Rejected Beatles Demo Tape Up For Auction

An example of what may be the dumbest decision in the history of the music  is on the auction block:

(Reuters) – The Beatles audition tape rejected by a record label executive in arguably the biggest blunder in pop history has resurfaced and will go on sale at a London auction next week.

Ted Owen of The Fame Bureau, an auction house specializing in pop memorabilia, said the 10-song tape was recorded on New Year’s Day, 1962, at label Decca’s studios in north London.

Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Pete Best – who would later be replaced on drums by Ringo Starr – performed up to 15 songs at the session, 10 of which appear on the tape to be sold on November 27.

The band members had been driven from Liverpool to London the night before, and, despite getting lost on the way managed to get to the studios in time for the infamous session paid for by their manager Brian Epstein.

Decca’s senior A&R (artists and repertoire) representative Dick Rowe, who later became known as “the man who turned down the Beatles”, decided against signing them in favor of Brian Poole & The Tremeloes who also auditioned that day.

“Guitar groups are on their way out, Mr. Epstein,” he is widely quoted as saying.

Rowe did, however, sign the Rolling Stones, who went on to become one of the biggest acts in British rock, and experts dispute whether it was him or a more junior colleague who passed the Beatles over.

There are bootleg versions of the session in existence, but the “safety master”, or back-up tape, on offer at auction is unique, Owen said.

“The most important thing about this is the quality,” he told Reuters. “There are bootlegs out there, horrible bootlegs — some are at the wrong speed, others are crackily and taken from a cassette off an acetate (disc).

“This quality we have never heard.”

I’ve heard clips from the demo tape on news broadcasts today and it’s not necessarily anything to write home about. It kind of lacks the freshness that the first Beatles recordings had, but the distinctiveness of the sound was still there, as are the influences of American Rhythm & Blues artists, who were among the primary influences for Lennon & McCartney in the early days. One wonders how long Decca kicked itself over this decision.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. michael reynolds says:

    As a writer I love these stories, even though I’ve personally had very few actual rejections. I think most “creatives” love the artist vs. executive narrative. It’s reassuring both to people who’ve made it (It’s really all about my genius.) And it’s reassuring to the people who haven’t made it. (I’m just too cool for the suits.)

    What has always fascinated me is that the executives are not summarily fired. There’s apparently no penalty for rejecting a billion dollars. But there can be a penalty for accepting a project that loses a hundred grand. It’s always been safe to say, “No.” Which gives us the other side of the narrative: the men and women with the balls and judgment to take the risk and say, “Yeah, let’s do that.”

    People passed on Harry Potter. None were defenestrated. Strange business.

  2. @michael reynolds:

    I’d say that rejecting The Beatles may have been more than turning down a billion dollars, but, yea, you’ve got the point about right. As I said, above, I think it’s a pretty good example of the influence that A&R people had over popular music up until at least the 60s. Heck, when Sinatra went solo he got saddled with an A&R guy in Mitch Miller who had him record stupid parody songs because that what was “popular” and it nearly destroyed his career forever.

  3. anjin-san says:

    One of my old bosses refused to see John Phillips when he showed up at the office after being MIA in the Virgin Islands and missing some Journeyman gigs. Phillips had the freshly written “Monday, Monday” & “California Dreaming” in hand at the time, as well as the lineup for the Mamas & the Papas. Phillips took the new tunes & talent to Lou Adler, and the rest is history.

  4. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @Doug Mataconis: @anjin-san: Your stories bring up an important point: the “mistake” in question may not be a mistake at all. So much of creativity involves the synergy among the partners in the enterprise. Rowe may not ever have been able to make The Beatles into what George Martin did…

    and the rest would have not been history.

  5. sam says:

    We can add that to the list of corporate missingtheboatery along with this well-known gem. When Speilberg was making E.T., his company contacted Mars, the makers of M&Ms to ask if the candy could be used in the movie, in a prominent role, so to speak. No, came back the answer — who would want to see a movie about an alien and a kid? So, Reece’s pieces were used instead…

  6. Jon Voight's LeBaron says:

    An example of what may be the dumbest decision in the history of the music journalism is all the media outlets reporting on this fake tape. The BSR designation on the label for Side 1 and Side 2 stands for BackStage Records, which put this out as a bootleg record in the early eighties. The label lists Dolby tones, yet Dolby noise reduction didn’t appear for another four years. These songs have been available for years, and some are even on the Beatles “Anthology” collection.

    The teethmarks on the case are Jon Voight’s.