Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Yuji Imamura & Air - 1977 - Air

Yuji Imamura & Air

01. Air Part I 19:30
02. Air Part II 18:10

Congas, Tabla, Tabla [Amplified], Percussion – Yuji Imamura
Drums [Yamaha], Tambourine, Cowbell, Percussion – Hiroshi Murakami
Electric Bass [With Echo Chamber, Para Pedal & Pedal Flanger] – Nobuyoshi Ino
Electric Guitar, Kalimba [Sanza], , Electronics [Hawk Echo Machine] – Renkichi Hayashi
Flute, Saxophone, Sho, Voice, Synthesizer, Percussion, Electronics [Radio] – Yasuo Shimura

Recorded at Epicurus Studio, Tokyo on April 12 & 20, 1977.

Two side long tracks clearly influenced by the deep funk groove of mid 70s Miles Davis albums like "Dark Magus", "Agharta", and "Pangaea". No trumpet, but the saxophone is instead treated to sound similar. Much more flute and spaced out than classic Miles, but still plenty of wah wah guitar and dual percussion to get down with. A few jazzers from Japan were highly influenced by Miles Davis, and percussionist Imamura is one of the finest emulators I've heard to date.

Percussionist Yuji Imamura is a nominal leader of the group called Air, which had been formed shortly before this recording, but he says in the Japanese liner notes that the group is completely democratic and everyone participates in the same footing.

This album was recorded in two days, and the two tracks included were performed "live" in the studio with no editing or overdubs. And these are completely free collective improvisations - they did not have anything written down and just started playing. The only constraint was the time limit of about 19 minutes for each track to be cut on a side of an LP. The unique group sound was achieved by the use of various instruments by each musician, including electric instruments and effects.

Miho Kei & Jazz Eleven - 1971 - Kokezaru Kumikyoku

Miho Kei & Jazz Eleven 
Kokezaru Kumikyoku

01. ざる [Mizaru]
02. 聞かざる [Kikazaru]
03. 言わざる [Iwazaru]
04. 杵 [Kine]
05. 能面 [Nomen]

Drums – Akira Ishikawa, Takeshi Inomata
Electric Bass – Yasuo Arakawa
Electric Guitar – Ryo Kawasaki
Electric Piano, Harpsichord – Masahiko Sato
Koto – Suma No Arashi
Percussion [Tsuzumi] – Kikutada Katada
Shakuhachi – Minoru Muraoka
Soprano Saxophone, Tenor Saxophone, Flute [Indian Flute] – Takeru Muraoka
Trumpet – Takehisa Suzuki
Vocals – Mutsumi Masuda

Originally released on Victor Company Of Japan, Ltd. (MCA Records) in 1971.

Limited 500 press, with a serial number.

An obscure jazz psych rarity from 1971 Japan with a heavyweight line up of the finest musicians who would go on to shape the country's jazz scene during the the 70's and beyond. Soundtrack composer Keitaro Miho (who doesn't actually play on the project) put together this sophisticated cocktail of jazz and radical psychedelia with traditional Japanese instruments , avant-garde vocal sketches and film music.Very highly recommended.

Masaru Imada Quartet - 1970 - Now!!

Masaru Imada Quartet 

01. Nostalgia 10:09
02. Alter 8:41
03. Gehi Dorian 9:56
04. The Shadow Of The Castle 9:49

Bass – Takashi Mizuhashi
Drums – Masahiko Ozu
Tenor Saxophone, Soprano Saxophone – Ichiro Mimori
Piano – Masaru Imada

Recorded August 10 & 11, 1970 at AOI Studio, Tokyo.

Now!! by Masaru Imada was the second album released by the fledgling Three Blind Mice, and the pianist's first leader album for the label.

Side 1 gets us under way in languid late-night mood, with Nostalgia, a stately ballad that gives Mimori a chance to open up on tenor. Next up is Alter, which opens with the spotlight on Ozu and Mizuhashi before developing into free exploration with plenty more good work by Mimori. But it's Side 2 that really delivers, two fantastic tracks, the mighty modal Gehi Dorian, which really cuts loose with a righteous groove. To close Imada and his crew dial it back a bit, and go out in lyrical style with The Shadow.

All four tunes are Imada's original compositions. The two slow numbers -- "Nostalgia" and "The Shadow of the Castle" show his lyrical, "quiet but emotional," qualities. "Alter" is an adventurous tune whose focus is on free improvisation while "Gehi Dorian" is a modal composition as the title suggests.

Essential Japanese Jazz album recorded for the TBM japanese jazz label, the second as a leader by organist/pianist Masaru Imada featuring Ichiro Mimori, Takashi 'Gon' Mizuhashi & Masahiko Ozu. Masaru Imada is one of these Japanese Jazz masters involved in various "figurehead" groups of the Japanese Jazz, at the dawn of the 70s. Masaru played in particular, in the Takeshi Inomata's West Liners (alongside Ichiro Mimori), the Tadayuki Harada's group, but was best known as a member of Jiro Inagaki & The Soul Media ; later he also evolved in the Bingo Miki & Inner Galaxy Orchestra. Takashi Mizuhashi was sideman for Sadao Watanabe, George Otsuka, Isao Suzuki, Terumasa Hino and also member of the legendaries George Kawaguchi Big 4 & Kosuke Mine Quintet. The tracklist consist on four original compositions arranged by Masaru Imada including Modal Jazz & free improvisations.

The Beatles - 1968 - Kinfauns: The Acoustic White Album

The Beatles
Kinfauns: The Acoustic White Album

01. Sexy Sadie
02. Rocky Raccoon
03. Polythene Pam
04. Mean Mr. Mustard
05. Piggies
06. The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill
07. Junk
08. What's The New Mary Jane
09. Blackbird
10. Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except For Me And My Monkey
11. While My Guitar Gently Weeps
12. Glass Onion
13. Back In The USSR
14. Happiness Is A Warm Gun
15. Not Guilty
16. Dear Prudence
17. Honey Pie
18. Yer Blues
19. Mother Nature's Son
20. Child Of Nature
21. I'm So Tired
22. Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da
23. Cry Baby Cry
24. Circles
25. Julia
26. Sour Milk Sea
27. Revolution

Recorded At – Kinfauns
Recorded By – George

Kinfauns was George’s comfortable little one-story house in Esher, outside of London. It was there that the Beatles gathered sometime during May 20-29 of 1968, using George’s four-track Ampex reel-to-reel to tape acoustic group demos of the many songs they’d written while at the Maharishi’s ashram in Rishikesh, India. 

Text on back of sleeve:

During their stay at the Maharishi’s ashram in Rishikesh, India in the early spring of 1968, the Beatles had written an unprecedented number of new songs. While late April and early May were busily spent launching Apple, the first sessions for their new LP were looming.

All these acoustic group demos were recorded sometime during May 20-29, 1968, when all four Beatles gathered at Kinfauns, George’s comfortable little one-story house Esher, not far outside of London. Derek Taylor’s name is mentioned during the sessions, and he may have been running 
George’s four-track Ampex reel-to-reel, on which these historic performances were preserved.

The precise date is unknown, but towards the end of May 1968 The Beatles met at Kinfauns, George Harrison's bungalow in Esher, Surrey. There they recorded demo versions of a number of songs written in India, 19 of which later appeared on the White Album.

The 27 songs believed to have been taped at Kinfauns were recorded on Harrison's Ampex four-track reel-to-reel tape recorder. They were mostly grouped together by the composer of each song, although John Lennon's songs were more scattered across the day. They were most likely taped in this order:

Cry Baby Cry - with a different intro and ending from the album version
Child Of Nature - unreleased, but later became Jealous Guy
The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill - the other Beatles make animal noises
I'm So Tired - with a slightly different spoken passage
Yer Blues - John Lennon is 'insecure' rather than 'suicidal'
Everybody's Got Something To Hide... - far less frenetic than the studio version
What's The New Mary Jane - included on Anthology 3
Revolution 1 - lacks the 'you say you'll change the constitution' verse
While My Guitar Gently Weeps - with different lyrics in places
Circles - unreleased by The Beatles
Sour Milk Sea - unreleased by The Beatles
Not Guilty - studio version included on Anthology 3
Piggies - rather than 'eat their bacon', the piggies 'cut their pork chops'
Julia - in a higher key and with the verses in a different order
Blackbird - with a double-tracked vocal, no break, a slightly slower tempo
Rocky Raccoon - shorter, without the opening and final verses
Back In The USSR - lacks the final verse
Honey Pie - released on Anthology 3, with the final verse edited out
Mother Nature's Son - without the guitar intro of the studio version
Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da - with a double-tracked vocal from Paul McCartney
Junk - included on Anthology 3
Dear Prudence - with a spoken ending and double-tracked vocals
Sexy Sadie -
Happiness Is A Warm Gun - lacks the intro and the final section
Mean Mr Mustard - his sister is called Shirley, not Pam
Polythene Pam - slightly different chords; 'well it's a little absurd but...'; the verses are repeated
Glass Onion - with double-tracked gobbledygook from Lennon

Most of the recordings were widely bootlegged, although the release of Anthology 3 resulted in previously-unheard demos of the four final songs. The seven Kinfauns demos included on Anthology 3 - licensed to Apple by George Harrison - were also of a better quality than the bootlegs.

It is possible that not all of the demos were recorded at Kinfauns, and it has been speculated that some were recorded alone by the songs' composers. Alternatively, previously-made recordings may have been brought to Harrison's house for overdubbing, but, again, this is far from clear.

Of the songs unreleased by The Beatles in 1968, perhaps the best known is Child Of Nature. This was inspired by a Maharishi Mahesh Yogi lecture, and was lyrically similar to Mother Nature's Son. Lennon later reused the melody for 1971's Jealous Guy.

What's The New Mary Jane was based around a nursery rhyme-style melody, and in the studio became one of Lennon's first avant garde compositions. It remained unreleased until Anthology 3, despite Lennon's various attempts to have it released by The Beatles or the Plastic Ono Band.

