Fifty years ago today four lads from Liverpool
were taking America by storm. In the process John, Paul, George and Ringo became the biggest band in the world as everyone clamoured for a piece of The Beatles
The lads arrived in New York on Pan Am Flight 101 from London on February 7, 1964.
As well as the Fab Four, there was an entourage of photographers and journalists – including the ECHO’s music reporter George Harrison (yes, George Harrison, no, not that one).
George reported: “There were fantastic scenes at London Airport today as Liverpool’s Beatles left, all set to conquer America. As they settled in their seats on a Boeing jet, bound for New York, there was a momentary silence. Then in a torrent, came wails and sobs. Hands screwed up handkerchiefs in anguish. And hundreds of girls trooped miserably home
“As the Beatles walked to the aircraft hundreds of love letters, badges, photographs, jelly babies, and loads of fan mail rained down from the spectators’ gallery on the roof of the transatlantic departure terminal building.”
The ECHO estimated that 300 people were on the roof waving off the Fab Four.
“Screams drowned the noise of the huge jets taking off nearby,” read the report. “Don’t go Paul!’ and ‘We want Ringo’ the teenagers screamed.”
And then, in a description the ECHO would never use nowadays, the piece describes: “A blonde, chubby girl, with Beatle badges all over her coat and tears all over her face, shouted: ‘Look at me, George!’
“The four Liverpool lads arrived at the airport with a strong police guard. They were taken to the conference room and given refreshments. Nearly 300 fans were directed on to the roof by a strong force of police. Before they boarded their aircraft, the boys posed for photographers, nervously twiddled fingers, smoked cigarettes and signed autographs for airport and airline staff.”
The report also said: “Travelling with the group and their manager is John Lennon’s wife, Cynthia. She hung in the background, shyly talking to friends. ‘I’m nervous and excited at the same time,’ was her only comment.”
The ECHO that day carried a brief interview with the lads.
“We are a bit nervous,” said Paul. “We are not worried about the crowds – we just hope that we go down well over there.”
A few minutes before they left a message was flashed from New York to manager Brian Epstein at London Airport. It read: “Congratulations, The records She Loves You and I Wanna Hold Your Hand have to-day reached joint number one position.”
The Beatles had arrived and popular music had changed forever.
Arrival in America
When the group arrived at New York’s newly renamed John F. Kennedy Airport, they were greeted by a large crowd, with 4,000 fans and 200 journalists. A few people were injured by the crush and the airport had not previously experienced such a large crowd.
The ECHO described the day in detail: “Police have made special arrangements to deal with demonstrations by teenagers, who have been whipped to a frenzy of anticipation by repeated playing of their records by America’s disc jockeys.
“The New York World-Telegram has called the Beatles ‘England’s Hair-apparents to the rock-and-roll crown’ and prophesied that the Beatle wigs may become the hottest selling item since hula hoops.
“Ed Sullivan, a leading TV personality, was photographed wearing a Beatle wig and swore he would wear it on his show on Sunday, when the Liverpool boys make their first live performance on US screens.”
The scenes when the Beatles arrived at the newly named John Kennedy International Airport (which used to be Idlewild), were the first big shock for New Yorkers.
More than a hundred police has been specially brought in to control crowds, but had a tough job.
George’s report said: “One perspiring sergeant told me ‘In ten years of duty on arrivals of important visitors, I have never seen anything like this. Nobody – not even the President of the United States – ever had a reception to beat these Beatles.”
An official of the airport commented: “Until today our biggest crowd was for Fidel Castro’s visit, but this is far bigger.”
After a press conference, where they first met disc jockey Murray the K, the Beatles were put into limousines – one per Beatle – and driven to New York.
On the way, Paul turned on a radio and listened to a running commentary, which said: “They have just left the airport and are coming to New York City…”
When New York turned into Beatletown USA
BEATLEMANIA was in full force when the Fab Four got to the Plaza Hotel. The band were besieged by fans and reporters. The Journal American carried a poster front page of John, Paul, George and Ringo waving to squealing, yelling youngsters at Kennedy International Airport with the headline: “It’s Beatletown USA.”
The ECHO reported: “This staggered city is still wondering exactly what hit it when four shaggy-maned lads from Liverpool, the Beatles, arrived to whip up a teenage tornado such as it had never before experienced.”
The four shell-shocked Beatles made their way around town seeing the sights and getting over their jetlag.
The next day the ECHO said: “Already, the kids are grouping again for a second day’s affectionate offensive outside our Plaza hotel in plush Fifth Avenue. But the Beatles are still sleeping after last night’s sightseeing on Broadway.
“Today they face rehearsals for tomorrow night’s first appearance on the Ed Sullivan television show, which is the top guest programme in the United States, watched by millions.
