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Reference Library: The Decca Tapes

From: (Joseph Brennan)
Subject: Re: Who Owns Decca Audition Tapes?
Date: 11 Aug 1995 04:04:38 GMT

Fred Gurzeler wrote:

Who owned the Decca tapes?

The first question is: Is this actually the Decca audition tape? Despite continual references to it as such, we have no solid evidence that it is. No one from Decca has authenticated it, and the song lineup does not conform to memories (in the 1960's) of what the Beatles had played for Decca. "Red sails in the sunset" and "Please Mr Postman" were reported for example. This takes us into that old problem of human memory, of course, but also reminds us that maybe no one can say purely from memory whether this really is the Decca audition on these tapes.

Before this set of songs emerged in 1977 (on the "Deccagone" singles and then the boot LP with the wonderful liner notes detailing the totally imaginary release history of the songs), several other recordings were touted on bootlegs as being from the Decca auditions. It was always something bootleggers wanted to say they had. One of the alleged recordings (out in 1973) was the same version of "Love of the loved" but nicely edited to loop through the middle 8 and verse a few extra times before running to conclusion. Who made that?

As detailed in "The 910", vol 2 no 3, the tapes also run too fast, judging from the keys the songs appear to be in. Other critics have pointed out what appear to be edits in "Sheik of Araby".

Some source (that I can't find now) has suggested this could be a tape Brian Epstein compiled, and may include Decca session songs as well as others recorded at some other date. Perhaps the speed change may have been someone's idea to pep up the songs. Perhaps the extended LOTL was some such attempt to improve it (although in fact it's plenty long enough without the loops). There's no hard evidence for this either but it's a potential source of a tape. After all, no one has ever reported listening to Brian's tape(s) and writing down what was on them, so we don't know. He had some kind of tape prior to January 1961 too, because it led to the audition to begin with.

Against all these doubts, I have to admit that what we like to call the ambience sounds the same to me for all these 15 songs, and that points to them having been recorded at the same session. This suggests the Decca audition as the occasion, but let's keep a mental note that we are still a bit short on proof that it is Decca, and leave open other possibilities.

Was it Decca? The estate of Brian Epstein? EMI? John, Paul, George, and Pete?

Let's see. We know from Mark Lewisohn's research that the Beatles were signed exclusively to Bert Kaempfert Produktion for the period July 1961 to June 1962, so release rights would be via them. I don't know whether the Tony Sheridan recordings were released on Polydor as part of a general agreement covering all Beatles work done during that year, or just an agreement covering those 8 recordings specifically-- but the former is more likely, so that any Polydor expenses in publicizing the band would not benefit another company later. This contract was broken by agreement with Kaempfert a little bit early, so that the Beatles could sign with EMI before the end of June 1962.

But this doesn't help with who owns the tapes. Let's say they are the genuine Decca auditions. Decca never signed the band, so they have no recording rights, even aside from the Kaempfert--Polydor claims I just mentioned. Yet Decca does own the tapes... unless they gave up claim to them and handed them over to Brian, or who knows what.

Was Decca the actual source of these tapes (did someone find them in the vaults and make a copy)? The sound quality is quite good implying the source tape couldn't have been too far removed from the original master.

Unknown. Oddly enough, I know of no interview *ever* with anyone at Decca about this point. However, I doubt that they would keep an audition tape after rejecting a band. Over at EMI, they wiped and reused session tapes of songs they released-- e.g. the source tapes for "Love me do"/"P S I love you" in 1962-- so I don't see Decca keeping audition reels around. What purpose would that serve?

So I don't think the tape remained at Decca. Now who would have kept the original, or a copy, of the Decca audition other than the Beatles and company? This brings us back around to Brian Epstein and his demo tapes. What on earth was it that he played in the HMV shop that was then taken up to George Martin on that fateful day?

In my opinion, all releases of the "Decca tapes" are bootlegs, since I don't think the legal problems were ever really worked out. Use on the anthology obviously clears the hurdle of the Beatles granting permission, but I really wonder what their source for them was... and whether Polydor is sharp enough to ask any questions! Doug Sulpy reported in that "910" article that the Yellow Dog CD people couldn't find any source earlier than "the guy who put out the singles back in 1977".

Joe Brennan Columbia University in the City of New York ("affiliation shown for identification only")

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