Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Birth of Beatlemania in America Part Two

 It was in 1963 that Beatlemania swept the United Kingdom. The Beatles' single "She Loves You" sold so phenomenally well that it would remain the best selling record ever in the United Kingdom for literally years. Their concerts not only sold out, but they were often scenes of mass hysteria amongst young Beatles fans. Their appearance on the television programme Sunday Night At The London Palladium drew fifteen million viewers, a phenomenal amount for a British TV show. While Beatlemania dominated Great Britain, however, The Beatles could not seem to find success in the United States. When released in America their singles largely went unnoticed. That having been said, in late 1963 there were signs that Beatlemania could overtake the United States as well. By that time The Beatles were not only set to appear on The Ed Sullivan Show, but they were also booked for two shows at Carnegie Hall. In the end, however, it would be neither of these events that would spark Beatlemania in the United States. Instead Beatlemania would emerge from a source well beyond the control of The Beatles, their manager Brian Epstein or even Ed Sullivan.

Much of The Beatles' failure in the American market in 1963 can be placed at the feet of EMI's American subsidiary, Capitol Records. Capitol had refused to release The Beatles singles "Please Please Me" and "She Loves You".  As a result those singles were released on smaller labels (Vee-Jay and Swan respectively), Without the promotion they would have received from a major label, they promptly failed. It was on 17 October 1963 that The Beatles recorded what would be their next single (and their follow up to the phenomenally successful "She Loves You"), "I Want to Hold Your Hand". Brian Epstein and The Beatles' producer George Martin convinced Capitol to release "I Want to Hold Your Hand" in the United States, perhaps using The Beatles' scheduled appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show as leverage to do so. At any rate, Capitol scheduled the American release of "I Want to Hold Your Hand" for mid-January to take advantage of The Beatles' appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show on 9 February 1964.

"I Want to Hold Your Hand" was released in the United Kingdom on 29 November 1963. It proved quite successful, entering the British charts within a week of its release. A week later it deposed The Beatles' "She Loves You" as the no. 1 record. Despite its phenomenal success in Britain, Capitol would have probably kept its mid-January release date in the United States if not for an unexpected chain of events.

It was on 10 December 1963 that The CBS Evening News finally ran their story on The Beatles' performance at the Winter Garden Theatre in Bournemouth, England from 16 November 1963 (it had been scheduled to air 22 November 1963 but was pre-empted by coverage of John F. Kennedy's assassination). Among the people who watched that newscast was a 15 year old girl named Marsha Albert. The following day Miss Albert wrote Carroll James, a DJ at WWDC, and asked if he would play one of The Beatles' records.  Mr. James then had a copy of "I Want to Hold Your Hand" imported from Great Britain. He asked Marsha Albert to introduce the record when it was first played on WWDC

The response to "I Want to Hold Your Hand" was overwhelming, so much so that WWDC put the record into heavy rotation. Soon radio stations in Chicago and St. Louis were also playing the song. Initially Capitol Records threatened legal action against WWDC for playing "I Want to Hold Your Hand" well before its planned release date, but in the end they decided to give into the obvious demand for the song. Capitol Records then moved the release date in the United States of "I Want to Hold Your Hand" up to 26 December 1963.

Here it must be pointed out that "I Want to Hold Your Hand" was not the first Beatles song to be played on American radio. While it is perhaps impossible to determine what exactly the first Beatles song played in America was or who played it, it is known that Beatles' songs had been played on American radio before WWDC played "I Want to Hold Your Hand". DJ Dick Biondi had played "Please Please Me" on Chicago station WLS as early as February 1963. In June 1963 he moved to KRLA in Los Angeles. That same month he was able to get "From Me to You" added to KRLA's playlist. The song proved popular enough to enter KRLA's singles chart (their "Tune-Dex", as they called it) on 14 July. It peaked at #32 on KRLA's chart on 11 August.