“Hundreds of teenagers have come long distances to be there,” the ECHO’s George Harrison reported. “Two to whom I talked had travelled 300 miles from a town in Vermont, and others had hitch-hiked from the neighbouring states of Connecticut, New Jersey and New Hampshire. Police informed me that the first arrivals reached the airport at four o’clock in the morning, although our plane was not due until the early afternoon, local time.
“Fifteen-years-old Regina Kaye, of Brooklyn, and her sister Helene, aged 14, said they didn’t go to bed, but left home at three o’clock on a pilgrimage to the airport.
When I asked why Regina replied: ‘These Beatles are wonderful. They tear us apart, and we had to see them’.”
The fans were mad for the band and screamed day and night at them – even at John, who was accompanied by his wife.
The ECHO described Cynthia as: “John Lennon’s sweet young silver-blonde wife, who is in the party but keeping well in the background. Knowing he is married, girl fans on the airport observation balcony made him a special target for a chant which repeated: ‘John get divorced! John, get divorced!’
“The Beatles face a hectic time while here. There is a television show tomorrow night and a tele-recording of another one beforehand for broadcasting in three weeks time. There is a concert in Washington on Tuesday, with the possibility of meeting President Johnson afterwards, and two evening performances on Wednesday at Carnegie Hall. Then they leave on Thursday for Miami Beach Florida to rest awhile, rehearse still more, and prepare for another Sullivan television show from Miami on the following Sunday.”
But George, the youngest Beatle, was taken ill. He had tonsillitis and was ordered to stay in bed, so Neil Aspinall, the band’s personal assistant, replaced him on guitar during the first rehearsal for The Ed Sullivan Show.
Outside the hotel, police clashed with fans and photographers who tried to catch a glimpse of the boys. They tried every trick to get into the hotel and try to reach The Beatles in their £1,000 a week suite on the 12th floor. Inside the hotel, a dozen security guards were on watch day and night.
Outside, angry cameramen protested when officers stopped them taking pictures of The Beatles on Fifth Avenue and Broadway against a background of Manhattan skyscrapers.
Eventually the picture location was fixed for Central Park, which was almost deserted under a thin mantle of snow, and there, free from police interference, The Beatles posed for the cameras.
But, as Ringo put it: “We could have got pictures like this in Sefton Park instead of coming all this way.”
With The Beatles it’s the Beat that counts: A New York teenage fan explains
It’s hard to explain what makes the Beatles so wonderful because I don’t completely understand why I think they are
Anti-Beatleites (believe it or not, there are a few) simply cannot understand why other people are crazy about the Beatles.
“Good heavens!” they exclaim. ‘They’re not even good looking.’ As if that should explain everything.
Well, maybe they’re not really good looking in the conventional sense of the word, but looks aren’t everything. A friend of mine, a rabid Beatle fan, got so disgusted when people kept telling her they weren’t good looking that she screamed: “I don’t care if they’re four dogs! Their music is fantastic and that’s all I care about.”
And their music is fantastic.
To the average adult it would sound like nothing more than a conglomeration of assorted noises, screams, howls and other unclassified sounds.
To the ecstatic teenager lying in front of her hi-fi it’s sheer heaven.
Its insistent beat (which is how the Beatles got their name) is great to dance all the latest dances to including the new one called The Beatle.
Perhaps most important of all, the songs are about subjects the teenagers can identify.
What teenagers, feeling depressed and unhappy wouldn’t be comforted by hearing the glorious voices of the Beatles sympathise with them in Misery?
The mere title of one of their records, Boys, is enough to send millions of teenage girls to the record stores. With a title like that, it has to be good!
The Beatles have such magnetic personalities that it is impossible for any girl to resist them.
Whether they’re good looking or not, they’re certainly different. They have wild senses of humour. Then asked why he wore four rings on his fingers, Ringo replied, “Because I can’t fit them all through my nose.”
I don’t know exactly why girls fall in love with the Beatles.
All I know is, when John growls during a song, “Okay, George – Give it to ‘em,” a chill runs down the spine of every girl listening.
They were watched by about two-fifths of the total American population
On February 9 1964, The Beatles made their first live US television appearance. A staggering 73 million viewers – about two-fifths of the total American population – watched the group perform on The Ed Sullivan Show.
According to the Nielsen ratings audience measurement system, the show had the largest number of viewers that had ever been recorded for a US television program.
Before the show, the Beatles were thrilled to receive a cable from Elvis Presley, wishing them luck. As they waited to go on air, offers of extraordinary money were already being phoned in for them to go to Canada, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Chicago to perform there too.
Paul said in the 1995 documentary series, Anthology: “Seventy-three million people were reported to have watched the first show. It is still supposed to be one of the largest viewing audiences ever in the States.
“It was very important. We came out of nowhere with funny hair, looking like marionettes or something. That was very influential. I think that was really one of the big things that broke us – the hairdo more than the music, originally. A lot of people’s fathers had wanted to turn us off. They told their kids, ‘Don’t be fooled, they’re wearing wigs.’”
