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 known to QI appeared in the 1964 book “A Cellarful of Noise” by Brian Epstein who was the manager of the Beatles from 1962 until his death in 1967. Epstein was attempting to obtain a recording contract for the Beatles when he convinced A & R (Artists and Repertoire) executive Mike Smith of Decca Records to view the Beatles at The Cavern Club venue.
Smith was impressed and agreed to provide an audition for the group on New Year’s Day in 1962. The Beatles taped several numbers for the executives to review. Epstein attended a luncheon appointment with Decca executives Beecher Stevens and Dick Rowe to hear the verdict. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1964, A Cellarful of Noise by Brian Epstein, Chapter 5: No!, Quote Page 46, Doubleday & Company, Garden City, New York. (Verified with scans)
We had coffee, and Mr. Rowe, a short plump man, said to me: “Not to mince words, Mr. Epstein, we don’t like your boys’ sound. Groups of four guitarists are on the way out.”
I said, masking the cold disappointment which had spread over me: “You must be out of your mind. These boys are going to explode. I am completely confident that one day they will be bigger than Elvis Presley.”
The next earliest evidence located by QI was printed in “The Beatles: The Authorized Biography” by Hunter Davies in 1968. The book described the same tale of Epstein attempting to use his contacts in the music industry to obtain a recording contract for the Beatles. He succeeded in obtaining an audition for the group with Decca: 1968, The Beatles: The Authorized Biography by Hunter Davies, Quote Page 131, McGraw-Hill Book Co., New York. (Verified on paper)
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.”
Thus, Beatles manager Brian Epstein provided the primary evidence for the quotation spoken by executive Dick Rowe when Decca rejected the Beatles. Later Beatles biographer Hunter Davies concurred.
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.