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Thursday, September 26, 2013

The view from page 680 of the Beatles book

In the process of truth tidying itself up into myth a lot of condensing goes on. Memory does something similar. The story of the Beatles being signed to EMI is a classic case. They're rejected by cloth-eared Decca and go down the road into the open arms and ears of George Martin and Parlophone. Anything you don't like? I don't like your tie. Let's change the world.

Over many pages Tune In makes clear it wasn't like that at all. Since Brian Epstein ran one of the biggest record retailers in the north of England EMI had to listen to him when he said he had a group. They weren't impressed and were trying to let him down gently. He went to see the manager of HMV in Oxford Street, who he'd met on a junket. The manager suggested that he should use the facility they had in the shop to make an acetate from his tape. While hanging around the building (in the old address that HMV are about to move back to) he got to play it to the blokes at Ardmore & Beechwood, the EMI-owned music publisher that shared the same building. One of the guys there quite liked the Lennon-McCartney song Like Dreamers Do and suggested to his boss that it would be a worthwhile copyright to acquire. His boss put pressure on the label boys to make a record with them. Nobody at the company wanted to. They were busy. They had other priorities. George Martin and the staff at Abbey Road went along with it very reluctantly, which must have been apparent to the group. There was no eureka moment. It took months.

(In the light of the above the fact that EMI didn't end up with the publishing rights to the most lucrative catalogue in popular music is pretty amazing.)

At the same time they were manoeuvring to get rid of Pete Best, who clearly wasn't remotely good enough. It's the one musical point that everyone who had anything to do with them musically agrees on. This was made worse by the fact that he didn't speak, which in this gregarious company must have been a withering reproach in itself. Brian was irritated by the fact that he would have to get rid of somebody he'd just signed to a management deal and so he went as far as corresponding with his solicitor about the best way to do it. He also looked into making Best the drummer with the Merseybeats and then signing them to management, thus ensuring he didn't break his contract. All this without letting Best get wind of it or triggering the departure of Best's close friend, Neil Aspinall, who was the Beatles' tour manager. Oh, and also the father of the baby that Best's mother Mona (fifteen years his senior) was about to have in July 1962.

As that Rodney Crowell song puts it, life is messy.