Today is the quinquagenary of the Beatles’ famous audition for record producer George Martin of EMI. As any Beatlephile would know, Martin went on to produce over two dozen #1 hits for the band in the next eight years—which propelled the band into the top-selling music act in history.
There are numerous Fab Four anniversaries worth celebrating—the day John Lennon and Paul McCartney met (7/6/57), the first appearance of The Beatles on live TV in the US (2/9/64), or the day The Beatles broke up (4/9/70)—but this date struck me as the most noteworthy because of mysteries surrounding it…
Mystery #1. How did Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein get George Martin to sign the band, conditional on their passing a recording audition on June 6? Martin had heard only an acetate of the band’s dreadful audition tape for Decca Records. Some say that EMI’s publishing arm, Ardmore & Beechwood, was sufficiently impressed with the band’s original songs to strongly recommend the group to Martin—though in the end Ardmore & Beechwood, astonishingly, did not get the band’s publishing. Others believe that Epstein used his clout as a prominent Liverpool record store owner to "persuade" Martin to audition The Beatles. (Others speculate about different kinds of backroom deals.) But George Martin himself said it was Brian Epstein’s enthusiasm for the group that won them the audition!
Mystery #2. How did The Beatles pass the live audition on June 6? By all accounts, they had terrible equipment and sounded amateurish. One of the engineers, Norman Smith, told me that he and Ron Richards (the lead engineer at the session) had to scramble to get the band to sound tolerable and that George Martin was distinctly unimpressed by the group’s material. But Smith claimed it was the humor and charisma of The Beatles that got Martin to approve the signing.
Mystery #3. Did George Martin encourage The Beatles to replace drummer Pete Best? That seemed to be the conclusion of Paul McCartney at least, who took the lead in looking for a replacement. But Smith assured me that Pete Best wasn’t a bad drummer and that he and Martin thought Pete should be replaced for recordings, not performances, which was/is a common practice. (Martin’s own statements have been slightly ambiguous on the subject.) After all, Pete Best was the most popular Beatle with the female fandom. This has some of us wonder why Pete Best was fired two months later and replaced by Ringo Starr. When I was in Liverpool several years ago I heard at least seven conspiratorial theories on this—a rabbit hole we can explore on another occasion.
Now why are we even mentioning The Beatles, you ask, 42 years after they officially disbanded? Because they were the most successful musical act in history, selling a billion units while changing the face of pop music and culture. This is a business team worth studying, which I do in my upcoming book.
To put it simply, The Beatles were simultaneously the biggest AND the best—a title no other popular music act can legitimately claim. They were the most consistently innovative musical force—in their compositions, recordings, product packaging, image, fashion, and more. As Newsweek proclaimed, 35 years after they broke up: "What the Beatles did in the 60’s remains the most thrilling surge of creativity in the history of pop culture."
Other than that they were pretty unremarkable.