By Gordon Thompson
Perhaps the most significant unresolved controversy surrounding the recording of the Beatles first single “Love Me Do” rests on the question of whether or not EMI had finalized a contract with them. To wit: on 6 June 1962, were the Beatles auditioning or were they already under contract? Documentation and personal memories conflict such that no single answer can claim to be definitive, even as the evidence suggests a nuanced social interplay between Parlophone’s George Martin and Beatles manager Brian Epstein.
A contract signed by Thomas Humphrey Tilling for EMI and Brian Epstein on behalf of the Beatles suggests that an agreement existed on 4 June, two days before the Beatles arrived for their first session. But George Martin and others have asserted long and steadfastly that they auditioned the Beatles on 6 June, describing the contract date as either backdating or simply a clerical mistake. The question of whether or not this date represented an artist test, a recording test, or the first date of their recording contract rests in murky evidence, including a payment to the band members at the Musicians’ Union rate.
EMI’s Evelyn Harwood had questioned Martin in a 24 May 1962 memo about why the draft contract had not included language about the members of the band receiving Musicians’ Union payments. Martin responded the next day that he intended to pay them at the MU rate, suggested that this arrangement was routine, and that including it in the invoice seemed unnecessary. The payment at MU rates does not rule out the possibility that the Beatles had a recording contract, but session musicians received such fees.
The payment made to each of the Beatles of five pounds and five shillings — the equivalent of five guineas — holds some significance. Guineas represented the preferred form of payment to professionals such as arrangers and music directors, while pounds and pence were what union musicians found in their packets. A fee of £5/5 served as the regulation union fee for a two-hour session in 1962, which describes the amount of time that the Beatles officially spent in studio two. Had the Beatles been there for a standard three-hour recording session, they would have received a payment of £7/10. A two-hour session suggests a test, not a recording session.
Veteran EMI balance engineer, Malcolm Addey (whose career had seen him record some of EMI’s most successful hits to that date) confirms that the session probably constituted a recording test. “The comparison I make to the EMI test is the motion picture industry screen test. They want to know how you sound on mic!” In short, the 6 June session could have functioned as a review to help the production team appraise the strengths and weaknesses of the musicians, their equipment, and their material.
For the Beatles’ first visit to studio, the corporation engaged Norman Smith to serve as balance engineer. Smith hoped to climb the EMI ranks from tape operator to balance engineer and the corporation provided opportunities for on-the-job training by assigning him to such tests. If and when a recording he made proved successful, he would move up the studio food chain. Indicative of a test, Smith recorded the Beatles’ session live, the Beatles playing and singing as though they were on stage, rather than recording the instruments (guitar, bass, and drums) first and then overdubbing (or “superimposing” in EMI speak) the vocal and any other parts. Thus, Norman Smith’s presence on 6 June suggests a recording test, implying a nebulous status for the band: Martin had given the Beatles the opportunity to prove themselves.
A letter from 5 June (the day before the Beatles would arrive in the studio) suggests that George Martin may have already sent a contract signed by Epstein to Evelyn Harwood. The document doesn’t indicate who else has signed the document, but with Harwood in EMI’s Hayes facilities, Martin’s sending the document to her suggests that Tilling (EMI’s representative) had not yet signed. The date of 4 June, then, could well be the day that Martin received the contract from Epstein with the manager’s signature. It does not mean that Martin had signed it. Indeed if Martin had not already signed the contract, then the differences between Brian Epstein’s strategy and that of Martin couldn’t have been more marked. Earlier in the year, Epstein had left the Beatles’ contract with him unsigned as a symbolic gesture. In his mind, an unsigned contract allowed the band the option of dropping him if he failed as a manager. In contrast, an absent signature on the EMI contract suggests that George Martin saw no reason to commit to the Beatles just yet.
