“The Idiot in Question”

I came across a slim book from 2007 in the Bangor library the other day, The Beatles’ Second Album, by Dave Marsh, and read it pretty quickly. It tells the story of, well, the Beatles’ second album – in America that is, because as you might remember, the British and American versions of those records were quite different.

An interesting part of the book explains the reasons – mostly financial – just why that was. In England you needed 14 songs for a record, and they never included the hit singles, while in America you had to include the hits, plus you only needed 11 songs. The first seven Beatles albums in England therefore turned into the first 10 Beatles albums in the U.S., each additional one being worth – thanks to the popularity of the group – an extra quarter- to a half-million dollars (in 1960s dollars) to Capitol Records.

The most interesting part of the book, chapter 7, “The Man Who Hated the Beatles,” describes Dave Dexter Jr., the man picked by the record company to pick which songs, in which order, went on the American Beatles LPs. As it turns out, Dexter (1915–1990) not only was around 50 at the time, he was a fan of big band jazz from before WW II, and hated rock and roll (not to mention teenagers in general). He also had an aversion to the harmonica being used in pop music, one reason he bad-mouthed the Beatles from the time he heard the opening bars of their first hit “Love Me Do.”

As Marsh says, “Dave Dexter Jr. passed on the Beatles at least three separate times, rejecting ‘Love Me Do,’ ‘Please, Please Me,’ and ‘She Loves You’ as having no potential to become hit singles in the United States.” That’s why the earliest Beatles records in the U.S. appeared on obscure labels like Vee-Jay and Swan, because Dexter – “the idiot in question,” Marsh calls him – refused to deal with them. It wasn’t until his bosses at EMI gave him an ultimatum that the Beatles ended up on Capitol Records, and ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ became a giant hit… whereupon Dexter took a lot of the credit for their success.

Among to his Wikipedia page, other groups Dexter said would never make it in America included The Hollies, Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas, Manfred Mann, Gerry and the Pacemakers, The Animals, The Yardbirds, Herman’s Hermits, and The Dave Clark Five. Marsh adds, “The British act he boasted about signing is Freddie and the Dreamers. (I did not make this up.)”

It’s pretty incredible to learn that the records we listened to so avidly back in those days were put together in such a sloppy manner by a guy who apparently hated the job, and who, incidentally, also changed the sound mixes George Martin had worked on so carefully, across the Atlantic. And they still became wildly successful. “Only the fact that the conceptual integrity of the material on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was its main selling point (and Brian Epstein’s finally negotiating a better recording contract for the band) stopped Capitol from continuing the practice of putting together hodgepodge LPs,” Marsh writes.

By that point, The Beatles had gotten so fed up that they tried releasing their 9th Capitol album, ‘Yesterday’… and Today, with Robert Whitaker’s famous cover photo showing the group “dressed as butchers, surrounded by raw meat and dismembered baby dolls.” At the time, they claimed this was an allusion to the violence of the Vietnam War, and, as Marsh notes, “didn’t have a thing to do with sending a message to Capitol about their hatred of the company’s practice of chopping up their records.”

Maybe Dave Dexter – the man who in Marsh’s words “loathed rock ‘n’ roll beyond reason,” and who in his own writing “comes across as a nasty, vindictive son of a bitch” – knew better.

About RPS

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