America in late 1963-early 1964 was still mourning the death of President Kennedy, but the beat went on, and clean-cut, “dreamy” teen idols still ruled the charts.
One of its members, Bobby Vinton, just had another no. 1 smash, “There! I’ve Said It Again” in Jan. 1964. (The next no. 1 would herald a complete changing of the guard, so to speak.)
The Beach Boys were considered the next “big thing“. (They were immensely successful, and probably would have been the “thing” if the Beatles hadn’t come along.)
And the prevailing attitude of most American concert promoters and other entertainment personnel was that foreign groups and singers were basically novelty acts, a flash in the pan, or not to be taken seriously. And a foreign act doing American rock and roll?!!
But Brian Epstein was paving the way for his group and the entire British Invasion, convincing Capitol Records to spend $50,000 on a “crash publicity program“. The company plastered 5 million “The Beatles Are Coming” stickers on buildings, fences, and telephone poles in every state and printed a million copies of a four-page tabloid about the group. Executives pressed 1 million units of a promotional, 7-inch Beatles interview record (it gave radio listeners the impression that the Beatles had personally contacted every DJ in the country.)
Capitol also convinced several major publications to run stories on the group, pre-arrival. TIME featured them in their Nov. 15, 1963 issue; Newsweek covered them Nov. 18. On Jan. 31, 1964, Life published a color spread entitled “Here Come The Beatles“.
Radio pitched in as well. On Dec. 17, 1963, a DJ at WWDC (in Washington, DC), James Carroll, became the first person to play a Beatles record on American airwaves. It was “I Want To Hold Your Hand“, which Carroll had obtained from his stewardess girlfriend who brought the single back from England. Due to listener demand, it played daily, every hour. Capitol initially considered court action, since the record haven’t been released yet in the U.S., but instead released the single earlier than planned. (The release date for “I Want To Hold Your Hand”-Jan. 13, 1964.)
Upon official release, every major, medium, and small-size radio station then proceeded to blitz the U.S.
“I Want To Hold Your Hand” entered the charts at no. 83; by Feb. 1, the song had replaced Bobby Vinton’s “There! I’ve Said It Again” as the new no. 1 smash (for seven weeks!) Beatlemania had begun to sweep the country.
It was Friday, Feb. 7, 1964 at Kennedy International Airport, New York City, New York.
Outside, masses of screaming teenagers, mostly girls, waited for more than eight hours in the cold. Inside the terminal, more than 9,000 teenage girls jostled each other to try to get to the arrival entrance. As time seemed to pass slowly, the crowd was comforted by a voice from a transistor radio: “It’s now 6:30 am. Beatle time. They left London 30 minutes ago. They’re out over the Atlantic Ocean heading for New York. The temperature is 32 Beatles degrees.”
Then the plane came into view, nearing its destination. Wild screams and wailing frenzies broke out. The girls started to half chant, half sing, “We love you, Beatles, oh yes we do.”
The plane, landing safely, reached the hangar. As passengers started descending the steps, Capitol Records employees passed out “Beatle kits” containing wigs, autographed photos, and a “I Like The Beatles” button.
And then, shortly after 1 pm., Eastern Standard Time (EST), descending from Pan American (Pan Am) Yankee Clipper Flight 101, wearing buttoned-down, Edwardian suits from Pierre Cardin and mushroom-shaped haircuts, the four walked out.
The Beatles had arrived in America. After almost 150 years, the second British Invasion had begun. This time the Brits would be victorious.
The group left the airport, dashing into a waiting chauffeured limousine, as hundreds of frantic, still-screaming girls hurled themselves at the car, clinging to the hood, the roof, and the sides.
After breaking loose from the crowd, the group headed for the airport complex to conduct the now legendary press conference.
“Are you going to have a haircut while you’re in America?” John: “We had one yesterday.” “Will you sing something for us?” John: “We need money first.” “What’s your secret?” George: “If we knew that, we’d each form a group and be managers.” “Was your family in show business?” John: “Well, me dad used to say me mother was a great performer.” “What do you think of the campaign in Detroit to stamp out the Beatles?” Paul: “We’ve got a campaign of our own to stamp out Detroit.”
And then on to the Plaza Hotel.
The group had to be protected by armed guards, for many tried to infiltrate the twelfth floor. Fans stood outside the hotel for 24 hours, chanting “We want the Beatles, we want the Beatles.”
Sunday evening, Feb. 9th arrived. At least 728 teenagers packed into the studio from which The Ed Sullivan Show was broadcast. They were the lucky ones; 50,000 others had also wanted tickets.
It was time. Sullivan introduced the foursome-“and now, the Beeeatles!”-the place erupted. Screaming, wailing, fainting! And no one had even sung a note yet.
And then there they were; Paul, bobbing back and forth, Ringo, smiling, John, yelling lyrics over the din,(Legend has it that there were captions shown underneath each Beatle. John’s caption was “Sorry girls, he’s married“.) and George, just looking down at his guitar (He had the flu!). They performed five songs: “All My Loving”, “Till There Was You”, “She Loves You”, “I Saw Her Standing There“, and “I Want To Hold Your Hand“.
The show was extremely successful; it was to be a night that changed the course of American culture. From 70-73 million (accounts vary) people, more than 60% of all TV viewers, watched. A congratulations telegram from Elvis Presley was read on the program. On that night, America’s crime rate was lower than at any time during the previous 50 years.
From New York City, on Feb. 11, the group gave their first live performance in the U.S. at the Washington Coliseum. They also performed at New York’s Carnegie Hall. (David Niven and Shirley MacLaine wanted to attend, but were unable to get tickets to this one.)
Their second Ed Sullivan appearance in mid-Feb. captured an audience of 70 million. (The third appearance on Feb. 23 was a taped performance of three songs.)
By the third week of Feb., America was infested with Beatlemania.