On 18 June, Evelyn Harwood returned a copy of the contract to Martin to forward to Epstein. The week between the audition and Martin mailing the contract to Epstein probably involved another layer of decision-making. Technical engineer, Ken Townsend recalls Smith having to send a copy of the 6 June tape to EMI’s Manchester Square offices about a week after the recording date. The likely scenario here would seem that Martin made his fateful decision in advance of one of the regular EMI recording manager staff meetings to consider potential artists on or about 15 June. Even if the other managers thought “The Beatles” might be another of his comedy records, Martin had concluded that they had potential, potential that he needed tweak in the studio if they were to be successful.
Gordon Thompson is Professor of Music at Skidmore College. His book, Please Please Me: Sixties British Pop, Inside Out, offers an insider’s view of the British pop-music recording industry. Check out Thompson’s other posts here.
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And a happy birthday to Sir Paul on his 70th today.
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G Martin would not have been the person to sign a contract. Other EMI memos clearly indicate that the June 6 session was a recording test, yes, similar to a screen test for a movie actor. B Epstein mistakently thought he had secured a real recording contract, as Epstein was expecting the June 6 recordings to be released sometime in August, as shown directly on Epstein’s letter to EMI. His letter to EMI also says, several weeks after June 6, that he has not recently heard from G Martin. Many of those May June 1962 EMI/Epstein letters are reproduced in Lewisohn’s “Sessions” book. His Chronicles book appears to reproduce the alleged contracted dated June 4, but closer inspection of that image shows the signature page obscures 90percent of the alleged 1st page that shows the June 4 date. And there is no other detail about anything on that partial page. Looks like the type-spacing is also slightly different. Is is two pages from 2 different documents, positioned in a way to make it look like a s single document ? Seems odd to obscure the majority of the page that contains the key, fun, important info about the actuaI record contract, the holy grail they had been seeking.
Detail relating to acquisition by Brian Epstein of the Parlophone recording contract for the Beatles. All events take place in 1962
(This data distilled from the book ‘Tune in -All these years ‘written by Mark Lewisohn)
After the Decca rejection Brian Epstein visited the HMV record shop to meet the General Manager Robert Boast . Brian had met Robert in Germany. It was suggested to Brian that he have the tape transcribed to 78 Acetate. Facility available at the HMV shop.
During this process the technician ,Jim Foy, suggested that he meet Sid Coleman –General Manager of Ardmore and Beechwood –music publishers. within the EMI organisation. A & B were located in the same building .Brian agreed.
Coleman was interested in publishing Lennon and McCartney songs. He had heard 3 on the acetates.
13 Feb. George Martins diary featured an item ‘meeting Bernard Epstein’.
Meeting took place- meeting finished –George did not commit. George took no further action.
[Possible reasons for why the meeting transpired
1) According to Kim Bennett (salesman with A & B ) ‘Sid Coleman approached Len G. Wood -M.D. of EMI-Len Wood who in turn asked his producers available that day . All rejected the Beatles’ .
Sid had taken ‘Like Dreamers Do ‘with him.
It is possible that Sid pushed a bit harder and got the date in George Martin’s diary-.
2) Kim Bennett heard ‘Like Dreamers Do’ and liked it very much. Kim wanted to record ‘Like Dreamers do’ , by private arrangement-cheap deal which A &B would pay the cost of the recording session. In return A & B would get publishing revenues for 50 years. Kim asked Sid to suggest the idea to Len Wood
Idea rejected by Len Wood-‘you stick to publishing –we will stick to recording’.
The meeting(with George Martin) was created to soften the blow of this rejection. A sop
The exact detail of how the 13th Feb. meeting was arranged may never be fully known.
Unlikely that Sid approached George Martin directly. His regular contact was the M.D Len Wood and according to Kim Bennett Sid and George did not get on. Later events would support this opinion after the success of Please Please me ,George Martin steered the Beatles away from A & B for the publishing rights of Lennon and McCartney songs ]
Likely events leading to the contract
Martin signed a new personal contract with E M I however, he, George Martin, was not happy . Martin wanted a royalty . Len G Wood said no!.
