Look back to when Beatlemania hit America in the ’60s

Beatles with American flag 1964

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Beatlemania’s busting out all over — U.S.A., England (1964)

The San Bernardino County Sun (California) February 8, 1964

Phenomenologists will have a ball in 1964 and beyond with Beatlemania, a generally harmless form of madness which deluged Great Britain in 1963.

As Frederick Lewis reported in the New York Times, “Beatlemania… affects all social classes and all levels of intelligence.”

Sole cause of Beatlemania is a quarter of young Englishmen known as the Beatles, of whom Lewis said: “Their impact on Britain has been greater than that of any other exponent of pop music. There has been adulation before… but no one has taken the national fancy as have the Beatles.”


Beatles arriving at John F Kennedy Airport NYC February 7 1964
The Beatles arriving at John F Kennedy Airport in NYC on February 7, 1964

In less than one year, the Beatles have:

1. Achieved popularity and following that is unprecedented in the history of show business in England.

2. Become the first recording artists anywhere in the world to have a record become a million-seller before its release.

(Their disk, “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” was issued in England Nov. 29, 1963. By Nov. 26, advance orders had passed the million mark. The same record was released in the United States by Capitol on Dec. 26, and sold over 200,000 the first week.)

3. Become the target of such adoration by their fans that they were forced to cancel all one-night bookings because of riots. Their bookings are now for three or four days, which has succeeded in making their appearances cause for a relatively minor skirmish between Beatles fans and the constabulary.

4. Sold over 3,000,000 records in England, shattering the previous sales mark held by the now-vanquished champ, Elvis Presley.

Beatles - LIFE Aug 28, 1964

Beatlemania has reached unbelievable proportions in England, it has become a form of reverse lend-lease and is spreading to the United States.

The Beatles’ arrival in the United States this weekend has been presaged by a deluge of advance publicity.

Newsweek, Time, and Life have chronicled Beatlemania, UPI and the AP have done their part for the cause (including an AP wirephoto of J. Paul Getty sporting a Beatles wig), and even Vogue shoved high fashion aside momentarily in its January issue and carried a full-page photo of the group.

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Beatles with Ed Sullivan 1964
Beatles with Ed Sullivan – 1964

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Baltimore’s Evening Sun took notice of the coming of the Beatles on its editorial.

Said the Sun: “The Beatles are coming. Those four words are said to be enough to jelly the spine of the most courageous police captain in Britain…

“Since, in this case, the Beatles are coming to America, America had better take thought as to how it will deal with the invasion… Indeed, a restrained ‘Beatles, go home,’ might be just the thing.”

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Precisely how, when, and where Beatlemania got started nobody — not even the Beatles or their manager Brian Epstein — can say for sure. (It should be noted, too, that many in Britain, including psychologists and sociologists, are devoting considerable brainpower to the problem of why Beatlemania got started at all.)

The Beatles’ are a product of Liverpool, which has a population of some 300 rock-and-roll bands (or ”beat groups,” as Liverpudlians are wont to call them.)

The beat groups hawk their musical wares in countless small cellar clubs, old stores and movie houses, even in a converted church, nearly all of which are in proximity to the Mersey River.

1964 Parade 07

Out of all these groups came somehow, the Beatles. And they had to go to Germany to do it. In order to better their Liverpool take-home pay of around $15 per week apiece, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo (so called because of his penchant for wearing at least four rings) Starr took a tramp steamer to Hamburg and a job which moved them up a bit financially, if not in class.

There, in a raucous and rowdy joint, the Indra Club, the Beatles became the first entertainers ever to play louder than the audience. There, too, they were ‘discovered’ by English promoter and talent agent, Brian Epstein, who has since become deservedly known as ”the fifth Beatle.”

Under Epstein’s shrewd guidance, the Beatles soon found themselves signing a contract with Britain’s giant Electric & Musical Industries, Ltd., the largest recording organization in the world and major stockholder in Capitol Records, Inc.; headlining concerts throughout Britain; and appearing on television.

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Their first recording, ”Love Me Do,”‘ was issued in October 1962. It sold a respectable 100,000 copies, and it was the last time a Beatles single sold less than a half-million.

Their first million-seller, ”She Loves You,” came out in the spring of 1963. It was followed by two albums, ”Please, Please Me” and “With the Beatles.” Both LPs sold over 300,000 copies.

Then, finally, came the unprecedented success of the newest single record, “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” In between, there have been three extended-play recordings, which also racked up sales of several hundred thousand apiece.

All this has resulted in what is universally known in Britain as Beatlemania, and, as Newsweek said of the young Liverpudlians, ”the sound of their music is one of the most persistent noises heard over England since the air-raid sirens were dismantled.”‘

Vintage Beatles punch-out portrait novelty magazine

Their popularity reached a pinnacle of sorts when, in November, at the request of the Royal family, The Beatles headlined the annual command performance at the Prince of Wales theatre.

It was a glittering affair and, probably out of deference to attending royalty (including the Queen Mother — she found them “young, fresh, and vital” — and Princess Margaret), notable for the absence of even a small riot.

Despite their apparent appointment as Purveyors of Rock and Roll to the Crown, the Beatles have taken the whole thing in stride.

Said Head Beatle John Lennon to the lords and ladies at the command performance: “People in the cheaper seats clap, the rest of you just rattle your jewels.”

The Beatles with instruments

Secret passage (1965)

Newsweek – August 23, 1965

Not since Normandy had an invasion been so skillfully staged.

The jet from London touched down at Kennedy International Airport on a remote runway guarded by 50 policemen. So far, so good.

Then John and George and Paul and Ringo entered automobiles and pulled off a surprise tactic — a westbound drive on an eastbound Manhattan street. That enabled them to slip into their hotel all but unnoticed by the 10,000 Beatles fans straining at police barricades.

Now the mop-topped Members of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire could relax — briefly, anyway — before heading by helicopter for a Shea Stadium concert opening their eighteen-day tour of the US and Canada.

At a press conference in their hotel, someone asked if they were bored with being Beatles. Came the cry from four millionaire musicians at once: “No!”

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Beatles - 1964

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