Two of Lennon's songs, Mean Mr Mustard and Polythene Pam, were held back until 1969's Abbey Road, when they became part of the 'long medley'.

Just one of Paul McCartney's songs - Junk - was unreleased by The Beatles, although they returned to it during the Get Back sessions in early 1969. It eventually found a home on McCartney's first solo album.

Harrison fared less well, with three of the five demos failing to be included on the White Album. A studio version of Not Guilty should have appeared on that record, although it was eventually included on Anthology 3. Circles, meanwhile, wasn't issued until Harrison's 1982 solo album Gone Troppo.

Sour Milk Sea was given to Apple recording artist Jackie Lomax. It was his debut single later in 1968, produced by Harrison with McCartney on bass and Ringo Starr on drums.

It isn't known whether any of The Beatles' wives or girlfriends were present, although a female voice may be discernible on Revolution 1. Mal Evans and Derek Taylor are also addressed by the group on the bootleg recordings, and may have contributed.

The demo songs were mono mixed by Harrison, with copies given to each Beatle. The general public first heard them in the late 1980s as part of the Lost Lennon Tapes radio series, and 23 had entered general circulation by the early 1990s.

"I just realized that I've got a really good bootleg tape - demos we made at my house on an Ampex 4-track during The White Album."
George Harrison
Musician magazine, early 1990s

Work began on the album on 30 May at EMI Studios, Abbey Road.

"We are going in with clear heads and hoping for the best. We had hoped this time to do a lot of rehearsing before we reached the studios rather than rehearse actually on the instruments but, as it happens, all we got was one day."
Paul McCartney, 1968

In late May of 1968, the Beatles gathered at George Harrison’s home, Kinfauns, in the London suburb of Esher, to make rough demos of material under consideration for The White Album. There really isn’t any other parallel in the unreleased Beatles catalog for the 27 known recordings that resulted. At no other time, to our knowledge, did the Beatles so methodically rehearse and make demos for an upcoming album outside of EMI’s studios. And there’s no other set of tapes that show the Beatles, as a group, making demos for a large batch of songs in a mostly acoustic setup. Although it doesn’t include every song that made it onto The White Album (but does include a few songs that didn’t make the cut), this is very much like hearing “The White Album Unplugged,” even if the “unplugged” concept didn’t really exist in those days. While seven of the tracks would eventually ?nd release on Anthology 3, the great majority of them still lie unheard by the mass audience. Aside from their hundreds of hours of unissued rehearsals and studio outtakes from the Get Back/Let It Be sessions in January 1969, it’s the largest body of unreleased work to be recorded by the band in one gulp. It’s far more enjoyable than the Get Back outtakes, though, and it could be argued that these home demos—as rough and imperfect as they are—constitute the most interesting and, yes, fun chapter of all in the unreleased Beatles canon.

    It’s still something of a mystery as to what led the group to be recording this set of demos in the ?rst place. Certainly it was an interesting, exciting, and in many ways tense juncture in the Beatles’ career. They and their wives (and Paul’s ?ancée) had just completed their lengthy sojourn in Rishikesh, India, to study transcendental meditation with the Maharishi. The plan had been to complete an eight-week course with their new guru, and such was their enthusiasm for TM that there was even thought of staying longer should the spirit move them, release schedules and business pressures be damned. But the trip had ended in disarray. Ringo left after ten days, unhappy about the spicy food and the absence of his children. Paul left after a few weeks, not especially disappointed with the Maharishi or meditation, but not feeling like there was any urgent need to pursue the matter further. John and George departed in mid-April shortly before the course was due to ?nish under cloudy circumstances, the Maharishi having come under suspicion of making sexual overtures to one of the students. 
    Upon their return to the Western world, the Beatles were immediately immersed back in the world of high-powered hype and the very tensions they’d traveled to India to escape. Their Apple Records music and business empire was just rolling up to its serious launch, and in mid-May Lennon and McCartney made a hectic trip to New York to publicize it, with mixed results. Just days after returning to London, Lennon began an affair with Yoko Ono, in turn immediately bringing his marriage to Cynthia Powell to an end. The very day John and Yoko consummated their romantic relationship, they also recorded the ?rst of their avant-garde albums, Two Virgins—beginning an artistic and personal collaboration that would do much to pull Lennon out of the Beatles’ orbit, and much to destroy the internal harmony that had kept the band together. For his part, McCartney (though of?cially still engaged to Jane Asher) had met with his future wife Linda Eastman in New York. With all the personal and business complications weighing upon them, it’s something of a wonder that they even managed to ?nd the time to demo several dozen songs in late May.

    Yet, as George Harrison told the press at the time, they had about 35 songs in the running already for the next album—which, he mused, might be a double album, or even a triple. (By the time of the press screening of Yellow Submarine on July 8, George’s estimate had risen to 40, ten of them being his own compositions.) For the time spent in Rishikesh had yielded what might have been an unexpected bonus. Free for the ?rst time in years from the distractions of the media and fans, the group had found the weeks in India especially productive for songwriting. Furthermore, as they had only their acoustic guitars with them for instrumentation, much of their compositions had a folkier, less electric base than what they’d usually devised in the past. 

    “While the Beatles and I were in India they wrote the White Album songs,” recalled Donovan, who was also on the Maharishi’s meditation course in Rishikesh, in an interview with the author. “It was obvious The White Album would have a distinctive acoustic and lyrical vibe. Paul, John, George, and I all had our acoustic guitars with us. George would later say that my music greatly in?uenced The White Album. I played all my styles, and the Beatles were exposed to weeks of Donovan. John was in?uenced to write romantic fantasy lyrics on the two songs he wrote, ‘Julia’ and ‘Dear Prudence,’ after my teaching him my ?nger-style guitar method. He was a fast learner.” Jazz and new age musician Paul Horn, also in Rishikesh on the meditation course, has theorized that the meditation study itself helped spur and shape the group’s songwriting in India. “You ?nd out more about yourself on deeper levels, when you’re meditating,” he said in Steve Turner’s A Hard Day’s Write: The Stories Behind Every Beatles’ Song. “Look how proli?c they were in such a relatively short time. They were in the Himalayas away from the pressures and away from the telephone. When you get too involved with life, it suppresses your creativity. When you’re able to be quiet, it starts coming up.” 

    It’s worth recounting this backdrop to the White Album demos in some detail, as it might explain to some degree both why the Beatles decided to record them, and why they recorded them the way they did. It could be that, for all their staggering productivity between 1962 and 1967, at no other time did they have such a backlog of material ready for recording, especially now that Harrison was writing more than ever. It may also be that, having written much if not all of the material in informal, acoustic circumstances in India, they felt most comfortable doing “work-in-progress” versions outside of EMI’s studios, in a low-pressure home environment, using mostly acoustic instruments. Why George’s home was chosen isn’t clear; more Beatles-business-related meetings tended to take place at Paul McCartney’s house than anywhere else, as Paul (unlike the others) lived in London itself, just a few minutes’ walk from Abbey Road Studios. Perhaps it was felt that meeting in a busy area of London wouldn’t have the mellow atmosphere the songs seemed to call for. John’s house (where he and Paul had often met to work on songs) might have been off-limits given the breakup of his marriage at the time. Cynthia Lennon had just returned from a trip to discover John and Yoko together a few days before, and having the Beatles over on top of that might have been too much to even consider. Or it might have been as simple a matter as Harrison having the best home taping equipment.

    Whatever the state of the Beatles’ nerves when they recorded their demos on Harrison’s Ampex 4-track machine, they certainly don’t sound anxious or distracted. In fact, the performances have a remarkably carefree, jolly quality, almost as if it’s a camp?re sing-along and song- swapping session rather than the initial work on the most eagerly anticipated  album of 1968. Unpredictable, joyous whoops punctuate the proceedings, as well as ensemble backup vocals and all manner of crack-up asides and spontaneous scatting, often but not always from the mouth of John Lennon. Far from just laying down the tapes as a work aid, the Beatles are quite obviously having fun—having a blast, actually. Maybe the group, and particularly Lennon, welcomed these quasi-sessions as a safe haven of sorts from the hassles of the outside world, their music being the one thing they always guarded as inviolable.

    It is possible that these songs weren’t entirely, or even mostly, recorded at George’s house at all, or recorded as a group in some or many instances. Though the seven tracks that appear on Anthology 3 are all noted as originating from Esher in the liner notes, some feel it unlikely that all of the recording for the nearly 30 demos was done at George’s home. It’s been theorized, not without reason, that some or many of the songs could have been recorded by Lennon, McCartney, and  Harrison individually. As another possibility, the songs could have been largely recorded as solo works, and then brought to George’s house for both the songwriter of a speci?c tune and other members to add overdubs (which would have been easily done on a 4-track recorder). As these recordings weren’t subject to EMI’s usual detailed record keeping, however, it’s unlikely it will ever be de?nitely sorted out what was recorded when and where.

    Ultimately, “only” 19 of the 27 songs known to exist from these sessions found a place on The White Album in a re-recorded studio version. For all their wealth of available titles, the Beatles weren’t quite yet done with the writing for the upcoming album. Eleven of the tracks on The White Album have no Kinfauns counterparts, including “Helter Skelter,” “Long, Long, Long,” “Martha My Dear,” “Birthday,” “Savoy Truf?e,” “Wild Honey Pie,” “Revolution 9,” “Good Night,” “I Will,” “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road,” and “Don’t Pass Me By”—several of which are among The White Album’s more popular numbers. On the other hand, the tapes do give us the chance to hear no fewer than eight songs that did not ?nd a place on The White Album and half a dozen that the Beatles would not release at all before breaking up, though all of them except one (“Sour Milk Sea”) would appear on some post-Beatles compilation or solo Beatle release. The ?delity is on the crude side (though it’s way better on the seven tracks included on Anthology 3), the arrangements rudimentary, and the timing of the voices and the instruments sometimes slightly off, especially when some of the overdubbed tracks get out of sync with each other. The tapes are also rather skewed toward songs for which John Lennon was the primary or sole composer; he was the force behind 15 of the tunes (with Paul McCartney tallying a mere seven, and George Harrison ?ve). Yet they’re a hugely enjoyable listen and quite different in tone than The White Album, though it would be a mistake to say they’re just as good as that ?nished product. 

