"Guitar bands are on the way out"

(Note: I realize that no definitive answer can be given to this question, and sheer speculation is required to give any answer at all. But I’m hoping to get informed speculation from people who’ve made some study of the musical environment as it stood in the 1960’s.)

One of the classic instances of a Really Bad Decision is that made by Decca Records, who in 1962 rejected an audition tape by the Beatles, on the grounds that ‘guitar bands are on the way out’.

Obviously, Decca was (rather spectacularly) wrong on this particular judgement. On the other hand, they weren’t exactly some fly-by-night company at the time, and I assume they must have had some good reason to make that decision. So my question is: If Decca actually did believe guitar bands had run their course, what did they think was on the way in? If we lived in some alternate universe where Decca had turned out to be right, what sort of music might we have expected in the next decade or two?

If you look atBritish popular music at the time*, there are very few guitar-based bands. There is “Telstar,” but the list of hits was dominated by vocal groups and solo acts.

*British artists rarely found success in the US before the Beatles, so Decca wasn’t considering US hits at that point.

The Walker Brothers, Burt Bacarach, Lee Greenwood and other pop acts.

Thanks for the reply (and link). 1962 is right on the verge of being ‘before my time’ as I was only five years old then. However, my parents had one of those multi-album ‘Hits of the 40’s and 50’s’ compilations that they played…perhaps a bit too often for my liking, and I recall that vocal groups and solo artists figured heavily back then as well (plus quite a bit of brass and woodwind in the backing bands).

So perhaps Decca wasn’t so much looking toward some new wave to replace guitar bands as they were expecting things to return to the way they’d been?

It might not have been altogether unreasonable-- guitar groups in the sense of the original rock and roll combos were indeed well on their way out by '62. Pop music in the early 60’s didn’t really have much of an overriding theme, with motown, a brief crooner resurgence, and even a folk music craze all in the milieu. Likely Decca weren’t sure what was going to be the next big thing, but they were betting it wasn’t going to be a bunch of guys with electric guitars, which seemed to be the craze that was on the way out.

Had The Beatles not become successful, Decca may have been proved correct.

Even for someone as talented as they, their success depended on a hundred innocuous events and changes. It’s frequently posited that they would not have had as great an impact were it not for George Martin at Parlophone. He was the man who knew how to take the sounds that they heard in their head. He was also involved in the recommendation to replace Pete Best, which changed the dynamic within the group and altered how the public perceived their various personalities.

I can’t speak for the UK market, but the US had definitely turned from rockers to crooners like Fabian and Bobby Vinton.

Better suited for Cafe Society. Moved from General Questions.


True. Decca was extrapolating from current trends; the Beatles changed the dynamic immediately.

After the Beatles hit it big, Decca quickly changed their mind. An executive ran into George Harrison and asked him what groups were good. He told them about the Rolling Stones, who gave Decca ten gold or platinum albums.

There’s also the possibility that this was just an excuse. The Beatles were turned down by several other record companies, and it could simply be a matter of them not standing out (especially with Pete Best). Parlophone was a last-ditch hope, from a small, struggling label. George Martin kept it afloat by producing comedy albums (cheap and easy to do), though he was looking for a music act.

If guitar pop went out of the mainstream in the early '60s instead of the… late '90s?.. would electronic pop have diversified earlier? Or was the technology simply not there at that point to do anything that would catch on in the same way rock did?