-and-white set, with the nifty stand as shown in this ad. Television wasn’t usually in color in those days; the first primetime TV season broadcast totally in color wasn’t until 1966.

This was arguably the most important television session The Fabs ever did; it was their first chance to perform in the United States and Ed Sullivan was the (then) most popular show on TV.

Now here is something I think is pretty obvious, but I’ve never seen it written about or discussed elsewhere: I firmly believe John’s mike went out on him during the last song (I Wanna Hold Your Hand). The key to this: Watch George! I can hear the audio change about 11:22 in this clip and after that point, all I hear in the vocal mix is Paul. I also think you can see at about 11:55 George is starting to realize something is amiss. If you don’t want to watch the whole clip, just move the slider at the bottom of the view to the time markers I indicate!

Listen carefully to the vocals beginning at 11:58; that should be a two-part harmony but all you can hear is Paul’s part.

I contend that George realizes at about 12:00 that John’s singing into a dead mike and starts laughing at about 12:05.

No matter; they sounded great and by the end of that show, The Beatles had done what they had set out to do: Become the first British rock-and-roll band to be taken seriously by U.S. kids. As for me, I was convinced The Beatles were something new, different and exciting, and thus began my quest to switch from playing an alto saxophone to an electric guitar.

That theater, on Broadway between West 53rd and West 54th in Manhattan, has a wonderful history. Opened in 1927 as Hammerstein’s Theater, it was converted in 1950 to use for television and was renamed CBS-TV Studio 50. Now it’s called the Ed Sullivan Theater and it’s home to David Letterman’s Late Show.