November 13, 2015
Richard Branson is one of the most successful businessmen on the planet. Coming from nothing, he has built up the Virgin empire to be something to be admired. It funds feature films, runs trains, flies planes and offers many more things besides. But way back when he was starting out, Richard Branson the opportunity to put a record by John and Yoko out as the first single on his label…and declined. How? Why? Read on to find out.
Way back when Richard Branson was a youngster, he was already coming up with ways of making money. His most popular venture as a teen was Student Magazine, where he had set upon a brilliant way to encourage advertisers to invest – pit companies against one another. This essentially involved phoning Coca Cola and offering them advertising space. If they say no, tell them Pepsi already bought a half page, full page or cover… Then strike a ‘deal’ despite the fact he hadn’t even phoned Pepsi as yet.
So you can already see that Branson was a wily businessman back in the early seventies. But better than even his advertising ruse, he’d somehow convinced John Lennon to contribute a free piece of music to his magazine. He’d printed 100,000 copies of the magazine as a result… But there was a hitch. The record hadn’t arrived due to the erratic management of Derek Taylor.
Facing bankruptcy, Branson met up with John, Yoko and Derek and discovered that they’d completely forgotten about it, not entirely unsurprising considering the couple had recently lost their unborn baby. They’d recorded the final few beats of the baby’s heart before deafening silence followed. This was what John Lennon proposed should go out as the recording; the final few moments of their unborn child’s heartbeat. As Branson himself notes, in a roundabout way this could have been his first recording for Virgin Records.
But it was not to be. Rather than take the recording and press 100,000 copies, an outraged Branson scrapped the entire magazine, thinking that the sounds were worthless despite their poignancy. He acknowledges that perhaps this was a foolish decision but it certainly makes for an interesting story; Baby’s Heartbeat was ultimately put out on John and Yoko’s Unfinished Music No.2: Life with the Lions. As for Branson, he received a letter from Derek after previously writing to affirm no hard feelings. Its contents? Just seven words that Beatles fans may well recognise, “Many thanks. All You Need Is Love.”
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By Henry Fosdike