    Naturally, the most intriguing items are those the Beatles didn’t see ?t to record for a release while an active unit. The best of them is “I’m Just a Child of Nature,” which Lennon would rework for “Jealous Guy” on his second proper solo album, 1971’s Imagine. In this early state, the lyrics are quite different, and quite a bit more in?uenced by Rishikesh than Yoko, as the opening line about the road to Rishikesh makes clear. It’s something of a Lennon counterpart to McCartney’s “Mother Nature’s Son,” John sounding at his most pastoral and peaceful, though he typically punctures the mood by drawing out the last line of the second verse with a jokey vibrato that makes one question just how sincere his back-to-nature crusade might have been. As to why it didn’t make it onto The White Album, maybe it was felt to be too lyrically close to “Mother Nature’s Son,” or maybe John thought it was too naive, particularly in the company of such Lennonesque, realist screeds as “Yer Blues” and “Revolution.” As to why it didn’t make it onto Anthology 3, maybe there would have been a squabble over the songwriting credits—should it have been considered a Lennon solo composition, a joint Lennon-McCartney credit, or had the parties concerned forgotten exactly where the credit should go? Anyway, Lennon at least knew not to let a good melody go to waste, even if it took him three years to resuscitate it for “Jealous Guy.” (Note that while this number is usually titled “Child of Nature” on bootlegs, John himself referred to it as “I’m Just a Child of Nature” in his 1980 Playboy interview.) 

    The other Lennon song never to make it onto a pre-breakup Beatles album, “What’s the New Mary Jane,” is the source of much controversy among fans. Certainly it’s one of the most minimal and discordant songs in the Lennon-McCartney catalog, and one of the most inscrutably eccentric. It would indeed be recorded in a studio version for The White Album, with a whole gallery of rattling percussion and echo effects, though the track was omitted from the running order at the last minute. It’s sometimes thought to be the Beatles song (other than “Revolution 9”) that most strongly bears Yoko Ono’s avant-garde in?uence. But if that’s true, Ono’s in?uence must have been immediately ingested, as this gentler, less elaborate version from (at the latest) just a few days after they became a couple proves. Many will ?nd this surreal tune—with its singalong (if not terribly catchy) series of faux Indian-Anglo non sequiturs in the verses, leading to the even more nonsensical non sequitur of the chorus, lamenting what a shame Mary Jane had a pain at the party—more palatable in this arrangement than in the studio outtake that surfaced on Anthology 3. It’s still not much of a song, however, even if it’s a kinda cool example of Lennon’s Goonish humor coming stronger to the fore than it did on almost any other Beatles recording. The Beatles certainly sound like they’re taking the mickey out of themselves on the near-falsettos of the chorus, especially when the song dissolves into a near-anarchic mix of voices on the fade. It is, incidentally, the only version in which you’ll hear the title actually mentioned, as John does in the  improvised-sounding spoken parts at the end. 

    The only McCartney song from the demos not to make it onto a regular Beatles album was “Junk” (titled “Sing-along Junk” on some bootlegs), which Paul would redo for his ?rst solo album, 1970’s  McCartney. He and the Beatles made the right decision in passing it over—it’s a pleasant, slight, and inconsequential folky song about nothing in particular, more like an off-the-cuff lullaby than a fully baked tune. Note, incidentally, that the remix included on Anthology 3 is actually missing some vocal parts heard on the bootlegged version that were probably ironed out for some unknown reason when Anthology 3 was prepared for release. As another oddity, on Anthology 3 the songwriting credit reads “McCartney” rather than “Lennon-McCartney,” probably since it had already been copyrighted to Paul alone when it appeared on McCartney. 

    Harrison fared far worse than Lennon or McCartney in the leftover department, as no fewer than three of the ?ve songs he offered for consideration failed to ?nd a place on The White Album—in spite of his seeming generosity in letting the Beatles use his home and tape machine for the sessions in the ?rst place. The strongest of the three was “Not Guilty,” his defensive rebuttal to criticisms of his own brand of counterculture, here presented in a much less tense arrangement than the more forceful one he’d devise when it was cut (in numerous different takes) at the White Album sessions. While “Circles” isn’t as good a song, it’s a pretty neat, if droning, re?ection of Harrison’s more somber spiritual sensibilities. Its instrumentation is supplied not by guitar, but by an eerie organ that seems to have been dragged out of a dusty, disused church closet. Harrison would re-record it much, much later for his 1982 solo album Gone Troppo, though it’s this earlier arrangement, for all its primitivism, that exerts by far the greater fascination. While the last of these Harrisongs, “Sour Milk Sea,” is far more uplifting and uptempo in mood than either of the other two (and a rare showcase for extended falsetto in a lead Harrison vocal), in all honesty it’s a pretty insigni?cant, easygoing, slightly bluesy rock song, the lyrics unfortunately delivered in muf?ed ?delity on the available recording. George himself later admitted the song only took about ten minutes to write. This tune too would eventually ?nd a home, not on a Beatles or Harrison solo album, but on Jackie Lomax’s 1968 solo debut single, released on Apple and produced by George, with Paul on bass and Ringo on drums. 

    The only two other home White Album demos not to make the grade for the 1968 double LP were “Mean Mr. Mustard” and “Polythene Pam,” both of which were of course revived in 1969 for the side two Abbey Road medley. It wasn’t until Anthology 3 that these were even known to exist, and it came as quite a shock to even Beatles experts to ?nd that these songs had been written and demoed as far back as May 1968, over a year before Abbey Road’s release (though George had speci?cally remembered them being penned in India in a late-1969 interview). They’re pretty close in feel to the Abbey Road versions too, other than being acoustic, though “Mean Mr. Mustard” does leap into a brief, basic blues-rock bridge that was wisely excised when it was redone the following year, and refers to Mustard’s sister as “Shirley,” not “Pam.” “Polythene Pam,” too, has a very slightly different, more sour chord progression at the end of its verses, as well as some different lyrics. 
So that leaves 19 tracks that are in essence early home acoustic demo versions of songs that actually made it onto The White Album. Only four of these—“Glass Onion,” “Happiness Is a Warm Gun,” “Piggies,” and “Honey Pie”—would be rescued for Anthology 3, the rest only surfacing on bootleg thus far. Are they much different from the White Album versions, and are they worth hearing?

    The answer is an emphatic yes, even if you’re not a nutty completist for this sort of thing. True, some of the songs—particularly the slower and folkier ones, like “Blackbird,” “Cry, Baby, Cry,” “Rocky Raccoon,” “Julia,” “Mother Nature’s Son,” and “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill”—are pretty close to The White Album save for the absence of fuller arrangements. Yet others are noticeably to radically different. Lyric changes abound, from the almost invisibly minor to the nearly extensive. Starting with the most amusing major lyric change, you haven’t lived until you’ve heard the fadeout on “Dear Prudence,” which follows the recorded version pretty closely until Lennon launches into a satirical spoken mini-monologue: “Who was to know that [suppressed giggle] sooner or later she was to go completely berserk in the care of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. All the people around were very worried about the girl, because she was going insane. So we sang to her.” So there you have a more direct explanation of what exactly “Dear Prudence” is about than you’ll ?nd in the song itself, though the Beatles were wise to make the lyrics more universal by excising this literal explanation. Running a close second is another spoken bit near the end of “I’m So Tired,” where John slowly and rhythmically deadpans, “When I hold you in your [sic] arms, when you show each one of your charms, I wonder should I get up and go to the funny farm?” Some particularly great background whooping graces that track, where it’s hard to believe the guys aren’t having a whale of a time. 

    As for some more interesting remaining cuts, “Back in the U.S.S.R.” has a gloriously funky, down-home feel, McCartney referring here to an “awful” ?ight rather than a “dreadful” one—a minor variation to be sure, but an example of how no detail is too small to escape the masters as they ?nish their work. Paul also leans really hard into some of his “R”s when singing “U.S.S.R.,” almost as if he’s making fun of an American accent; the bridge has more jovial doo wopisms than the studio take; and the fade bene?ts from some delightful high scatting. “Revolution,” too, is a real highlight of the entire Beatles unreleased discography, where the “party” or “camp?re” feel reaches its peak, with a clap-along beat, sing-along harmonies, scatted high-harmony verse, and overall giddiness that’s far lighter and more joyous than the (itself highly estimable) down ’n’ dirty version that ended up on the ?ip side of “Hey Jude.” Like “Back in the U.S.S.R.,” it’s another recording where a slight Beach Boys in?uence can be detected, even if that would all but vanish by the time the two different Beatles versions of the song were released (on The White Album and the B-side of “Hey Jude”). “Piggies,” too, is very different from the White Album version, soaked in gentleness and played entirely on guitars (with whistling rather than sung words taking up one obviously incomplete verse), as opposed to the far more acerbic studio arrangement, where strings and harpsichord gave it a hard kick in the backside. And here the piggies clutch their forks and knives to cut their pork chops, instead of eating their bacon—another wise lyric substitution, when it ?nally came time to record it at EMI down the road. 

    “Honey Pie” is not so much different as incomplete, some wordless humming and scatting taking the place of words that McCartney would ?ll in by the time it was recorded for real. (The Anthology 3 version, incidentally, is severely edited, cutting out about 35 seconds from the song’s middle.) In an even sketchier state is “Happiness Is a Warm Gun,” af?icted by false starts and stops, missing the ?nal doo woppy section, and obviously not really ready for consumption, Lennon getting stuck in repetitions of the phrase about Mother Superior jumping the gun. The lyrics to “Glass Onion” aren’t in ?nal form either, though it’s entertaining to hear John plugging some nonsense syllables into some of the lines, and dramatically dragging the rhythm in the ?nal verse. Considering the un?nished state of all three of these songs, it’s odd indeed that they were all chosen for Anthology 3, when so many other far more polished numbers for the session were presumably available. Of course, several of the other songs were still in an un?nished state as well—“Cry Baby Cry” lacks its intro, “Rocky Raccoon” its opening and closing verses, and “Back in the U.S.S.R.” its ?nal verse, while “Julia” changes the order of the lyrics, goes into some whistling at the end, and is played in a higher key to boot.