It was not long after "I Want to Hold Your Hand" was released that The Beatles received exposure on NBC, the rival network to CBS (home of The Ed Sullivan Show). Former Tonight Show host Jack Paar had seen The Beatles at the Royal Command Variety on 4 November 1963. He later bought footage of The Beatles performing at the show from the BBC, who had covered the event. It was then on 3 February 1963 that a clip of The Beatles performing "She Loves You" appeared on The Jack Paar Show. While Jack Paar was quiet during the clip, it was rather clear that his purpose for airing it was not to promote The Beatles, but rather simply to make jokes at the expense of The Beatles and their fans.

Regardless, "I Want to Hold Your Hand" proved phenomenally successful in the United States. The song entered the Billboard Hot 100 at #45 on 18 January 1964. The next week it jumped all the way to #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The following week, the week of 1 February 1964, "I Want to Hold Your Hand" hit #1 on the chart. At the time it was the fastest rising record in the history of Capitol Records.  At long last Beatlemania had arrived on American shores.

It was while "I Want to Hold Your Hand" was burning up the charts in January that The Beatles would be booked into the Washington Coliseum for 11 February 1964. Many believe that Brian Epstein himself booked The Beatles there in order to help defray costs. After all, Ed Sullivan was paying The Beatles only $10,000 for their three appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show. According to Sid Bernstein, however, Brian Epstein asked him to book a venue in the United States so it could serve as a dry run for The Beatles' shows at Carnegie Hall on 12 February 1963. Regardless, by late January The Beatles had one more venue to play besides The Ed Sullivan Show and Carnegie Hall. What is more, it would be their first concert in the United States.

It was on 7 February 1964 that The Beatles took Pan-Am Flight 101 from London to New York City. Upon their arrival at the newly renamed John F. Kennedy Airport they witnessed Beatlemania on American shores for the first time. They were greeted by around 5000 fans and some 200 reporters, photographers and cameramen from newspapers, TV, and radio news outlets. It was not long after The Beatles had disembarked from the plane that they held their first press conference on American soil. Following the press conference The Beatles left JFK Airport for the Plaza Hotel, where they stayed in the hotel's Presidential Suite. A mob of fans had already gathered at the hotel before The Beatles had even arrived. That night Brian Matthew, presenter for BBC Radio's Saturday Club, conducted a radio interview with the band that would be broadcast in Britain on Saturday Club the night of 8 February 1964.

The following day, 8 February 1964, would be a busy one for The Beatles. It would be complicated by the fact that George Harrison had come down with the flu. When John, Paul, and Ringo went to Central Park for a photo shoot with the press, then, George was not with them. George would also be absent for The Beatles' rehearsals for The Ed Sullivan Show. The band's road manager Neil Aspinall stood in for George, as did The Ed Sullivan Show's production assistant Vince Calandra for a few minutes. On and off throughout the day The Beatles gave interviews to various radio stations and other members of the press.

Of course, it would be 9 February 1964 that The Beatles made their historic, first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. What is often forgotten is that The Beatles were not the only guests on the show that night, even if they were the headliners. Other guests on that nights show included Davy Jones and Georgia Brown from the cast of Oliver!, singer Tessie O'Shea, impressionist Frank Gorshin, the comedy team of Mitzi McCall & Charlie Brill, magician Fred Kapps and the acrobatic troupe Wells & the Four Fays. What is particularly interesting about the other guests on the 9 February 1964 edition is that two of them would go onto be at the centre of two other phenomena of the Sixties. Davy Jones would go onto become one of The Monkees, who were not only the stars of their own sitcom but at times rivalled The Beatles in record sales. Frank Gorshin would play The Riddler on the TV show Batman, a show that would become the centre of a rather large fad in 1966.

While there were several other guests on The Ed Sullivan Show that night, it was no secret that it was The Beatles everyone wanted to see. Ed Sullivan told his young audience that they could scream all they want while The Beatles performed, but asked them to be respectful of the other guests on the show.  In the first half of the show The Beatles played "All My Loving", "Till There Was You", and "She Loves You". Mr. Sullivan then brought out his other guests before The Beatles returned in the show's second half to perform "I Saw Her Standing There" and "I Want to Hold Your Hand".

