Hunter Davies? Mike Smith? Dick Rowe? Brian Epstein? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: In the early days of the Beatles a record executive evaluated the band to decide whether to offer them a contract. He supposedly said:
We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out.
I have heard some other simpler versions of the statement:
Guitar groups are on the way out.
Guitar bands are on their way out.
The decision not to sign the Beatles was the biggest blunder in music history. Decca Records is usually named as the foolish company. Is there any truth to this anecdote?
Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence of this story located by QI was printed in “The Beatles: The Authorized Biography” by Hunter Davies in 1968. The book described the efforts of the Beatles manager Brian Epstein to use his contacts in the music industry to obtain a recording contract for the group. An A&R (Artists and Repertoire) man working for Decca named Mike Smith was very impressed with the band, and an audition was arranged and conducted on January 1, 1962 at the Decca Studios. Boldface has been added to the following passages: 1
The weeks passed and nothing happened. They continued playing their local dates on Merseyside, but all the time expecting Decca to whisk them to the big time. Then in March, after a lot of pestering, Brian heard from Dick Rowe, Mike Smith’s boss at Decca, that they had decided not to record the Beatles. “He told me they didn’t like the sound. Groups of guitars were on the way out. I told him I was completely confident that these boys were going to be bigger than Elvis Presley.”
In essence, the quote was printed in this key biographical work, but note that there was a time-delay and the statement was doubly-indirect. The book was published six years after the rejection, and Davies was presenting the words of manager Epstein who was relaying the evaluation of Decca executive Dick Rowe.
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- 1968, The Beatles: The Authorized Biography by Hunter Davies, Quote Page 131, McGraw-Hill Book Co., New York. (Verified on paper) ↩