    “Gentleness” is an almost unavoidable byword when discussing these demos, and “Yer Blues” is another instance where the approach is more laidback, easygoing, and rootsy than the one employed for The White Album. It’s not necessarily a better approach, but it’s a very refreshing and different one, particularly after you’ve heard The White Album a thousand times. (Note also how at this stage John is merely “insecure” rather than “suicidal.”) This is also true of “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey,” which sounds friendlier and less vicious here, though the verse has a more skeletal melody that would be improved upon by the time the Beatles got down to work on it at EMI a month later. Dig also how Lennon repeats “take it easy” on the long, long outro ad in?nitum before lapsing into lascivious “make it, make it, make it” as the track collapses to a halt. Speaking of collapsing, “Sexy Sadie” almost seems to run out of gas when it comes to the fade, lacking the long instrumental coda that would ?nish it off on The White Album. “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” the only Harrison song here other than “Piggies” to get a hearing on The White Album, is suffused with the same ghostly organ as the one heard on “Circles,” giving it an almost funereal quality. The lyrics would undergo some revision by the time the ?nal version was recorded at EMI—at this point, most noticeably, it declares “the problems you sow are the troubles you’re reaping” in the ?rst verse.

    And what was Ringo’s role in these sessions? There’s certainly no full drum set in evidence, and no percussion at all on some tracks. What percussion there is tends to be handclaps, thumps (on guitars and furniture, perhaps), and the odd tambourine and miscellaneous rattle. What’s more, there was no demo made of “Don’t Pass Me By,” his sole composition on The White Album (and, in fact, the ?rst song wholly written by Starr to be recorded by the Beatles). Is it possible he didn’t attend these sessions, leaving the work to principal songwriters John, Paul, or George? One also wonders whether Yoko Ono was in attendance, as she certainly was at almost all of the Beatles’ of?cial Abbey Road sessions from this point onward, occasionally even contributing an eccentric vocal snippet (as she did on “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill,” “What’s the New Mary Jane,” and “Revolution 9”). Certainly one of the distant background voices on some of the more fully harmonized Kinfauns demos, like “Revolution,” could be Yoko’s, or, for that matter, another non-Beatle who was part of the group’s inner circle, like George’s wife, Patti. Both roadie/personal assistant Mal Evans and publicist Derek Taylor are addressed at various points, and it’s possible they added to the clamor in low-key fashions as well.

    After they were completed, the tracks were mixed to mono by George, with John, Paul, and Ringo each getting copies of this reduction tape. Their existence remained unsuspected by Beatles fans until some of the demos ?rst found radio broadcast in the late ’80s as part of “The Lost Lennon Tapes” series, John’s copy of a tape with much of the material having been found in his archives. These Lennon-dominated tracks and a few others quickly found their way onto bootleg, and as welcome as those were, the focus on Lennon songs exclusively gave listeners an unbalanced portrait of those sessions, which included so many additional compositions from McCartney and Harrison. Twenty-two of the tracks ?nally circulated in the early ’90s as part of the Unsurpassed Demos bootleg, with other subsequent bootlegs offering slightly longer versions. 

    That seemed to be the last word on the matter, except that in 1996, seven Kinfauns recordings—four of them never previously bootlegged— appeared on Anthology 3. As these had far better sound than anything heard on illegitimate CDs, that naturally led to speculation that the entire body of 27 tracks existed in much better ?delity than what had been previously available on bootleg. And, naturally, it engendered speculation that if four Kinfauns demos suddenly popped up out of nowhere, there might be yet more where those came from. Some even wondered if Apple were deliberately taunting the bootleggers by selecting material that had never made it out in any form, when there were so many other, previously circulated Kinfauns recordings they could have chosen instead. 

    Following that line of investigation, it’s known that the tape of Kinfauns material found in John Lennon’s archives contains the songs from the Unsurpassed Demos bootleg on side A, and versions (identi?ed as “White Album demos”) of “Cry Baby Cry,” “I’m Just a Child of Nature,” “Yer Blues,” Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey,” “What’s the New Mary Jane,” “Revolution,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” and “Piggies” on side B. These could just be the same versions as the much-bootlegged ones heard on side A—or they could be yet different versions of the same numbers, also recorded as part of the Kinfauns sessions (or even from an entirely different source). 
The absence of the four previously unbooted tracks that surfaced on Anthology 3 (“Happiness Is a Warm Gun,” “Mean Mr. Mustard,” “Polythene Pam,” and “Glass Onion”) from this Lennon archive tape in turn adds ammunition to the speculation that those four recordings might not have been part of the Kinfauns batch at all. 

    Several years before the Anthology series got on track, Harrison told Musician magazine, “I just realized that I’ve got a really good bootleg tape—demos we made at my house on an Ampex 4-track during The White Album.” Harrison’s tacit stamp of approval raised hopes that the entire set might ?nd of?cial release, particularly as it was George, and not EMI or the other Beatles, who owned the copyright on these recordings; when seven were used on Anthology 3, the small print noted that all of them had been licensed to Apple from Harrison. George’s death in 2001 perhaps complicates the matter, however, and though his estate presumably still controls the material, as of 2006 its appearance seems as far away as ever. That’s unfortunate, because a thorough compilation of all 27 (or more, if they exist) Kinfauns demos, with the best available ?delity and cleaned-up sound, would be a solid contender for the best collection of (largely) unreleased Beatles material that could be envisioned at this point.

The Beatles - 1962 - I Hope We Passed The Audition

The Beatles
I Hope We Passed The Audition

01. My Bonnie
02. My Bonnie
03. My Bonnie
04. The Saints
05. Cry For A Shadow
06. Why (Can't You Love Me Again)
07. Nobody's Child
08. Ain't She Sweet
09. Take Out Some Insurance On Me, Baby
10. Like Dreamers Do
11. Money
12. To Know Her Is To Love Her
13. Memphis
14. Till There Was You
15. Sure To Fall
16. Besame Mucho
17. Love Of The Loved
18. Hello Little Girl
19. Three Cool Cats
20. September In The Rain
21. Take Good Care Of My Baby
22. Crying Waiting Hoping
23. The Sheik Of Araby
24. Searchin'
25. Sweet Georgia Brown
26. Besame Mucho
27. Love Me Do
28. Swet Georgia Brown
29. Sweet Georgia Brown
30. I Hope We Passed The Audition

Tracks 1-6: 22-23 June, 1961
Tracks 7-9: 24 June, 1961
Tracks 10-24: Decca Audition, 1 Jan, 1962
Track 25: Backing Track, 24 May, 1962
Tracks 26-27: EMI Audition, 6 June, 1962
Track 28: Polydor, original vocals, 24 May, 1962
Track 29: Polydor, vocal, 24 May, 1962
Track 30: Rooftop Concert, 30 January, 1969

John Lennon
Paul McCartney
George Harrison
Pete Best

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.

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.

Of the Decca recordings, five songs – 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."
Dick Rowe

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.

Here is where the story of the Beatles’ unreleased recordings—and, it could even be said, of the Beatles’ work in professional studios as a whole—really begins. From the day John Lennon met Paul McCartney in July 1957 through the end of 1961, there had been sporadic amateur recordings of the band. None of them showed the group to great advantage; all of them would be utterly forgotten today, had the boys not unexpectedly developed in ways no one, even the musicians themselves, could have possibly foreseen. True, they had recorded in 1961 in a professional studio with a top German producer who was an international hit recording artist in his own right. But most of those tracks had been as a backing group to a journeyman rock ’n’ roll singer, affording the Beatles little opportunity for any of their own personality or originality to emerge. Their January 1, 1962, audition for Decca Records—yielding 15 songs, known for decades among collectors simply as "the Decca tapes"—was the first audio document of any kind to capture a truly high-fidelity, professionally recorded performance of a group that had already been working for five years. As a fairly well-rounded sampling of their repertoire just half a year so before they finally clinched that much longed-for recording contract, it’s of enormous historical significance. For it not only reveals what the band sounded like, more or less, just before they first established themselves as recording artists—it also illustrates just how far they had to go before they cut their first chart single eight months later. It’s also by far the most comprehensive snapshot of how they sounded when Pete Best was still in the drummer’s chair, his ousting in favor of Ringo Starr still seven-and-a-half months down the road.

    The story behind how the Beatles came to be auditioning for one of Britain’s largest record labels on New Year’s Day 1962 is a long and winding tale in itself. Though it had been less than a month since Brian Epstein offered his services as manager, he’d swung into action immediately after their ?rst meeting, even before the ?rst contract had been signed to formalize the agreement. As an entry in the previous chapter stated, he’d played an acetate of the Beatles performing live at the Cavern for Tony Barrow that helped lead him to Decca A&R man Mike Smith. Taking full advantage of his leverage as the manager of NEMS, one of the biggest record stores in Northern England, Epstein had gotten Smith up from London to watch the Beatles play live at the Cavern on December 13, 1961. Decca was not just one of the two biggest record labels in the United Kingdom (EMI being the other), and one with a high international pro?le; it also knew full well the value of keeping the administrator of one of their most important retail outlets happy. Smith later even admitted that the label pretty much had to send someone to check out the group, so important was the NEMS account to the sales department.

    Still, Smith seems to have been genuinely impressed by what he saw of the band onstage—albeit in front of a Liverpool audience, at the Beatles’ chief stomping ground, that was guaranteed to give them an enthusiastic reception. “The Beatles were tremendous,” he said about 40 years later when interviewed for the Pete Best DVD documentary Best of the Beatles. “Not so much my own reaction, but the crowd’s reaction, was incredible.” Such was the speed at which things could move even at major labels in those days that he arranged an audition in Decca’s London studios for just a few weeks later.

