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Saturday, February 07, 2009

John. Paul. George. Ringo. 45 Years.

It was 45 years ago today that four guys came from across the Atlantic on a mission. It was to conquer America and in the process they completely wiped clean and redrew the entire face of popular music.

The Beatles arrived amid great fanfare and thousands of screaming teenage girls. They had two wildly successful albums in the UK and nothing left to accomplish in their home country and knew that if they were ever going to have any worldwide success, America had to be won over.

They arrived at John F. Kennedy Airport (which had just been renamed for the late president the previous December) and met the press as soon as they got off their plane. Reporters seemed more interested in their hair length than their music, but they won over many of them with their good humor.

Their conquest of America had actually begun the previous month, when "I Want to Hold Your Hand" was released and by the end of January it was number one. Actually, Beatlemania had first reached American shores on November 22, 1963, when CBS broadcast a five minute segment on the group on the CBS Morning News. It was scheduled to run on the news that night, but that was the day President Kennedy was assassinated and was canceled.

The Beatles stayed at the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan with a throng of girls on the street. George Harrison was actually ill with a high fever and missed the first rehearsals of the Ed Sullivan Show, the popular Sunday night variety show they were going to appear on two nights later.

And on that February 9th night, just about every American would know who the Beatles were. An amazing 74 million people (almost half the US population at the time) tuned in to watch the Beatles play "All My Loving,""Till Their Was You," "She Loves You," "I Saw Her Standing Her There" and "I Want to Hold Your Hand." (I was too young to remember that night, I was just 2 years old. But my parents have told me that me and my two sisters were dancing in front our TV set to the Beatles that night. I only wish I had that on film.) BTW, also appearing on Ed Sullivan that night were impressionist Frank Gorshin, who would go on to fame as the Riddler on the TV series "Batman," and a British singer/actor named Davy Jones, who would ironically a few years later be part of the obvious Beatles parody, The Monkees.

The Beatles were a smash that night, although some critics said they were a "passing fad" and "couldn't carry a tune." From New York, the Beatles would go on to Washington, DC and played their first concert at the Washington Coliseum two nights later. Beatlemania was on in America, and there would be no stopping it.

It's been 45 years since the Beatles arrived on these shores. Now this happens every Tuesday and Wednesday night on "American Idol": tens of millions watch amateurs, polished/vanilla or outrageous singers who compete for a record contract. Then they are "produced" to the masses much like the pretty, polished, produced singers that ruled the airwaves before the Beatles got here. This country might be in more trouble than we thought.

The similarities of American Idol to the pre-Beatles America are frightening. Fabian, Ricky Nelson, Paul Anka (although he was different I think he might have written a few of his songs). Even the girls and the girl groups were "manufactured". Some of the producers were genius mind you (Phil Spector comes to mind) but The Beatles gave hope to the Youth. That Rock and Roll could be written and original and meant for youth, instead of the masses.

I just got an iPod for the first time this past December, and one of the first things I put it in were all of my Beatles CDs. Their sound still sounds as fresh and as vibrant as the first time I heard them. The Beatles always succeed in taking my mind away from the miserable state that current pop music is right now. I'll listen to the Beatles until the die I leave this world. And I'll always thank them for having such a positive influence on my life.

But 45 years? Where has it gone?

My thanks to my friend and fellow Beatlemaniac Billy DePasquale for contributing to this article.


Peter N said...

Hi John...I've been a Beatle devotee since I heard I WANT TO HOLD YOUR HAND, which was actually their fifth released single, following Love Me Do/PS I Love You, Please Please Me (their first #1 in the UK), From Me To You, She Loves You and I Want To Hold Your Hand. Can't Buy Me Love followed and for a while, it was the number one ever selling Capitol single. I loved them.

I remember sitting with my brother and my parents in front of the circular B&W TV that night in February 1964, and even with a microphone disfunction, they were great. And that was it for me! I was even lucky enough, with the help of my Dad, to order some of those early albums in their true versions, from the UK mega-store Harrods. I had Rubber Soul with Drive My Car as the opening cut almost before anyone. Where did those years go? I feel the same, but the years have passed by.

Great post...thank you. As George wrote and sang, ALL THINGS MUST PASS, and two of them have... John brutally murdered and George succumbing to the ravages of cigarette induced cancer. On that day, I gently weeped.

The Omnipotent Q said...

Thanks for sharing your memories, Peter. They last forever.