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50 Years Ago, The Beatles Invaded
NEW YORK– It was 50 years ago. On Feb. 9, 1964, four long-haired mop-topped British lads in matching mod suits and speaking with an exotic accent took to a TV studio stage in New York City and changed the world. They tried to overcome the deafening shrieks of the teenage girls in the audience but to no avail.
The world changed forever. American pop-culture now had something to rival the 50’s phenomena of Davey Crockett fame.
Broadcast in black and white, the program was viewed by a then-record audience of 73 million people. This was almost 50 percent of American households with TV sets. John, Paul, George and Ringo sent shockwaves throughout America. The Beatles were more than pleasant faces in skinny pants and loud guitars. They wrote and performed their own music, with John Lennon and George Harrison on guitar, Paul McCartney on bass guitar, and Ringo Starr (real name Richard Starkey) on drums.
The whole family gathered around the television. I still remember my twin-sister screaming and dancing and kissing the TV set.
They were nicknamed the Fab Four and arrived in Queens, New York on February 7th on Pan Am # 101, at the former Idlewild Airport now called John F. Kennedy Airport. It was on Clipper Defiance (N704-PA), a Boeing 707. When they had left Heathrow Airport in London, there was pandemonium. Thousands of fans had arrived from all over Britain and any ordinary passengers hoping to travel that day had to give up. Screaming, sobbing girls held up ‘We Love You, Beatles’ banners and hordes of police, linking arms in long chains, tried to hold them back. Also on the flight were Brian Epstein, Neil Aspinall and Mal Evans, record producer Phil Spector and his group the Ronettes plus dozens of journalists and photographers.
At the JFK Airport press conference they were peppered with goofy questions. John was asked by a reporter, “How do you find America?’’ John responded, “Turn left at Greenland.’’ The line got so many laughs that the bit was repeated in their 1964 movie “A Hard Day’s Night.’’
America, traumatized by President John F. Kennedy’s assassination just 79 days earlier and wrenched by the escalating Vietnam War, looked for distractions. The irreverent guys from Liverpool fit the bill. They put their mark on every facet of American culture, from fashion and hairstyles to the way we thought about youth and superstardom. The British rock-n-roll invasion was on.
The boys were herded into individual limos (one for each Beatle) and ushered to the Plaza Hotel at 5th Ave. and Central Park South. All along the route, disk jockey Murray Kane offered a running commentary on their whereabouts over the radio. By the time The Beatles got to their hotel, 4,000 screaming teenagers were there to meet them.
That night’s lineup on “The Ed Sullivan Show got trampled by The Beatles. Included were: the Broadway cast of “Oliver!” (a young Davy Jones was The Artful Dodger); comedian/impressionist Frank Gorshin; magician Fred Kaps; acrobats Wells & The Four Fays; singer Tessie O’Shea and married comics McCall & Brill.
Seven months later, on their second tour of the United States, The Beatles performed in Detroit. It was their 14th stop. On Sunday, September 6, 1964, The Beatles performed two concerts at the 15,000-capacity Detroit Olympia. It was SRO at the ‘Old Barn’ on Grand River Avenue. The other acts on the bill were, in order of appearance, The Bill Black Combo, The Exciters, Clarence ‘Frogman’ Henry, and Jackie DeShannon. The Motor City was the place of origin for the music the Beatles had professed to love in almost every interview and press conference — The Detroit Sound, and the recording artists of the Tamla-Motown label.
After the show they stayed at the Whittier Hotel. Following their departure the sheets they slept on were purchased by a radio station and cut into small squares, which were then sold to fans.
On April 4, 1964, the Beatles had the top five songs on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart — an achievement never equaled. The group created a musical legacy by continually reinventing themselves.
By Raymond Rolak