The Decca audition is the name given to the now-famous Beatles audition for Decca Records at their Decca Studios in West Hampstead, north London, England, before they reached international stardom. Decca's decision to reject the group is considered one of the biggest mistakes in music history
Manager Brian Epstein made numerous trips to London to visit record companies with the hope of securing a record contract, but was rejected by many, including Columbia, Pye, Philips, and Oriole. The Beatles were driven down to London by Neil Aspinall on New Year's Eve in 1961, for a Decca audition, but Aspinall lost his way, and the trip took ten hours. They arrived at 10 o'clock at night, and John Lennon said that they arrived "just in time to see the drunks jumping in the Trafalgar Square fountain." On 1 January 1962, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Pete Best were auditioned by Decca producer Tony Meehan (ex-drummer of the Shadows) performing a total of fifteen songs in just under one hour. All the material was selected by Epstein, who decided on a selection of covers that the band had performed in various clubs over the years, interspersed with three Lennon/McCartney originals. The Beatles later found out that Epstein had paid Meehan to produce the studio recordings.
The order of the songs at the session was:
1. Beatles, The - Like Dreamers Do (2:39)
2. Beatles, The - Money (2:26)
3. Beatles, The - To Know Her Is To Lover Her (2:37)
4. Beatles, The - Memphis (2:23)
5. Beatles, The - Till There Was You (3:02)
6. Beatles, The - Sure To Fall (2:04)
7. Beatles, The - Besume Mucho (2:42)
8. Beatles, The - Love Of The Loved (1:54)
9. Beatles, The - Hello Little Girl (1:43)
10. Beatles, The - Three Cool Cats (2:28)
11. Beatles, The - September In The Rain (1:58)
12. Beatles, The - Take Good Care Of My Baby (2:29)
13. Beatles, The - Crying, Waiting, Hoping (2:06)
14. Beatles, The - Sheik Of Araby (1:45)
15. Beatles, The - Searching (3:06)
Mike Smith agreed to let them record, telling them he could not see any problems and that he would let the group know of his decisions in a few weeks.
Eventually, Decca Records rejected the Beatles, saying that "guitar groups are on the way out" and "the Beatles have no future in show business", although it has since been suggested that their work that day did not yet reflect their true potential, and the "guitar" comment may have been intended as a polite let down. Decca instead chose The Tremeloes, who auditioned the same day as the Beatles, were local and would require lower travel expenses.
While Epstein was negotiating with Decca, he also approached EMI marketing executive Ron White. White (who was not himself a record producer) in turn contacted EMI producers Norrie Paramor, Walter Ridley, and Norman Newell, all of whom declined to record the Beatles. Months later, the Beatles went on to sign with EMI subsidiary Parlophone, after their 'comedy album' producer George Martin heard the Decca demos and decided to meet the band.
Many have speculated who made the decision to reject the Beatles. While various accounts of the audition have been published, most agree it was either Dick Rowe, producer Mike Smith or ex-Shadow Tony Meehan.
In the 1980s, the book Recording Sessions was published by Mark Lewisohn and, following the author's invitation from EMI to trawl through the vaults and catalogue all the Beatles out-takes, another book updated it about six years later. In 2000, both of these were combined into The Complete Beatles Chronicle, which contains information about the audition:
Lewisohn had visited EMI and not Decca, but he began his account with an entry for 1 January 1962:
Decca Studios, Broadhurst Gardens, London
"…first formal audition for a British record company, in a studio 2 miles from EMI, the Beatles nervously taped 15 songs chosen by Brian Epstein to show off every facet of their talent…each song done live on 2 track mono tape…A&R assistant Mike Smith had been sent by Dick Rowe to see the Beatles 19 days earlier in Liverpool…the Beatles completed the session in an hour…Smith promised to call Epstein."
Underneath this entry is shown an acetate of a 45, not for the entire session but for a single of "Like Dreamers Do" (supposedly Decca cut a number of acetates from the audition before they said no).
The Liverpool music paper Mersey Beat was the first to report on the Mike Smith visit by writing that the producer had made a tape of the performance (this amounted to the first "test") and wrote "…certain Decca would put the Beatles to good use".
The Rolling Stones benefited from the Beatles' Decca rejection. Soon after the Beatles' became popular in England, Dick Rowe appeared on Juke Box Jury alongside George Harrison, who reportedly raved to him about his new favourite, and unsigned band.
In 1995, The Beatles Anthology was released. The documentary includes snippets from many of the songs performed at the Decca audition, while the accompanying soundtrack (specifically, The Beatles Anthology 1) includes five of the songs performed at the audition ("Searchin'", "Like Dreamers Do", "Hello Little Girl", "Three Cool Cats", and "The Sheik of Araby") along with many other outtakes and various live performances. The remaining ten song