    It was a big break, so they thought, and no doubt the Beatles were both excited about the opportunity and impressed that their new manager had set something up so quickly. However, the audition would not take place under optimum circumstances. There was the matter of the date scheduled, to begin with. It’s long puzzled some fans (particularly outside of the UK) why an audition would be scheduled for New Year’s Day (on a Monday morning, no less), but in the early 1960s it wasn’t yet a national holiday in Britain. It wasn’t a holiday week for the Beatles either, who had just played the Cavern on Friday and Saturday nights, and spent most of Sunday in a van with their equipment on a ten-hour drive through snowstorms to London. Driver and roadie Neil Aspinall even got lost at one point, and as if the journey weren’t enough to set them on edge, upon arrival a couple of seedy guys on the London streets tried to connive their way into using the van as a safe haven for smoking pot—still a highly exotic substance in 1961 and then, as now, illegal.

    So Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison, and Pete Best probably weren’t in the best of humor, or as well rested as they might have been, when they arrived at Decca Studios in West Hempstead in North London at around 11:00 a.m. the following morning. Brian Epstein (who’d traveled down separately by train) was there too, and all were nervous and slightly annoyed when Smith showed up late, having spent much of the previous night celebrating the New Year. Then Smith insisted that the Beatles use Decca’s ampli?ers, rather than the ones they’d gone to so much trouble to schlep down from Liverpool—not without some justi?cation, as the amps, not top-of-the-line to start with, had seen much wear and tear over the course of several hundred gigs or so. (As a side note, this particular problem wouldn’t even be ?xed by the time of their ultimately successful audition for George Martin and EMI ?ve months later, where some actual soldering had to be done before McCartney had a bass amp that was deemed up to scratch. It really wasn’t until after that EMI audition that they, with the help of funds from Brian Epstein, started to give their equipment serious upgrades, as documented in Backbeat Books’ Beatles Gear.) 

    Despite their experience recording in the studio as Tony Sheridan's backup unit in 1961, the Beatles were probably (if understandably) jumpy. Their anxiety was magni?ed by the studio’s red light, customary in many such facilities to keep people from entering while sessions were in progress, but a new and intimidating feature to the inexperienced musicians. “They were pretty frightened,” Neil Aspinall remembered about ?ve or six years later in Hunter Davies’s The Beatles: The Authorized Biography. “Paul couldn’t sing one song. He was too nervous and his voice started cracking up. They were all worried about the red light on. I asked if it could be put off, but we were told people might come in if it was off. You what? we said. We didn’t know what all that meant.”

    In spite of their jitters, the Beatles managed to lay down 15 songs, on two-track mono tape with no overdubbing, in the relatively small time allotted to them. (They remembered doing at least one more, “What’d I Say,” in Billy Shepherd’s obscure 1964 Beatles biography The True Story of the Beatles, but if they played it at Decca, it probably wasn’t taped.) How long this took is still a matter of some conjecture. Some sources say the session lasted a mere hour, from around 11:00 a.m. to noon—which seems like undue haste even by the standards of the early ’60s, and even considering that the 15 tracks altogether last only a little less than 35 minutes. In his autobiography, Pete Best would recall the recording kicking off around midday and going well into the afternoon. Whatever the clock really said, it may well have been a somewhat brisker audition than usual, as Smith had another group, Brian Poole and the Tremeloes, to audition later that same day. Since the tapes weren’t being laid down with the intention of release, it’s also likely that most or all of the songs were done in a single take. That was another contributing factor, possibly, to the nervousness that’s often audible in the performances, though in fairness to Decca, the audition process undergone by the Beatles was probably fairly typical for its era.

    And how did the Beatles do, the ultimate verdict (more on that a bit later) notwithstanding? Frankly, the group sounded ragged and tentative, at times with a sloppiness that verged on the unprofessional. The tempos sometimes wavered and the lead vocals quavered, particularly on some notes when McCartney reached into the upper register. George Harrison’s guitar lines sometimes fumbled, as is most embarrassingly evident when comparing this early take of “Till There Was You” with the version they’d release at EMI nearly two years later, which featured a memorably beautiful and smoothly executed jazz-flamenco-tinged solo. Pete Best’s drumming was thinly textured and rather unimaginative, occasionally to the point of monotony.

    Their inexperience with studio vocal mikes was at times obvious, some tics, clicks, and pops getting picked up here and there, as when Paul landed on the last word of a line (“and when I look”) in “Love of the Loved” with a “k” as hard as if he’s biting into a cracker. The harmonies suffered from some disorganization and faintness, though the latter quality might be as attributable to whatever recording setup was used (and it certainly seems like it was on the basic, perfunctory side) as to any de?ciencies in the group’s vocals. McCartney’s singing was still highly derivative of Elvis Presley in spots, as was particularly noticeable on parts of “Searchin’,” “Like Dreamers Do,” and “September in the Rain,” as well as the closing lines of “Love of the Loved.” A great role model to be sure, but it would take some time—not very much time at all, as it turned out—for Paul to ?nd his own, more comfortable, yet equally distinctive and virtuosic voice.

    For most of the rest of their career, the Beatles would perform exceedingly well, under superhuman pressure, time after time—whether playing in front of huge crowds and TV audiences on their world tours, writing brilliant material under strict deadlines, or managing to match or top themselves commercially and artistically with every new succeeding album and single. The Decca audition, to the contrary, is about the last time we hear the Beatles actually coming off as nervous and not wholly sure of themselves. While several songs end with almost improvised-sounding bits where the Beatles playfully scat, sing a super-brief operatic note or two, or laugh nonchalantly, there’s more a sense that they’re whistling in the dark to relieve the tension, rather than genuinely feeling at ease in their surroundings.

    Yet, particularly with the bene?t of hindsight, the recordings were in some respects quite promising, and not without appeal. What’s more, though no one in their right mind would put them on the same level as their subsequent of?cial EMI-recorded material, they’re fairly enjoyable in their own right. Although the arrangements are primitive and hollow—almost to the point of ghostliness—there are strong hints of the fresh enthusiasm and vigor that would be so key to the Beatles’ approach, even on their covers of American rock ’n’ roll songs, which comprised the majority of songs at the Decca audition. It’s more present in the vocals than anything else, even if their vocal harmonies aren’t nearly as fully worked out as we’re accustomed to hearing. Still, there’s energy and exuberance, albeit in a muted form, as if they hadn’t quite yet found the courage to go for the jugular. Too, despite Best’s limitations as a drummer, there’s a youthful impatience to the arrangements that would be such a strong characteristic of the Merseybeat sound that would dominate 1963 and be exploited with greater skill by the Beatles than any other Liverpool act.

    To be sure, the most striking of the 15 tracks are the three Lennon-McCartney originals, none of which the Beatles would release while they were active, although they were covered for British hits of varying size by other artists in 1963 and 1964. Indeed, those unfamiliar with the music of the pre-EMI Beatles might be ?rst struck by the paucity of original material. Most of the songs the Beatles would cut at EMI, after all, were written by the band. More than anything else, perhaps, it’s the quality of those songs that has made the Beatles’ music so timeless (and commercially successful). It must be remembered, however, that at the beginning of 1962, Lennon and McCartney’s songwriting talents were still in a formative stage (and Harrison wasn’t writing at all, essentially, despite having co-authored the instrumental they recorded at the Tony Sheridan sessions, “Cry for a Shadow”). The three songs they presented to Decca, as meager as they were in comparison even to their only slightly later work, were probably about the best they had to offer at the time. Like the Decca tapes as a whole, these too were more promise than genius, though at the same time not at all bad on their own terms.

    Of those three Lennon-McCartney-penned tracks, perhaps the most interesting is “Love of the Loved,” as it’s the only one of the threesome that hasn’t found eventual of?cial release (the other two, “Hello Little Girl” and “Like Dreamers Do,” appearing on Anthology 1 in 1995). Even at this early stage in the Lennon-McCartney partnership, it was already the case that much or all of the writing on some of the songs bearing their byline was in reality largely or wholly attributable to either John or Paul alone. “Love of the Loved” is de?nitely a Paul-dominated effort, and while it might sound a tad awkward and unpolished judged next to the songs the Beatles were coming up with by 1963, it has de?nite hallmarks of what would often characterize the group’s compositions.

    There are those unexpected, almost off-the-wall chord changes, almost to the extent that you feel this might have been one of the ?rst times McCartney set out to deliberately explore unconventional structures; a blend of major and minor moods; the commanding glide from the bridge back to the main verse; and, as a quality prevalent in Paul’s writing in particular, an almost pervasive, haunting eerieness. A strange, skittering guitar line recurs throughout this uneasily mid-tempo arrangement, and Paul feels a little more comfortably settled into his lead vocal than he does on some other cuts, despite the aforementioned leaps into some Elvis Presley–isms. You can also hear some almost subliminally soft (and, for the Beatles, not at all typical) vocal harmonies in the background when Paul shifts into a more uplifting bridge. These indicate that there might have actually been some deliberate effort on Smith’s and/or the group’s part to give the vocal arrangement a certain idiosyncratic ?avor; it certainly doesn’t sound like the backup singers are closely miked. Best’s drumming is among his better work on this session, pushing the song along with a steady insistence.

    In another foreshadowing of a device the Beatles often used later, the very end of the song takes off in a surprising melodic direction, McCartney drawing out the syllables of the last line before suddenly ascending into a near-falsetto as the guitars play a brief sequence not heard anywhere else in (yet similar to the rest of ) the song. You don’t need to get into technical analysis to enjoy “Love of the Loved,” however, despite its somewhat over-serious romantic lyrics and the slightly forced pun of the title phrase. Cilla Black would have a small British hit with the tune when she put it on her ?rst single in mid-1963, but the Beatles’ version is far superior, as Black’s used a wholly inappropriate uptempo brassy arrangement and belting vocal. As to why it didn’t appear on Anthology 1, that’s anyone’s guess; perhaps McCartney, even three decades later, was dissatis?ed or embarrassed about some aspect of the song or the Decca performance. It’s too bad, as it’s certainly deserving of release, and far better than some of the other pre-EMI tracks included on that collection.

