If you’re a Beatles fan, you’ve probably heard of Tune In, or been waiting for it for years and snapped it up the second it hit the shelf. It’s the first installment of a long-promised three-part biography that may well be the most ambitious work ever written about any popular musicians. It’s author, Mark Lewisohn, has ostensibly been researching the book for the past decade, but anyone familiar with him knows he’s been building up to this work for his whole life. Known from his early twenties as “Beatles Brain of Britain,” he’s already written at least two essential works of Fabs scholarship (The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions and The Complete Beatles Chronicle), and All These Years, as the complete biography is titled, seems destined to be the definitive word on its subject — and when you consider how oft-trammelled this subject has been, that’s saying something.
Every casual fan knows the story: having struck out with every other record company in Britain, Brian Epstein goes into a shop to have his tape of the Decca audition cut to disk. The engineer thinks George Martin over at Parlophone might find it interesting; Martin gives the group an audition, and despite being only mildly enthused by their music, he takes a chance after the group charms the socks off him in the control room in Abbey Road Studio 2, and the rest is history.
The truth is nothing like that, and is so peculiar I actually had to reread certain passages to make sure I properly understood just what Lewisohn has uncovered. To simplify it greatly, the Beatles were acquired by EMI not because George Martin was won over by them — he wasn’t, being unimpressed with the demo disk Brian Epstein played for him — but because the company’s music publishing arm, Ardmore and Beechwood, wanted the publishing rights to the original Lennon-McCartney songs, particularly “Like Dreamers Do,” which they thought a potential hit. EMI managing director L. G. Wood agreed to sign the group more or less as a favor to his friend Sid Colman, head of Ardmore and Beechwood, but had no personal stake in the Beatles’ success and fobbed the job of recording them off onto the least favorite of his staff producers. This happened to be none other than George Martin, who had earned his boss’s ire by appearing in public with his (Martin’s) secretary, with whom he had been carrying on an otherwise discreet affair for many years. When Martin ended up meeting the group at that first session, he wasn’t deciding whether to sign them — the Beatles were already official EMI artists, and they never knew the strange circumstances under which it happened.