In October 1963, show business impresario Ed Sullivan witnessed a near riot (and had a plane delay) at Heathrow Airport outside London, where more than 15,000 screaming fans welcomed The Beatles back from an overseas concert.
When notified about the cause, Sullivan said “Who the hell are the Beatles?” (The Beatles also had not previously heard of Ed Sullivan.)
He was very impressed, and hurriedly located Brian Epstein. A deal was made; the Beatles were booked for three appearances on his show (for less that $20,000!)
Sullivan’s show was the first American TV program to host the Beatles, but ABC and NBC had shown concert footage of the group in Nov. 1963. The Dec. 7, 1963 segment of “The CBS Evening News With Walter Cronkite” featured footage of Beatle fans at a concert, and on Jan. 3, 1964, Jack Paar’s show was the first major American TV show to broadcast Beatles footage. At that point Paar was not a fan.
The entire oncoming British Invasion had its beginning in wartime and postwar baby boom (like the U.S.) and in an economic depression (unlike the U.S.) that spawned gangs of British working-class youths.
By the late 1950s-early 1960s, these baby boomers had become teenagers.
At the same time, England faced economic hardships. As a result, the country’s teens also faced hard times.
These idle, working-class teens began to form rival gangs, the Mods and the Rockers.
The Mods (short for Modernists) favored Italian-style clothes, had short hair, were pill-poppers, and took being fashionable seriously. (The Who were in this group.)
The Rockers modeled themselves after the British 1950s Teddy Boys, wore black leather jackets, tight pants, and pointed boots or suede shoes. The hair was greased back in a pompadour style, sunglasses were sometimes worn, and they rode motorcycles. (The Beatles were in this one.)
The two groups often fought one another for dominance. Many of these warring youths, lacking direction, turned to music as a way out.
In 1956, skiffle (A mix of Dixieland, jazz, and country blues; the name came from New Orleans, used to describe rent parties that were given in poor black areas to raise money.) became a huge craze among the poor and working-class teens; bands could get started with homemade instruments and little musical schooling.
The Beatles began their musical career as a skiffle band. (Other influences were American rockabilly and R + B.)
First known as The Quarrymen (John Lennon and friends from school, Quarry Bank Grammer. Paul and George joined the group later. John, Paul, and George all shared a passion for guitars.), then Johnny and The Moondogs, then The Silver Beetles, then Silver Beatles (By now John’s friend,Stuart “Stu” Sutcliffe had joined as bass guitarist.), and finally, just The Beatles (Drummer Pete Best is now in), the group hone their sound at The Cavern Club in Liverpool and at club appearances in Hamburg, Germany. (They also backed up singer Tony Sheridan, who helped the group on their first record, “My Bonnie” in 1961.)
The Beatles came from working-class families. John Winston (after Winston Churchill) Lennon, born Oct. 9, 1940, grew up with his Aunt Mimi (he was abandoned by his parents). James Paul McCartney, born June 18, 1942, was the son of a cotton salesman and sometime musician. George Harrison, born Feb. 25, 1943, was the son of a bus driver. And Ringo Starr, born Richard Starkey on July 7, 1940, was a barmaid’s son. (His father had deserted the family.) Starkey later adopted the name ‘Ringo Starr’ in emulation of his Wild West heroes.
As with most working-class youth, the group members initially wanted money and fame. When things were slow, circa 1961, there was a verbal routine they’d go through for a lift. John Lennon would shout, “Where are we going, fellas?” The others would shout back, “To the Top, Johnny!” Lennon would then shout , “What Top?” The others: “To the Toppermost of the Poppermost, Johnny!”
In Nov. 1961, Brian Epstein became the group’s manager (By now, Sutcliffe had left the group to remain in Germany; he had fallen in love with Astrid Kirchner who did the first commerical photographs of them and is credited with creating the first Beatles haircut).
Sutcliffe is often credited with the group’s name; Lennon turned it into “Beatles“. Other accounts vary; one says that Sutcliffe noted that a motorcycle gang in “The Wild Ones” movie was called “The Beetles”. (I think there’s a line in the film where Lee Marvin mentions them. The Beetles were the women in the gang.) And the band was also influenced by the name of Buddy Holly’s band, The Crickets.
Epstein, born Sept. 9, 1934, into a wealthy family, had a successful previous career as a furniture salesman. While expanding his father’s record retailing business, Epstein heard about the group, sought them out, and became the Beatles’manager (for 25%).
One of the first things he did was to retool and polish their image; the group dressed like Rockers, were not very tidy or clean, smoked as they played, ate, talked and jostled each other while on stage.
Epstein cleaned them up (and their stage manners), and put them into suits. And Pete Best was soon replaced by Ringo, previously the drummer for another popular group, Rory Storm (born Alan Caldwell) and The Hurricanes.
He also brought in other music business professionals, such as George Martin, an executive and A & R director with the Parlophone branch of the Electrical Music Industry (EMI), who, on Sept. 1962, recorded the Beatles’ first British release, “Love Me Do” and “P.S. I Love You.” He became their producer throughout the group’s career.
By early 1963, the machinery was in place to make the Beatles a national sensation.
The group soon achieved their goal, first becoming well known in their native Liverpool, and then throughout England.
In October, the Beatles gained national exposure when they performed at the London Palladium. (Beatlemania also begins to spread throughout Europe.) Within two more weeks, on Nov. 4, the group solidified their reputation , performing for the Queen at the Royal Variety Performance. (They followed Sophie Tucker and sang “Till There Was You”, “Twist And Shout” and “She Loves You“.
This was the performance that had the famous Lennon line: “Will the people in the cheaper seats clap their hands?” Looking up toward the royal box, he then says (two accounts here): “Those upstairs, just rattle your jewelry“. Or, “And the rest of you, if you’ll just rattle your jewelry“.
26 million British watched.
They were a hit.
By Dec. 1963, manufacturers started to offer Beatles products. There were: plastic Beatles guitars, miniature Beatle drums, lockets, red and blue Beatle kitchen aprons, with guitar-playing bugs.
Their faces and signatures were on: belts, rubber airbeds, shoulder bags, badges, record racks, pencils, handerchiefs, bedspreads, buttons, jigsaw puzzles, ottomans, and trays.
There was a Ringo roll, (a brand of confectionery), Beatle chewing gum with seven photos, and a northern bakery had guitar-shaped Beatles’ cakes.
Brian Epstein, at first, personally examined each product, but soon unauthorized goods appeared-the group’s name was spelled “Beetles” to get around copyright infringement. (Epstein actually may have lost billions here: he didn’t foresee the huge monetary potential.) By late 1963, the merchandising was in such a tangle that all this was handed over to Brian’s lawyer, David Jacobs (no relation; I wish!).
Jacobs, in turn, turned it over to Nicky Byrne, who made a 90% profit on the entire merchandising! (The British company was called Stramsact.)
Meanwhile, the Beatles fan club swelled to more than 800,000, two singles, “I Want To Hold Your Hand” and “She Loves You” were million sellers, and their first British album, “Please Please Me” was no. 1 for more than six months. By the end of 1963, the group had sold 11 million records and 18 million worth of Beatle products.
The Mercy Sound had become red-hot.
Even at this first stage of success, the group began questioning the value of stardom; they felt diminishing control over their music and lives.
Despite their doubts, the Beatles prepared for even greater success in America.