    McCartney is also to the fore on the Lennon-McCartney number “Like Dreamers Do,” which did ?nd release on Anthology 1. It’s another case of a composer and singer ?nding his feet, with corny sentimental lyrics that are something of a throwback to the pre-rock Tin Pan Alley era. But there are some pretty unusual things going on too, especially the lurching introduction, whose chords go up the scale until there’s almost nothing left. They don’t form a conventional progression by any means, as most nonprofessional guitarists would ?nd if they tried to play it by ear. Still, it’s got that Beatlesque Merseybeat catchiness, if only as a bud not yet in blossom. Paul’s nervousness does seem to betray him more in this cut than in some others, however, particularly when he almost breathlessly strains for some really high notes at the end of the bridge. There’s almost a tangible sense of relief when he gets back into the more mid-range verse; the lads might have done well to knock down the tune a key or two. The way he stretches out “I-yi-yi-yi” in the bridge, too, smacks of lingering hokey 1950s rock ’n’ roll and doo wop in?uences that would be ironed out within the year. It’s not all Paul’s show, with Best throwing in more drum rolls (though they’re not always called for) than usual, and Harrison’s guitar going into a nice speckly line near the end, with a dated reverb that—whether due to Decca’s setup or not—would never reappear in his work on the Beatles’ EMI sessions. The Applejacks took an even jauntier, less guitar-oriented arrangement of the song into the British Top 20 in 1964. But the Beatles’ version, for all its imperfections, is far more satisfying and dare we say gutsier, even for such a relatively trivial Lennon-McCartney tune.

    The ?nal Lennon-McCartney song from the Decca date, “Hello Little Girl,” had been worked up by the group for some time, as its appearance on one of their 1960 home tapes veri?es. By January 1962, it had been tightened and re?ned quite a lot, the bridge bearing an almost entirely different melody. More John’s song than Paul’s, it points the way forward to the Beatles of 1963 more than anything else recorded at the Decca audition. For while many of the songs from the Decca tape have few or no backup vocals, here the Beatles sound like a real group, John and Paul singing the verse in unison, Lennon engaging in some nice call-and-response backup harmonies in the bridge with Paul and George. Though a slight and simple song on the whole, it’s got a rough charm (and a rather skeletal and jagged guitar solo), and more than almost anything else the group cut, it puts their debt to Buddy Holly front and center. The Fourmost took the song into the British Top Ten in late 1963, and like the Applejacks took an approach so light and sing-songy as to make the Decca take, as innocuous as the tune was, downright earthy in comparison. 

    The remaining dozen songs on the tape are all covers, and while they’re not as fascinating as the Lennon-McCartney-composed items, all of them are of some interest, even in the cases where the Beatles would later record far superior versions for EMI releases or the BBC. They also testify to the broad range of the Beatles’ tastes and the versatility of their repertoire, encompassing ’50s rock ’n’ roll, early soul, rockabilly, and even some teen idol pop and pre-1950s Tin Pan Alley. Three of the tracks would be included on Anthology 1, and seven of the remaining nine tunes would emerge in a different, later version on either a real Beatles album or the Live at the BBC collection, leaving just two cover songs from the Decca tapes that were never included on an of?cial Beatles release in any form.

    One of those two covers is the pop standard “September in the Rain,” based on the arrangement used by pop-jazz singer Dinah Washington. It’s not what comes to mind when most people think of the Beatles’ early in?uences, but for what it’s worth, Paul McCartney really does sound like he’s enjoying himself on this track, scatting with an almost ironic playfulness to kick things off. Perhaps this was one of the later cuts laid down in the session; on this and a few other songs, the group seems to have noticeably loosened up. Popular standards were a part of the Beatles’ early repertoire, usually at the instigation of Paul, though only “A Taste of Honey” and “Till There Was You” serve as evidence in their of?cial studio catalog. As they did with those two songs (on their ?rst and second albums, respectively), the Beatles effectively adapt “September in the Rain” to a rock guitar setting, though without nearly as much imagination.

    The other, almost equally unlikely song never revisited by the Beatles in either a recording studio or a BBC session was “Take Good Care of My Baby,” which had just gone to No. 1 for American teen idol Bobby Vee in both the US and UK. This was precisely the kind of artist, and song, that the group usually avoided in their cover choices. Teen idol music personi?ed the mild and soft sounds the early Beatles were counteracting, and doing a current chart-topping smash would be considered way too obvious for a band trying to be as original as the Beatles were, even at this early stage in their musical development. Perhaps this was one of the songs performed speci?cally at the suggestion of Brian Epstein, who as a record retailer kept a keen eye on what was popular on the charts, though it’s been reported that it was George Harrison’s idea, Best claiming in Spencer Leigh’s Drummed Out! The Sacking of Pete Best that George, “more than the others, thought we should do one or two from the Top 20.” Nonetheless, the fellows do a reasonable if somewhat perfunctory job on the song, which was, after all, written by one of Lennon and McCartney’s favorite American songwriting teams, Gerry Gof?n and Carole King. George—who did more lead singing than many fans realize in the days when the Beatles were playing mostly covers—takes the lead vocal. Paul’s harmonies are a wee bit strained and vibrato-laden, and the arrangement’s a little on the rushed and tiptoeing side. In all, it’s not too much of a surprise that it didn’t make the cut for Anthology 1. 

    The Coasters were big favorites of the Beatles, and at Decca they covered two of the great American vocal group’s songs, as well as basing their arrangement of the Latin pop standard “Besame Mucho” on the one the Coasters had used in covering the same tune. That made three Coasters covers, essentially, the most familiar of which was “Searchin’,” which eventually showed up on Anthology 1 (where, annoyingly and for no apparent reason, the opening instrumental bars of the song were cut off ). There’s no doubt they and lead singer Paul McCartney loved the song; Paul, in fact, chose it as one of his “desert island discs” in 1982. But the Beatles’ version is kind of forced and stilted, particularly when Paul launches into a dramatic falsetto without much of the comic ?air for which the Coasters were famous.

    Far cooler is “Three Cool Cats” (also on Anthology 1), George Harrison taking the lead vocal for a catchy minor-key, hangin’-on-the-street-corner vignette. (Incidentally, this song, originally used on a 1959 Coasters B-side, might not have been as obscure as many assume; early British rock singers Cliff Richard, Marty Wilde, and Dickie Pride sang it live on a May 1959 episode of the UK television program Oh Boy! and it’s quite possible that one or more of the Beatles saw that exact broadcast.) George, John, and Paul attack the harmonies on the chorus with real relish, though it’s a bit of a shock to hear Lennon attempt some not-too-accomplished mimicry of Caribbean-like accents in some brief (and not terribly funny) spoken comic interjections. Still, overall it’s one of the best Decca cuts, as is “Besame Mucho,” which didn’t make it onto Anthology 1, probably because a different version (recorded ?ve months later at their EMI audition) was used. Surprisingly, the Decca version has a big edge on the considerably tamer EMI one, on which for some reason the group decided to omit the backup harmonies and infectiously silly ensemble end-of-verse “cha-cha boom!” chants that help make the Decca take so fun. Again, maybe it’s not the kind of song you expect to hear from the Beatles, but it really does rock pretty hard, and maybe it’s another one from a point in the session where they’d gotten a little less inhibited than they were at its outset.

    The weirdest relic of all from the Decca tape (eventually released on Anthology 1) is the cover of the relatively ancient theatrical standard “The Sheik of Araby” (which had actually been heard in the 1940 Hollywood movie Tin Pan Alley). Sung by Harrison as though he’s trying to clip off the ends of each word, it’s played by the Beatles with the absurd speed of men who’ll miss their train if they don’t force the song under the 90-second mark (which they don’t quite manage, failing by just a few seconds). Even more bizarre were the nasal howls at the end of some verses, expelled with such overbearing volume that many would guess that some wise-ass bootlegger overdubbed them years later. But no, they were part of the original recording, though the levity they were no doubt intended to add was pretty contrived. The song’s inclusion in the session wasn’t as off-the-wall as it might appear; early British rock ’n’ roll star Joe Brown had cut a rock version of the tune in 1961, and George was a Brown fan, taking lead vocals ?ve months later on the Beatles’ BBC cover of Joe’s 1962 hit “A Picture of You.” (What’s more, Brown would become a close friend of George’s in Harrison’s later years; Harrison would even be best man at Brown’s wedding in 2000.) As Best told Spencer Leigh in Drummed Out! The Sacking of Pete Best, “‘The Sheik of Araby’ was a very popular number and we nearly did it on the BBC shows because of the demand. George loved those kind of numbers.”

    There’s not as much to say about the remaining half-dozen songs, as all of them are inferior to subsequent versions the Beatles would record by   a wide margin. “Money,” for instance, was one of the group’s greatest covers and a highlight of their second album, With the Beatles. Next to that savage performance, the Decca version is kind of anemic, with the rushed tempo that af?icted much of the session and a far less assertive instrumental attack. With the Beatles included another cover ?rst cut at Decca, “Till There Was You,” most familiar to American audiences from the hit musical The Music Man, although the Beatles learned it from Peggy Lee’s recording of the song. Here the gap in quality is yet wider, as both the rhythm and Paul McCartney’s vocal are more hesitant than anywhere else in the session, his singing almost faltering into prissiness with apparent nerves. It’s interesting, however, to hear them do an arrangement here with not one but two guitar solos, though as noted earlier, George’s playing on this particular number would improve quite a bit by the time they recut it for EMI a year and a half later.

