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
firstname.lastname@example.org ("affiliation shown for identification only")
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