Why did George Martin almost not sign The Beatles?

George Martin made us what we were in the studio. He helped us develop a language to talk to other musicians. John Lennon, 1971

Despite their local success in Liverpool and Hamburg — and Brian Epstein’s best efforts — The Beatles struggled to get their first recording deal.
Columbia, HMV, Pye, Philips, and Oriole all turned them down. Dick Rowe at Decca signed Brian Poole and the Tremeloes in preference, famously added insult to injury ‘Guitar groups are on the way out, Mr Epstein’.
After the failure of the Decca audition, Brian Epstein was running out of options. Early in 1962 he managed to get a meeting with George Martin, the manager of Parlophone Records, an eclectic label owned by EMI.
Martin was more charmed by the Beatles manager than their music. “I wasn’t too impressed with the tape Brian Epstein had played me,” Martin told Desert Island Discs in 1996. “There was something there but I couldn’t find out whether it was worthwhile or not.”
As a favour to Epstein, Martin agreed that The Beatles could come for an audition at Abbey Road Studios on June 6, 1962. Despite the fact that The Beatles were in residency in Hamburg, Brian Epstein was determined to seize the opportunity. He rushed to the post office to send a telegram ‘RECORD CONTRACT SECURED’ and summonsing them back to London . This wild wild overstatement was also passed on to the editor of Mersey Beat.
The Beatles did not need to see the small print. They rushed back to England, arriving at Abbey Road in time for their afternoon session with, their battered equipment in tow.

The Love Me Do Session

Their first reality check came when the sound engineers tested their equipment. “I got nothing out of The Beatles’ equipment except for a load of noise, hum and goodness-knows-what,” engineer Norman Smith later told Sound On Sound. Paul McCartney’s amp was distorting so badly that it had to be replaced.
The first was recording was a cover of Besame Mucho. Then they performed three original compositions: Love Me DoP.S. I Love You and Ask Me Why.
From the first recording session
Again George Martin was unconvinced by what he heard. “I thought their music was rubbish,” he told the BBC’s Arena in 2011.
I couldn’t really make out for myself what I was listening for — because I was so conditioned to [hearing] a solo singer with a backing group. But here I had four people who were all doing all sorts of things.
At the end of the session, The Beatles were called in for feedback. It was an uncomfortable experience for them. George Martin gave a long lecture on their shortcomings, particularly their lack of professionalism. He was particularly harsh about the state of their equipment and Pete Best’s drumming.
Finally, he gave The Beatles the chance to respond. “Is there anything you don’t like?”
“Well, for a start,” replied George Harrison, “I don’t like your tie.”
This could have been the moment that sunk The Beatles recording career. The man with their future in his hands was already lukewarm about their music. He was also irritated by their amateurish approach. Now they were giving him backchat.
Instead he began to laugh and the atmosphere instantly transformed.

Professor Higgins meets Eliza Doolittle

The George Martin who the Beatles first met in 1962 presented as Professor Higgins to their Eliza Doolittle. With his smart suit, upper class (southern) accent and courtly manners he appeared to be what Brian Epstein described as “a stern but fair-minded schoolmaster”.
“We were rednecks” as Ringo later put it. George Martin was the archetypal ‘square’: solid and suburban. They automatically assumed that he was backed by family wealth and a private education. Nothing could be further from the truth

To sign or not to sign

By 1962 Parlophone was a solid if unspectacular success. George Martin was aware, however, that comedy was a niche market and that the label needed a stronger foothold in mainstream pop. Could this group from Liverpool offer anything? Martin was skeptical:
he wasn’t sure about some of their songs, shaggy hair, Liverpool accents, the name, their beat-up gear, abilities, studio professionalism, or their first drummer Pete Bestsource
According to Womack, Martin was also uneasy for reasons rooted in his own ‘hidden’ background.
“Why would George want to align himself with the sort of guys he had been trying to get away from for so long?” source
Despite these reservations, George Martin, saw something that had been missed by Dick Rowe and the other record company executives. He noted something pleasing about the combination of voices, though he initially assumed that either Paul or John would need to be designated lead vocalist, and leaned towards Paul.
More importantly he picked up on the charismatic energy The Beatles that would captivate millions in the years to come. Decades later he admitted “I fell in love with them. It’s as simple as that.”
The Beatles first recording contract
Two days later sent out contracts to the four ‘rednecks’ who would change the world.

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