It’s hard to imagine David Bowie ever getting told he wasn’t good enough, but before he became The Starman, he had to overcome more than his fair share of adversity, including a knockback by The Beatles.
In 1968, Bowie’s career was still firmly in its infancy. He was only 21-years-old, but after releasing his debut single as a teenage starlet four years prior, his career never accelerated in the way he envisaged. His self-titled album arrived on Decca in 1967, but Bowie sounded like an artist who was unsure of his creative identity and sounded lost.
Every single released on the record momunementally flopped, as did the album. Rather than maintaining a belief in Bowie, Decca Records decided to throw him to the wayside and released him from his record deal. Getting dropped was a make or break moment for Bowie. He could have easily given up hope on becoming an artist and settled for a life in the real world, but that wasn’t Bowie.
The trials and tribulations of his stop-start career didn’t affect Bowie’s determination to succeed. In fact, it only enhanced his hunger to become a superstar, but he still needed a label to get his message out there. The dream factory in Bowie’s eyes, and the place which would turn all his aspirations into a possibility, was Apple Records.
The Beatles had been the hottest property on the planet for years before Apple Records became the label that every young artist in London wanted to be on. The association with The Fab Four would have immediately got eyeballs adjusted firmly on a young Bowie, and he was well aware of what a successful launch with the Liverpudlians label could mean.
Bowie’s then-manager, Kenneth Pitt, recalled in his memoirs that he had reservations about the label, and if it weren’t for his artist’s desires, he wouldn’t have even considered Apple. Pitt went on to label them a “deplorable organisation” who showed “sheer amateurism and downright rudeness that confronted us during the next three months, the time it took Apple to give us a decision.”
Apple appointed Peter Asher as their Head of A&R during this time, and communications somehow worsened further. Pitt even said in his biography, “It now seemed to me that his only qualification for joining Apple was that his sister was the actress Jane Asher, girl-friend of Paul McCartney.”
Pitt continued: “It took me some considerable time to make contact with him, but when I did he told me that the label was not interested in David. I asked me if he would let me have a letter to that effect and on July 15 he wrote: ‘As we told you on the phone, Apple Records is not interested in signing David Bowie. The reason is that we don’t feel he’s what we’re looking for at the moment. Thank you for your time.’ Peter Asher couldn’t spare any of his own time to personally sign the terse letter, his name being inscribed by a secretary whose initials were CO,” he damningly wrote.
The Beatles were almost certainly too busy to check every record that flooded their offices, and Apple Records was far from the well-oiled machine that it should have been, considering it was home to the biggest band in the world. In truth, for the most part, it operated as a place for The Beatles to put their money and records through — a Fab Four laundry service.
These setbacks could have made Bowie doubt his abilities, but in the end, it would be Apple Records who would rue a missed opportunity. The following year, Bowie would make a name for himself with his second album, and by 1973 he was the most recognisable pop star on the planet.
In 1974, Bowie would meet John Lennon as an equal, even though he had to squash the Beatles super-fan inside. A few months after they met, the two artists would enter the studio together, and the result would see the formation of ‘Fame’, a song that is arguably one of the finest moments of Bowie’s esteemed career.
It wasn’t just Lennon who Bowie built up a relationship with from The Fab Four. He and Paul McCartney also grew close over the years. After he died in 2016, Macca shared this heartfelt message: “David was a great star, and I treasure the moments we had together. His music played a very strong part in British musical history, and I’m proud to think of the huge influence he has had on people all around the world.”
Life could have turned out different for Bowie if he did get signed for Apple Records, and it’s likely that his career would never have prospered in the spectacular way it did. As cringe-inducing as it sounds, things work out for the best in the end, and without this heartache, Bowie wouldn’t have evolved into the earth-shattering artist we all adore.