It was New Year’s Day 1962 a young band, known as the Beatles auditioned for a record deal with Decca Records. After the audition they returned to Liverpool and resumed their usual schedule of playing the clubs, while dreaming of becoming major Decca recording stars.
After nervously waiting for a happy verdict for several weeks, Brian Epstein, their manager, finally got through on the phone to Decca Records to A&R man Dick Rowe. The words from Rowe must have hit him in the face like a bucket of cold water. ”Groups with guitars are on the way out,” Rowe informed him, bluntly and unsympathetically. These words were to become one of the most infamous quotes in the history of show business. After the initial shock, supposedly, Rowe continued by saying that “the Beatles have no future in show business” and condescendingly advised Epstein that, “You have a good record business down there, Mr. Epstein, why don’t you go back to that?”
Epstein, still shell-shocked, told Rowe, “You must be out of your mind!” and told him his boys were someday “going to be bigger than Elvis Presley.” Rowe, no doubt, suppressed his laughter and may have even rolled his eyes as the conversation ended. And thus, Dick Rowe was cemented in music history as “the man who turned down the Beatles.”
A few short months later, the Beatles were signed by a subsidiary of EMI called Parlophone. They were to become the most popular group in the world and would go on to sell hundreds of millions of records and albums around the world. And that, as they say, was history. But Dick Rowe (1921-1986) was to go to his grave denying his epithet. According to Rowe, it was actually Mike Smith who gave the Beatles the thumbs-down.
That same New Year’s Day of 1962, another fledgling band, Brian Poole and the Tremeloes, had also auditioned at Decca. Rowe claimed, “I told Mike he’d have to decide between them. It was up to him -the Beatles or Brian Poole and the Tremeloes. He said, ‘They’re both good, but one’s a local group, the other comes from Liverpool.’ We decided it was better to take the local group. We could work with them more easily and stay closer in touch, as they came from Dagenham.”
After the fateful rejection of the Fab Four, Rowe was actually to sign The Rolling Stones (based on a recommendation by George Harrison), The Animals, The Moody Blues, The Zombies, Then (featuring Van Morrison), The Small Faces, and Tom Jones.
Even the Beatles’ later producer at EMI, George Martin, was to come to Rowe’s defense and state that he would have turned down the Beatles on the basis of the mediocre Decca audition tapes. Even after the rejection, Brian Epstein kept trying, negotiating with Decca, and even offering to buy 3,000 copies of any record the Beatles made. Rowe claimed he was not informed of this offer and had he known, he would definitely have signed the group. But as they say, “If ifs and buts were candy and nuts, wouldn’t we all have a merry Christmas.”
“We learn from history that we learn nothing from history.” George B. Shaw:
“The direction is a good one, in my opinion. The only thing missing from this project is material.” That’s what music industry Jimmy Lenner wrote to Madonna after hearing her demo. The letter was auctioned at Sotheby’s in 2001.
Ed Sheeran: The multi-million selling solo artist said he was constantly rejected by record labels as he was “slightly chubby and ginger”, and that wasn’t a good “marketing tool” for them. How wrong they were. He’s since released two of the biggest selling albums of the millennium and sold out more nights at Wembley than the Foo Fighters.
U2: “We wish you luck with your future career,” said the boss of RSO records to Bono in 1979, after saying they weren’t interested in the Dublin band’s demo tape. U2 have since sold almost 200 million records.
Linkin Park: Singer Chester Bennington said the band played more than 50 showcases for numerous labels before Warner Music, who had previously rejected them, signed the band. Their 2000 debut ‘Hybrid Theory’ sold more than 10 million copies.
Kanye West: The Glastonbury headliner said he was rejected by “tonnes” of labels, prior to being signed to Def Jam. They reportedly saw him as a producer, not a solo star, and not even playing label bosses a finished version of ‘Jesus Walks’ could change their minds.
Beyonce: You have to go back pretty far in Beyonce’s career to find a rejection. When she was eight, she and cousin Kelly Rowland, when part of Girl’s Tyme, entered a talent competition and didn’t win. The defeat prompted father Matthew Knowles to quit his job and manage the girls, to make sure they never lost out again.
Lady Gaga: Then Def Jam boss LA Reid had signed Lady Gaga to the label some years before she became one of the biggest pop stars on the planet. But before she released any music he dropped her. More recently he’s described the move as “the biggest mistake” of his professional career.
Venom: The Newcastle metal pioneers released two landmark album in the early 80s, ‘Welcome To Hell’ and ‘Black Metal’. Before that, however, they were the recipients of the world’s harshest rejection letter from EMI. It simply read ‘F…k Off’, in creatively typed lettering.
Missy Elliot: Prior to selling millions of records and inspiring a generation of R&B stars, Missy Elliott was reportedly told she was “too fat” to be a successful singer by a famous major label executive.
The Supremes: Motown’s Berry Gordy told The Supremes, then known as The Primettes, they were too young to sign to his label when he first saw them. They showed up at his Hitsville studio in Detroit every day until he changed his mind. At their peak, their success rivalled that of The Beatles.
Morrissey: After leaving Harvest records following the release of ‘World Peace Is None Of Your Business’ in 2015 – was rejected by several labels he’d approached before finally being signed by Capitol.