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.

God Bless Ryland P. Cooder!

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I first heard of Ry Cooder when I was in high school; he was a session player on a couple of the better Stones albums (Let It Bleed and Sticky Fingers) and on their jam session LP, Jamming With Edward. Then a friend gave me a tape of an album Ry did with Taj Mahal; they called themselves The Rising Sons.

As a geek who studied the liner notes on albums like they were the Dead Sea Scrolls, I kept seeing this name come up. When Rolling Stone magazine started coming out, I’d see his name all the time. I’d search out his work on the albums at the Record Bar in Naples; his stuff was there, if you knew where to look.

His first album, Ry Cooder on the old Reprise label, came out in 1970 and was astonishing. It wasn’t just the tasty playing on guitar and mandolin, it was the TYPE of songs he chose to do. Cooder was all over the place, with a seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of any kind of music, past and present. He could play it all and play it better than anyone else. He’s done so many great albums. Once, when my old VW van was broken into, they stole all my eight-track tapes except for Ry Cooder’s; I guess the villains weren’t familiar with him. I was glad that they left the best music I had behind!

Mr. Cooder is also responsible for what may well be the best soundtrack album ever; it’s of the music he did for the movie, The Long Riders. Here’s a taste:

Here’s a spectacular clip from a Record Plant show in 1974. When they start showing him playing, about 43 seconds in, watch his hands on Blind Blake’s Police Dog Blues:

As you continue watching, and I surely hope that you will, please pay particular attention to the little fills or transistions he throws in between the sung verses. Uncanny. He’s playing what appears to be an old O-sized Martin acoustic at first and then switches to a hardtail Strat with a bound ebony fingerboard.

I have a magazine-editor friend (hey, Charlie!) who used to jam with Ry occasionally. He told me that the strings on Cooder’s many guitars are set so high off the neck that no one else could play them. If that’s the case, then Ry Cooder must have the strongest pair of hands on the planet.

It seems odd to me that a person playing a high-action guitar can have such a delicate touch. If I had to choose one word to describe Mr. Cooder’s playing, it would be majestic. Listen to his version on that video (it begins at the 6:23 mark) of the 1929 tune by Blind Alfred Reed, How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live, and see if you don’t agree. That song’s on Cooder’s first album, too.

If you just have heard of Ry Cooder as the guy who put together the Buena Vista Social Club movie, you are in for a treat.