    While the remaining four songs weren’t redone for any of their EMI releases, the Beatles did record all of them for the BBC. In fact, in the case of “Sure to Fall” and “Memphis, Tennessee,” they did them four and ?ve times, respectively, for the BBC, though the other pair (“Crying, Waiting, Hoping” and “To Know Her Is to Love Her”) were done on radio just once each. Carl Perkins’s “Sure to Fall” suffers most in its Decca incarnation. Though Paul excelled at this kind of rockabilly material, his voice here is as shaky as it ever was at any time on any tape, and the song is taken a shade too fast, lacking the break into double-time in the bridge that distinguished the most imaginative version they did on the BBC. Chuck Berry’s “Memphis, Tennessee” is a great song, but somehow this particular attempt, sung by John Lennon, plods a little more than it bounces, with a weird wobbling guitar chord bringing it to a ?nish.

    Harrison takes lead vocals on Buddy Holly’s “Crying, Waiting, Hoping,” which isn’t bad at all, with well-placed responsive backup harmonies. But the BBC version is much smoother, and Pete Best, like he does throughout most of the Decca session, just pushes the beat a little too fast for comfort. “To Know Her Is to Love Her,” a No. 1 hit ballad in 1958 under the title “To Know Him Is to Love Him” for the Teddy Bears (whose lineup included Phil Spector, who wrote the song), is sung by John with major backup support from Paul and George. It’s nice to hear Lennon’s gentler side in evidence so early on, but again this pales next to the more accomplished BBC take; John’s vocal is far less con?dent, and there are some lingering, lugubrious doo wop in?ections to the harmonies that would be scrubbed out by the time it was redone for radio in mid-1963. (Incidentally, although Hunter Davies’s book mentions that Paul sang another pop standard at the session, “Red Sails in the Sunset,” this appears to be in error. At the very least, no tape of it from the Decca audition has surfaced, though it was certainly part of their live repertoire, as proven by its inclusion on Live! At the Hamburg Star-Club recorded almost exactly a year later, and on their earliest surviving handwritten setlist, probably from mid-1960.)

    Of course, there was likely little such intense analysis of the tapes at the time, by either the Beatles or Decca. The main objective of the Beatles was to get that record deal; the main objective of Decca was to determine whether the Beatles were worth recording for real. At ?rst, Epstein and the group thought they’d done well. Mike Smith had, according to Best, said the tapes were “terri?c”; they even celebrated with a dinner in London that night. They were expecting a contract to be offered soon, went back to Liverpool to resume their gig schedule, and waited. The wait turned to weeks, and at the beginning of February 1962, Decca of?cially turned the Beatles down. The band was devastated, and although Epstein did meet with Decca A&R man Dick Rowe and sales manager Sidney Arthur Beecher-Stevens in London to attempt to persuade them to reconsider, he was squarely rejected. Decca told him that groups were on the way out, a ridiculous rationale, as, in fact, “beat groups” would overrun the industry just a year later, the Beatles themselves leading the charge.

    Much later, the Beatles were honest in assessing the merits of their performance that New Year’s Day. “We were all excited, you know, Decca and all that,” Lennon remembered in the 1970s (as quoted in Keith Badman’s Beatles Off the Record), about ten years after the big disappointment. “So we went down, and we met this Mike Smith guy, and we did all these numbers and we were terri?ed and nervous. You can hear it on the bootlegs. It starts off terrifying and gradually settles down. We were still together musically. You can hear it’s primitive, you know, and it isn’t recorded that well, but the power’s there. It was the tracks that we were doing onstage in the dance halls. We then went back to Liverpool and waited and waited and then we found out that we hadn’t been accepted. We really thought that was it. We thought that was the end.” In the same volume, McCartney admitted, “We couldn’t get the numbers right, and we couldn’t get in tune.” (It should be noted that it’s not 100 percent clear whether Lennon was remembering the Decca tapes accurately in his comment; he and Yoko Ono had sent Paul and Linda McCartney an acetate of what they thought were the Decca tapes as a Christmas gift in 1971, but it actually contained some of the tracks they’d recorded for the BBC!)

    His enthusiasm at the time to the contrary, Mike Smith later claimed (as quoted in The Beatles Off the Record) that the Beatles “weren’t very good in the studio. I took the tape to Decca House and I was told that they sounded like the Shadows. I had recorded two bands and I was told that I could take one and not the other. I went with Brian Poole & the Tremeloes because they had been the better band in the studio.” In Best of the Beatles he added, “With hindsight, it’s unfortunate that that excitement [of the Cavern show he’d witnessed] couldn’t have been carried into the actual audition, which I have to say I think was very much a disappointment. It transpired later that they had written some wonderful songs that didn’t appear that day, and so sadly, I said no. I certainly didn’t envision them turning into the phenomenon that they were, which I regretted bitterly over the years. In terms of how they were as musicians . . . certainly the one that played the most bum notes was McCartney. I was very unimpressed with what was happening with the bassline. [In McCartney’s defense, he’d only been playing bass for less than a year, having taken over the bass position when Stuart Sutcliffe left the band for good sometime in 1961.] But . . . we’re talking about four young men in a very strange environment, probably a very overpowering environment. And as much as we tried to be friendly, it was a foreign area for them to be in.”

    Poole & the Tremeloes were a London band, which also seems to have been a factor in the decision, it being felt it would be easier to work with a local act than one that would need to travel down from Liverpool to Decca’s studios. And, in fact, Brian Poole & the Tremeloes would come up with four British Top Ten hits and several smaller UK chart singles between 1963 and 1965, though of course they enjoyed nowhere near the ultimate success of the Beatles. This hasn’t prevented a hailstorm of derision directed toward Decca over the last few decades for their apparent misjudgment, even though many quali?ed observers (and the Beatles themselves) were willing to admit that no one could have predicted how great the band would quickly become on the basis of what they played at their audition. The promise was there, but not everyone could hear it, though some certainly could detect it in hindsight. Asked by this author in 1985 whether he would have turned down the Beatles, for instance, American producer Shel Talmy—who was hired by Decca shortly after the Beatles’ audition and (as an independent producer) went on to oversee hits by the Kinks, the Who, and others—replied, “I don’t think I would have, because I’ve always been very song-oriented. Although they were not a wonderful band musically, the songs were outstanding, even then. And I’m sure I wouldn’t have turned them down.”

    One also wonders whether one little-documented incident sealed Decca’s reservations about working with this unknown provincial act. According to Pete Best’s autobiography, at one point in the audition Epstein had the temerity to criticize something about Lennon’s singing or guitar playing, upon which the Beatle burst into a brief tantrum, raging at his manager, “You’ve got nothing to do with the music! You go back and count your money, you Jewish git!” In retrospect, it seems rather unlikely that either Epstein would say something so bold to the volatile Lennon on such an important and tense occasion, or that Lennon—who for all his volatility was fully aware of what was hanging in the balance— would have jeopardized the Beatles’ chances with such an outburst. But then again, Pete Best was there, and we weren’t. (As a bizarre footnote, incidentally, Best would actually end up recording for Decca—with Mike Smith producing—as part of his subsequent group, Lee Curtis & the All Stars, and as part of the Pete Best Four on their June 1964 single “I’m Gonna Knock on Your Door”/“Why Did I Fall in Love With You?” long after the Beatles had started their run of hit records for EMI.)

    For all the bitter disappointment of the Decca failure, the one thing the Beatles gained from the association—the actual audition tapes— proved in some ways quite useful, and would ironically in one small way help lead the band to a recording contract soon enough. For Epstein got to keep the two reel-to-reel audition tapes, which he took to play when he tried to shop the group around to other labels in early February. The manager of the HMV record store on London’s main shopping strip, Oxford Street, suggested to Brian that it would be better to press the tapes onto discs rather than hauling around the less instantly playable reel-to-reels. Epstein took up the suggestion immediately, going right into a studio above the store where demos could be pressed.

    As engineer Jim Foy was making the discs, he told Epstein that the Beatles sounded good. Epstein told him that three of the songs were group originals, and Foy got Sid Coleman, who ran a music publishing subsidiary of EMI (Ardmore & Beechwood) on the store’s top ?oor, to give them a listen. Coleman liked those rudimentary Lennon-McCartney songs enough to talk about a publishing deal with Epstein there and then. Brian didn’t take him up on that at the moment, as getting a recording contract was his most urgent mission. To help him out in that regard, Coleman called George Martin, the head of A&R at Parlophone, a subsidiary of EMI. That led to a meeting between Epstein and Martin, who in turn was interested enough in what he heard on the discs to—after another tangled sequence of events beyond the scope of this book—offer the Beatles a recording contract later in 1962. His decision wasn’t based wholly on the Decca tapes; he auditioned the band at EMI himself in June 1962. Discussing the Decca tapes in a 1971 Melody Maker interview, he even clari?ed, “I wasn’t knocked out at all, in defense of all those people who turned it down it was a pretty lousy tape, recorded in a back room, very badly balanced, not very good songs, and a rather raw group. But . . . I thought they were interesting enough to bring down for a test.” So those tapes had indirectly led Epstein and the Beatles to Martin, the producer of almost everything the band recorded in the studio.

    When the EMI deal was sealed, there seemed to be no more use for the Decca tapes. But although there was virtually no interest in or market for bootlegs of unreleased rock music at the time, it seems that the material almost immediately began to circulate outside the hands of Epstein or the labels with whom he’d been dealing. According to Hans Olof Gottfriddson’s The Beatles from Cavern to Star-Club, in the spring of 1962 the group gave a tape of eight of the tracks to their close friend Astrid Kirchherr, who gave it to a friend of hers a year later. It still seems unlikely many people heard any of this material beyond a very select few before 1977, when—according to Clinton Heylin’s Bootleg: The Secret History of the Other Recording Industry—the complete tape was acquired for $5,000 by a couple of New Yorkers. Immediately they began to leak it out on bootleg, though the way the songs were spread out over several releases (including a series of colored vinyl 45 picture sleeve singles) frustrated those who just wanted to hear all 15 tracks in one go. Indeed, it didn’t take long for some of the tracks to actually get broadcast on commercial radio; the author remembers hearing a few on a Beatles “A–Z” weekend on an FM station in Philadelphia in the late ’70s, for instance.

