The Decca audition is the name given to the now-famous Beatles audition for Decca Records at their Decca Studios in West Hampstead, north London, England, before they reached international stardom. Decca's decision to reject the group is considered to be one of the biggest mistakes in music history.
Manager Brian Epstein made numerous trips to London to visit record companies with the hope of securing a record contract, but was rejected by many, including Columbia, Pye, Philips, and Oriole. The Beatles were driven down to London by Neil Aspinall on New Year's Eve in 1961, for a Decca audition, but Aspinall lost his way, and the trip took ten hours. They arrived at 10 o'clock at night, and John Lennon said that they arrived "just in time to see the drunks jumping in the Trafalgar Square fountain." On January 1, 1962, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Pete Best were auditioned by Decca producer Tony Meehan (ex-drummer of the Shadows) performing a total of fifteen songs in just under one hour. All the material was selected by Epstein, who decided on a selection of covers that the band had performed in various clubs over the years, interspersed with three Lennon/McCartney originals. The Beatles later found out that Epstein had paid Meehan to produce the studio recordings.
The order of the songs at the session was:
1. "Like Dreamers Do" (Lennon/McCartney)
2. "Money (That's What I Want)" (Gordy/Bradford)
3. "Till There Was You" (Meredith Wilson)
4. "The Sheik of Araby" (Smith/Wheeler/Snyder)
5. "To Know Her Is to Love Her" (Phil Spector)
6. "Take Good Care of My Baby" (King/Goffin)
7. "Memphis, Tennessee" (Chuck Berry)
8. "Sure to Fall (In Love with You)" (Cantrell/Claunch/Perkins)
9. "Hello Little Girl" (Lennon/McCartney)
10. "Three Cool Cats" (Leiber/Stoller)
11. "Crying, Waiting, Hoping" (Buddy Holly)
12. "Love of the Loved" (Lennon/McCartney)
13. "September in the Rain" (Warren/Dubin)
14. "Bésame Mucho" (Consuelo Velázquez)
15. "Searchin'" (Leiber/Stoller)
Mike Smith agreed to let them record, telling them he could not see any problems and that he would let the group know of his decisions in a few weeks.
Eventually, Decca Records rejected The Beatles, saying that "guitar groups are on the way out" and "the Beatles have no future in show business," although it has since been suggested that their work that day did not yet reflect their true potential, and the "guitar" comment may have been intended as a polite let down. Decca instead chose The Tremeloes, who auditioned the same day as The Beatles, were local and would require lower travel expenses.
While Epstein was negotiating with Decca, he also approached EMI marketing executive Ron White. White (who was not himself a record producer) in turn contacted EMI producers Norrie Paramor, Walter Ridley, and Norman Newell, all of whom declined to record The Beatles. Months later, The Beatles went on to sign with EMI subsidiary Parlophone, after their 'comedy album' producer George Martin heard the Decca demos and decided to meet the band.
The Liverpool music paper Mersey Beat was the first to report on the Mike Smith visit by writing that the producer had made a tape of the performance (this amounted to the first "test") and wrote "…certain Decca would put the Beatles to good use."
In 1995, The Beatles Anthology was released. The documentary includes snippets from many of the songs performed at the Decca audition, while the accompanying soundtrack (specifically, The Beatles Anthology 1) includes five of the songs performed at the audition ("Searchin'," "Like Dreamers Do," "Hello Little Girl," "Three Cool Cats," and "The Sheik of Araby") along with many other outtakes and various live performances. The remaining ten songs from the Decca audition have never been officially released, although they have frequently surfaced on gray market and bootleg releases.