The Beatles, “Like Dreamers Do” (Decca Audition, 1962): Deep Beatles

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In 1962, the Beatles did not pass the audition.

January 1 of that year was supposed to be the Beatles’ huge break, as manager Brian Epstein had secured an audition with Decca Records. Decca A&R rep Mike Smith had attended the group’s December 13, 1961 Cavern Club show. Liking what he heard, he approached the Beatles and Epstein to record an audition tape for the label. The recording session was set for December 31, 1961. What followed was a virtual comedy of errors.

First, road manager and assistant Neil Aspinall agreed to drive the boys from Liverpool to Decca’s West Hampstead Studios. However, the group encountered a snowstorm during the trip, resulting in Aspinall getting lost. When they finally arrived at 10 p.m. December 31, they had been on the road over ten hours. Epstein (who had arrived earlier via train) and Smith rescheduled the session for the following day, hoping the boys would be well rested.

When a freezing January 1 dawned, the Beatles’ anxiety was palpable; they felt tremendous pressure over performing to the label’s satisfaction. Meanwhile, Smith had thoroughly enjoyed New Year’s Eve, thus he arrived late to the recording studio. To make matters worse, Smith insisted that the Beatles use Decca’s amplifiers rather than their own, thus increasing the group’s anxiety over using unfamiliar equipment. Relying on their Hamburg and Cavern Club setlists, George Harrison, John Lennon, Paul McCartney and then-drummer Pete Best recorded 15 tracks during their one-hour session. Featuring mostly covers and a handful of Lennon/McCartney originals, the audibly nervous Beatles rushed through their tracks.

As Mark Lewisohn points out in Tune In, what happened next remains murky. Previous accounts claimed Decca A&R Head Dick Rowe rejected the group, informing Epstein that “guitar groups are on the way out.” Instead, Lewisohn found evidence suggesting Decca had made an offer, but Epstein turned Rowe down, believing he could find a better deal elsewhere. In any case, the Beatles would go on to sign with EMI and replace Best with Ringo Starr, thus finalizing the band’s lineup.

Meanwhile, the Decca audition tape resurfaced through bootlegs, with select tracks later appearing on the Anthology 1 collection. Did the Beatles’ performance really merit Rowe’s harsh assessment? Listening to the tracks today, is the band’s talent and originality evident in their voices? The debate rages, but the Decca tapes are an important historical document of the Beatles’ early sound. The next few Deep Beatles columns will examine three songs from these sessions, inviting fresh evaluations of their most famous audition.

Kicking off the series is “Like Dreamers Do,” one of Paul McCartney’s earliest compositions. Written in 1957, McCartney and Lennon performed the song as far back as their Quarrymen days. As the Beatles grew in confidence, they decided to sneak it into setlists from their early 1960s Cavern Club shows. During this period, most bands never dared to perform original songs, preferring to please the crowd with familiar tunes. As McCartney told biographer Barry Miles, “For you to write it yourself was a bit plonky, and the songs obviously weren’t that great, but I felt we really had to break through that barrier because if we never tried our own songs we’d just never have the confidence to continue writing.” According to Tune In, Harrison believed “Like Dreamers Do” was heavily influenced by McCartney’s father Jim’s interest in George Gershwin tracks, such as “I’ll Build A Stairway to Paradise.”

In the recording studio, the Beatles played their usual positions. Paul McCartney on bass and lead vocal, John Lennon on rhythm guitar, George Harrison on lead guitar and Pete Best on drums. His voice at first noticeably quivering, McCartney sings the straightforward love song: “I saw a girl in my dreams, and so it seems that I will love her.” He appears to gain confidence after delivering the first chorus, playfully stretching out the syllable “I” as well as rhythmically chanting the word “you,” letting his voice gradually modulate downward before crooning the next verse.

McCartney’s Liverpudlian accent charmingly creeps in at various points, such as pronouncing “saw” as “saw-r.” At other times he imitates Elvis Presley’s style, which is particularly noticeable in the lines “You, you came just one dream ago, and now I know that I will love you.” He draws out the second syllable in “ago,” turning the word into “ago-uh.” The word “know” receives the same treatment, this time turning it into a two-syllable term (“know-uh”). McCartney’s stage name early on in his music career was “Paul Ramon,” and he sounds as if he was channeling that persona here.

What “Like Dreamers Do” portrays is a very young band searching for their distinctive sound. Paul McCartney and the others are in the “imitative” stage, emulating their idols and popular songs of the day. Yet unlike their peers, the Beatles began composing their own material, risking the disapproval of audiences craving familiar songs. Lennon and McCartney recognized that a catchy hook would attract listeners, and writing about universally relatable subject would ensure that teenagers would purchase the singles. They would refine the technique in a remarkably short period of time, but “Like Dreamers Do” is an admirable first attempt.

Interestingly, “Like Dreamers Do” would gain new life once Beatlemania took over. As the Beatles rehearsed for a television appearance in 1964, they met then-rising UK beat group the Applejacks. Riding high on their top ten hit “Tell Me When,” the group also became notable for having a female bass guitarist. Impressed, Lennon and McCartney offered an original composition to them: “Like Dreamers Do.” The group’s spirited cover would peak at No. 20 on the UK pop charts.

One more interesting fact: What was the Applejacks’ record label? Decca.

Kit O'Toole

Kit O'Toole

Kit O'Toole is a lifelong music enthusiast who maintains a stand-alone music blog called Listen to the Band. In addition, she is the internet columnist and a contributing editor for Beatlefan magazine. She also holds an Ed.D. in Instructional Technology. Contact Something Else! at
Kit O'Toole
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