23 -25 April George gives presentation at the Norbreck Hydo-large hotel in Blackpool-North West England.
George took with him the Parlophone secretary ( Her name was Judy and the lover of George).
When L.G. Wood found out he was livid.
At a regular meeting between Sid Coleman and LG Wood it was decided to give the Beatles a contract.
Potential Reasons :
1 As a sop to Sid Coleman . To get A&B off his back
2 To register the disdain from Len Wood to George Martin for the Blackpool incident. George was being punished.
i.e The reason for the Beatles contract had nothing to do with the talent of the Beatles.. The main motives being acquiring Publishing rights on ‘Like Dreamers do’ and/or office politics.
9th May . Brain met with George Martin Wednesday 11.30-The commercial detail pertaining to the Beatles being given a standard 4 year contract, was discussed.
(If the Beatles sold 1,000,000 records then each Beatle would receive 750 pounds )
Letter sent to Brian .
Enclosed contract was signed and duly returned
6th June recording date set
Regardng those contract clauses and letters of the time, where is there any mention or suggestion from EMI or GM to swap out the drummer ? Where is there any letter or reference to a phone call from Brian asking GM what kind of new drummer they should get? The EMI contract references ” instrumentalists” that Brian manages called the Beatles. he now has a signed contract in hand, then, without any letters, or contract clauses stating otherwise, it appears that Brian decides to not tell EMI or GM he was making a material change to the newly-contracted band, then also bringing in a new guy on drums that had no meaningful experience in a studio, and had even less experience with the original songs to be recorded on sept 4. Seems GM is pretty clear in various sources over the years that he had no idea a change was made until the day they walked in with RS. Looking at that 4 page contract, and the reprinted letters of
May/june/july ’62, it seems GM never said to make a change, but Brian made a change AFTER signing a contract with EMI, without asking permission, or advising of the change. Lewisohn’s comment, in new Tune In , that Brian called the secretary and said “dont hire a session drummer, we have someone” is a very thin cover story, because fact is that a session drummer had never been planned for Sept 4, and EMI and GM were expecting the oriignal drummer. Anyone have any documented evidence to show different? Just suggesting that if GM has ever suggeested that they replace the drummer, then it seems real odd that there is no evidence in any bookmor documentary anywhere that didnt ask their new producer for any suggestion on what kind of drummer they should get. After how, how would they known if any candidate, including the last one, would be what GM wanted in the studio. Evidence, or lack thereof, seems to strongly suggest that they did not want emi or GM to know they were making a change, even though the recording contract was already signed. Any one else ever lookmat it that way? Any other interpretations?
I don’t think GM had wholly rejected Pete Best in his mind – he just hadn’t liked what he heard in June. He probably thought that on Sep 4, the group would be OK. Turns out (according to Lewisohn) that it was Ringo’s nerves and consequent blundering on Sep 4 which forced GM to get a session man in for Sep 11. He hadn’t much liked Best, now he didn’t like Starr either and was beginning to think drumming was an issue to be solved. The later PPM session put the whole issue to bed, as Starr proved his worth.
Bear in mind also that this “newly signed band” actually had only been contracted to record a few sides. They didn’t have to be successful and weren’t contracted for any albums etc. It was just a little side agreement for EMI to try out with an unproven group in whom they had little interest. Who the drummer was probably didn’t matter to them at all.
`Hard` evidence shows us that The Beatles were on contract to EMI on 4 June 1962. There is no ambiguity about that.
In those days it was normal practice that a sessions drummer familiar with studio ways, would be on the recording. Andy White was pencilled in for the sessions after the first session with Pete Best, although he never played until the third session, the first being with Best and the second with Starr.
George Martin did know Best was fired pretty well immediately, as Mona Best telephoned him. Martin knew a new drummer was to be at the 2nd session. Neither drummer was viewed as `sessions` quality.
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