It was 46 years ago today
That poor guy at Decca. He rejected The Beatles! What a fool! Biggest mistake in music history!
Nonsense. Everybody knows Peter Green leaving Fleetwood Mac in 1970 (same year The Beatles split) was the biggest mistake in music history. How else would something like THIS have been allowed to join a hardcore blues rock outfit??
Well, I suppose we can excuse Green due to his drug-induced psychosis. But can we really excuse Stevie Nicks' wardrobe ?
[And in a timely sidebar, did you know that John McVie originally approached an Irish musician to join his nascent British blues band; it was none other than the recently departed Christy Hennessy, who declined. Mistake? Well, he said that he never regretted it.]
Following an audition by The Beatles at the Decca studios in Hampstead Heath, between 11 a.m. and noon on the first of January 1962, producer Mike Smith allegedly predicted that 'groups with guitars are on the way out,' and declined to sign the boys to the label.
I believe that, for the time, his analysis was in essence correct–he had no way of knowing that the group in front of him would single-handedly change the course of popular music (or, dare I suggest, all music) and promote the guitar to centre-stage for all time.
When I say 'no way of knowing' I'm referring to the the material they presented (Epstein's choices), which was a mish-mash of pub fare, ballroom crooner classics, Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry covers, numbers like Memphis, Tennessee, The Sheik of Araby, Til There Was You, and Three Cool Cats.
Evidently meant to showcase their versatility, this odd collection of tunes would only have made the group appear unfocused and shallow.
By January 1962, Buddy Holly was dead almost three years, Eddie Cochran(†), a year and a half; meanwhile Chuck Berry was in jail; and Elvis Presley himself had been in the army for two years, and returned only to eschew rock'n'roll entirely by recording songs like It's Now or Never and Such a Night, as well as releasing an entire album of gospel songs (for Christ's sake)!
They were also rejected by everyone else, don't forget. Only the visionary George Martin agreed to host them on EMI's comedy offshoot label Parlophone, while he experimented with his revolutionary recording techniques, eventually becoming almost a recognised member of the band.
Decca's Mike Smith hadn't seen them with Martin's sheen (ho, ho). Or for that matter, even with Ringo! Pete Best was still tub-thumper for the quartet.
I pity the guy who's had to live down his (technically correct) decision for the last 46 years, patiently explaining his reasons at one cocktail party after the next, while people sympathise and all the while think to themselves: I would have known better.
- † Another odd note: Eddie Cochran was killed in a traffic accident by a chap called George Martin who was later fined £50. [back ↩]