    It also didn’t take long for everything to get assembled on a single bootleg LP, The Decca Tapes, complete with extensive liner notes comprised of a fanciful piece of historical ?ction by one “Grid Leek.” The no doubt pseudonymous Mr. Leek wrote about the songs as if ten of them had been released on ?ve 1962 Decca singles preceding their deal with Parlophone, and four of the others on two post-Parlophone-signing Decca 45s that were soon withdrawn from the market, with “Take Good Care of My Baby” an outtake “which was only recently retrieved from the Decca vaults.” As tongue-in-cheek as it was, the packaging—complete with an excellent picture of the leather-clad Pete Best lineup on the cover—was vastly better than the remarkably shabby treatment much of the material got when it was issued by Phoenix Records in the US on the semi-of?cial LPs The Silver Beatles Vols. 1 & 2 in September 1982. As if the ugly nondescript sleeve graphics weren’t bad enough, several of the tracks were mastered at the wrong speed, and half of them were lengthened arti?cially by editing and splicing. In 1988, the surviving Beatles ?nally sued the companies responsible for issuing this material in the US and UK, forcing them to take it off the market.

    The Silver Beatles Vols. 1 & 2 had actually contained all of the songs (albeit sometimes in butchered form) from the Decca tapes except “Love of the Loved,” “Like Dreamers Do,” and “Hello Little Girl,” perhaps because these gray-market labels didn’t want to deal with any complications ensuing from issuing songs with Lennon-McCartney copyrights. They were so poorly distributed (and packaged), however, that the vast majority of listeners from the general public still had not heard any of the Decca tapes before ?ve of the tracks were included on Anthology 1. Most Beatles fans still have yet to hear any of the other ten tracks, although they’re perennials on uncounted bootlegs to the present day. Anyone willing to look just a little bit further than conventional record stores can ?nd all 15 cuts, to be frank. But as one of the very most important groups of unreleased Beatles recordings, as well as a crucial document of the early days of the best band there ever was, the Decca audition deserves of?cial release, with the kind of historically minded packaging it merits.

    There are a couple of semimyths surrounding the Decca tapes, oft-repeated in books and articles about the Beatles, that bear serious reinvestigation and reassessment. One is the claim that Brian Epstein sabotaged the group’s chances by selecting the songs they were to play at the audition, weighting them too heavily toward lightweight pop material that was neither suited for their strengths nor typical of what they liked or played onstage. It’s probable that Epstein did have signi?cant input into the song list, and it also seems likely that he was the force who pushed for the most pop-oriented tune, “September in the Rain”; he’d cited Dinah Washington’s version as one of ten favorite records of 1961 in Mersey Beat. As a result of Epstein’s blunder, the speculation goes, not only did Decca turn the band down, but the Beatles insisted that he never have anything to do with their musical policy again. Boyhood Beatles friend (and future longtime personal assistant to the group) Tony Bramwell writes in his recent memoir Magical Mystery Tours: My Life with the Beatles (co-written with Rosemary Kingsland), for instance, that “Paul did ‘Besame Mucho’ at Brian’s insistence. He muttered that it was a silly ballad. ‘We should have just done our own stuff,’ he said.”

    Remarked Mike Smith on the Best of the Beatles DVD, “Some of the songs, they were really strange choices. The ones that I remembered had to be ‘Sheik of Araby’ and ‘Three Cool Cats.’ It may well be that I remember them because they were just sort of totally foreign to everything that they did afterwards. I may have interpreted it wrongly, but my take on auditions at that time was, you let the people do what they want to do. Because that’s what they think represents them in the best possible light. And as it transpired, it wasn’t the case. They weren’t playing the songs that they thought portrayed themselves in their best light. They were probably very pissed off at having to do—well, I certainly would have been—at some of the stuff that they had to do.”

    In actual fact, however, the 15 songs performed for Decca are a fairly well-rounded sample of the material the Beatles were doing at the end of 1961, and on the whole pretty accurately re?ect their tastes and eclecticism. There seems little question that the group, and particularly  Lennon and McCartney, would be eager to present the best of their original material. They didn’t play more original songs, most likely, because their live set was still almost wholly devoted to covers, and because they didn’t have a whole lot of songs that would have impressed major label A&R men, with even most of the compositions they cut for EMI in 1962 and 1963 having yet to be written. As for the covers, it’s simply absurd to suggest that any of them, aside from perhaps “September in the Rain,” were done under duress. Not only did the Beatles actually record “Money” and “Till There Was You” again in 1963 for their second album, but they also later did “To Know Her Is to Love Her,”“Memphis, Tennessee,” “Sure to Fall,” “Crying Waiting, Hoping,” “Besame Mucho,” and “Three Cool Cats” for the BBC (though their January 1963 and July 1963 BBC versions of “Three Cool Cats” weren’t broadcast and, sadly, no tapes of those versions survive). They also did “Besame Mucho” and “To Know Her Is to Love Her” on their December 1962 Hamburg tapes. Certainly they wouldn’t have revisited them if they had any dislike for the material.

    What’s more, they did one of the less rock-oriented songs, “Besame Mucho,” again at their EMI audition for George Martin in June 1962, indicating that either Epstein was still pushing for them to play standards or (far more likely) that the Beatles really enjoyed doing the number. If the group was truly resolved not to let Epstein pressure them into playing prewar pop standards like “September in the Rain” at future auditions, it’s odd indeed that the list of songs Brian sent to Martin shortly before their EMI session (as suggestions for what he should hear) included not just “Besame Mucho,” but also numbers like “Over the Rainbow” and Fats Waller’s “Your Feet’s Too Big” (both to be sung by Paul), and—again— “September in the Rain,” “Sheik of Araby,” and “Take Good Care of My Baby.” In fact, this list (numbering 33 tunes in all) contained no less than ten of the same songs that had already been auditioned at Decca, with “Three Cool Cats,” “Till There Was You,” “To Know Her Is to Love Her,” “Memphis, Tennessee,” and all three Lennon-McCartney songs also reappearing. It wasn’t a substantially different setlist than what had been played at Decca, though it was much longer. Either there was some major miscommunication going on between Epstein and the band, or, as seems evident, the more pop-inclined material was genuinely a part of their repertoire and in?uences, though just one part.

    In truth, the majority of the Decca audition was devoted to the pure and hard American rock ’n’ roll the Beatles loved most, from both the black and white spectrums. There was early Motown (“Money”), the black vocal group sound of the Coasters, rockabilly (Carl Perkins and Buddy Holly), Chuck Berry, and even Phil Spectorized doo wop (“To Know Her Is to Love Her”). Plus there were a few of their own compositions, a privilege that many of the managers of the time would have denied their clients of playing at an audition for one of the biggest record labels in the country. Decca did not turn down the Beatles because the material it heard was misleading or unrepresentative of the band. The company turned them down, rightly or wrongly, because it didn’t like how they played it.

    There’s also the matter of whether it was really that big a disaster, for either Decca or the Beatles, that they didn’t pass the audition. Ironically, Decca would sign the second biggest British ’60s rock band the following year, after a chance spring 1963 meeting between George Harrison and Dick Rowe when they were judges at a talent competition in Liverpool. Harrison, according to Rowe, admitted that Decca was right to have turned the Beatles down, and that they hadn’t played that well at the audition. (Of course, Harrison no doubt felt better about it now that the Beatles had already started to sell massive amounts of singles and albums for EMI.) George told the A&R man that he should check out a new London band that Harrison had just seen, the Rolling Stones—whom Decca quickly signed. Decca continued to sell loads of records throughout the 1960s, often by the very sort of rock groups they’d prophesized were on their way out when they turned down the Beatles. There’s even been some speculation that the label overcompensated for its missed opportunity to nab the Beatles by signing as many bands as it could, many of whom wouldn’t pan out or make the slightest impression on the charts (though Decca still managed to turn down Manfred Mann and the Yardbirds shortly after the Beatles rose to stardom).

    As for the Beatles, as heartbroken as they must have been when the word came down from Decca in February 1962, was it really that bad a thing in the long run? Had they done the deal, they’d have been recording with drummer Pete Best, unless Decca, like George Martin a bit later, planned to replace him on recording dates with a session man. That would not only have been a musical liability, but it might have been harder to replace Best with the more talented and personally compatible Ringo Starr if the band had already started to release records. Plus the group wouldn’t have had as much original material ready for release, and what material they had wouldn’t have been nearly as good as what they were coming up with within a year. It’s also often overlooked that the Beatles really weren’t as good in January 1962 as they were even six months later, and certainly a year later. There’s truly an enormous distance between the Decca tapes and their ?rst album, Please Please Me, which, like the Decca audition, was (with the exception of four songs) recorded in a single day, in February 1963. Simply put, they were writing, singing, and playing a lot better (and with the right drummer) by the time they made their ?rst big hit records, and bene?ted enormously from the wait, as brief and enforced as it was.

    And, most importantly, they would not have been working with George Martin—probably the best producer imaginable for the  Beatles, not only in 1962, but from 1962 until the band split up in 1970. Had they been on Decca, it’s easy to imagine that they might have been paired with an unsympathetic or unimaginative production team that could have forced them to record inappropriate material, not allowed them to record their own songs, or simply not gotten the best out of them in the studio. For all the regret he subsequently expressed over rejecting the group, Mike Smith was probably not the man to be in charge, given that he actually told the Beatles fan magazine The Beatles Book that Pete Best “was a better drummer than Ringo.” (This in turn illustrated his assertion in Drummed Out! The Sacking of Pete Best that “I don’t think I could have worked with them the way that George Martin did—I would have got involved in their bad parts and not encouraged the good ones.”) Had any or all of this been the case, it’s easy to imagine the Beatles failing to make much of a commercial impact with Decca, and to even envision the band breaking up in discouragement before their art had truly been allowed to bloom.

    When the Beatles were rejected by Decca they must have felt it was the worst thing that could have possibly happened to them. But time proved that it was one of the best breaks they ever got.