The Beatles' first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show would prove to be a resounding success. Not only was it the highest rated Ed Sullivan Show ever, but it would also be the most watched American television programme of all time for several years. Indeed, it still ranks among the most watched entertainment programmes ever.

Of course, The Beatles would appear the following week on The Ed Sullivan Show, on 16 February 1964. This edition of the show aired live from the Deauville Hotel in Miami, Florida. This time Mitzi Gaynor headlined the show. Other guests on the show included the comedy team of Marty Allen & Steve Rossi, comedian Soupy Sales, a sway pole acrobat act called The Nerveless Nocks, and a unicycle balancing act called The Volantes. The Beatles performed the songs "She Loves You", "This Boy", "All My Loving", "I Saw Her Standing There", "From Me To You", and "I Want To Hold Your Hand".

The Beatles would appear on The Ed Sullivan Show for the third Sunday in a row on 23 February 1964. Unlike the 9 February 1964 and 16 February 1964 editions of the show, which had aired live, this programme had been recorded earlier, on the afternoon of 9 February 1964. Other guests on the show included Gordon and Sheila MacRae, The Cab Calloway Orchestra, the comedy team of Morecambe & Wise, humorist Dave Barry, comedian, Morty Gunty, and the marionettes Morty Gunty. The Beatles performed "Twist And Shout", "Please Please Me", and "I Want To Hold Your Hand".

It was two days later, on 11 February 1964, that The Beatles performed their first concert in the United States at the Washington Coliseum in Washington, D.C. Originally called the Uline Arena before it was renamed in 1960, the Washington Coliseum had been the home of the hockey team the Washington Lions. It would later be used for other sporting events, including NBA games and boxing matches. Tommy Roe, whom The Beatles had supported in a tour in Britain the previous year, was the opening act. He perfomred only two songs, "Sheila" and "Everybody".

The Beatles then took the stage. While they only performed for 35 minutes, it was before the largest audience they had ever seen, with 8092 fans in attendance. They played 12 songs in total: "Roll Over Beethoven", "From Me To You", "I Saw Her Standing There", 'This Boy", "All My Loving", "I Wanna Be Your Man", "Please Please Me", "Till There Was You", "She Loves You", "I Want To Hold Your Hand", "Twist And Shout", and "Long Tall Sally". The Chiffons had been scheduled to appear, but could not do so because of a snowstorm that had struck Washington D.C. the previous day.

It was the following day, on 12 February 1964, that The Beatles performed their two shows at Carnegie Hall. The first show was scheduled for 7:45 PM, while the second was scheduled to begin at 11:15 PM. Each show lasted about 34 minutes in length. The opening act was a folk band known as The Briarwood Singers, who were meant to play a 20 minute set at the first show, but wound up playing for 40 minutes as The Beatles got ready. George Martin had wanted to record The Beatles' shows at Carnegie Hall and was even given permission to do so by Capitol Records. Unfortunately, the American Federation of Musicians would not let him do so.

The Beatles returned to London on 22 February 1964, but they left behind a country that would be forever changed by their presence. Virtually unknown in the nation only a few months before, Beatlemania had now overtaken the United States much as it had the United Kingdom in 1963. The Beatles would pave the way for other British artists who would make the trip across the Pond, including The Dave Clark Five, The Animals, The Zombies, The Kinks, The Rolling Stones, The Hollies, The Who, and yet others. In fact, so many British artists would dominate the American music charts from 1964 to 1966 that it would give rise to the term "the British Invasion".

Of course, The Beatles' impact would go far beyond spurring the British Invasion. The Beatles could possibly be not only the most successful recording artists of all time, but perhaps the most influential recording artists as well. The Beatles would have a profound influence on several subgenres of rock music (even creating some of them), subgenres ranging from power pop to heavy metal to symphonic rock. It seems possible that The Beatles would have an impact even on genres outside of rock music, from country to mainstream pop. It also seems likely that none of this would have happened had The Beatles never conquered America. In many respects when Beatlemania finally took hold in the United States, it not only changed America. It changed the world.

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