George was still suffering with tonsillitis. Neil Aspinall had stood in for a rehearsal during the day.
He said: “I stood in for him so that they could mark where everyone would stand, and I had a guitar strapped round me. It wasn’t plugged in – nobody was playing anything – and it was amazing to read in a major American magazine a few days later that I ‘played a mean guitar’.”
It was decided that he could go on for the show but would have to cut down his singing – increasing the pressure on Paul and John. Nevertheless, the band wowed the packed crowd.
The first three numbers they sang were All My Loving, followed by Till There Was You and what was described as their famous Yeah-yeah-yeah song She Loves You.
In the second half of the programme they played I Saw Her Standing There and I Want To Hold Your Hand.
The studio audience, who comprised most of the lucky 750 who had obtained tickets (out of 50,000 applicants), screamed, stamped, danced in their seats and wept in ecstasy at seeing their idols in the flesh.
Paul said: “We’d been told that most of the tickets had gone to businessmen and important city people, and we sort of wondered how our stuff would go down with an audience like that, but it’s obvious they handed their tickets over to their kids, so that was just fine.”
Ed Sullivan said afterwards: “These lads are incredible. I’ve been in the business for a long time, but I can’t remember anything like the reaction they’ve produced tonight.”
At the end of the programme he described then as “Britain’s wonderful ambassadors for goodwill.”
The ECHO report said: “No question of it – these long-haired lads from Liverpool have captured the imagination of this American continent.
“Yet, when I met them later, they were not too happy. They complained that John Lennon’s particular microphone hadn’t been powerful enough to bring his voice through strongly – though, let me admit, it sounded alright to me.
“They all agreed the audience had been marvellous, and that their welcome had been more enthusiastic than they’d ever expected.
“Long after the television transmission had finished, the audience in the studio theatre was still yelling for the Beatles to come back. Barriers were placed round the entire block off Broadway where the theatre stands, and 100 police with batons twirling, patrolled the area, moving in on scores of groups of youngsters who wanted to see the Beatles arrive and depart.
“When asked “Do you think it right that children should stay away from school to come here and welcome you?” Ringo replied: “You can’t mean they haven’t been given a holiday today?
“From all over the United States, messages congratulating them on their triumphant debut poured in.
“It was reported that the Ed Sullivan Show will undoubtedly be the biggest in Sullivan’s 15 years of television. It may reach as high as 30,000,000, the overwhelming majority of them teenagers.
“The suggestion is now being made that, following three Sullivan shows on this side of the Atlantic, our modest, magnificent foursome should do three more follow-up shows for Sullivan in England.”
Years later, Paul said of the show: “A lot of fathers did turn it off, but a lot of mothers and children made them keep it on. All these kids are now grown-up, and telling us they remember it. It’s like, ‘Where were you when Kennedy was shot?’ I get people like Dan Aykroyd saying, ‘Oh man, I remember that Sunday night; we didn’t know what had hit us – just sitting there watching Ed Sullivan’s show.’
“Up until then there were jugglers and comedians like Jerry Lewis, and then, suddenly, The Beatles.”
Ringo added: “The main thing I was aware of when we did the first Ed Sullivan Show was that we rehearsed all afternoon. TV had such bad sound equipment – it still has today, usually, but then it was really bad – that we would tape our rehearsals and then go up and mess with the dials in the control booth. We got it all set with the engineer there, and then we went off for a break.
“The story has it that while we were out, the cleaner came in to clean the room and the console, thought, ‘What are all these chalk marks?’ and wiped them all off. So our plans just went out the window. We had a real hasty time trying to get the sound right.”
Tourists? No, the biggest band in the world
After the Ed Sullivan show the band stayed in New York to do more interviews. They were the darlings of the media, and on the front of the newspapers across America.
Despite the hectic schedule the band were on sparkling form, batting back witty answers to even the dullest questions.
Photographers snapped day and night while the Beatles obligingly balanced ash-trays on their heads, feigned cutting each other’s hair, ate chicken – or simply yawned.
And they never gave the same answer twice.
At one press conference a reporter asked: “Who would you like to have as leading lady in your film?”
George Harrison promptly replied: “The Queen – she sells in England, you know.”
Another queried: “What do you think of New York?”
Paul McCartney said: “We haven’t seen much, but what we’ve seen is great,” and John Lennon added with a straight face: “It’s tall, too.”
When asked how they felt about appearing at two more concerts in New York’s plush Carnegie Hall, all four of them chorused “wonderful” with an additional from John, “Let’s hope the mics are on.”
That was a dig at the Sullivan show technicians, who had allowed John’s microphone to drop below proper power during Sunday’s television performance.
The press loved Paul’s answer to “What do you think of the Playboy Club?”
“The Playboy and I,” Paul said, “are just good friends.”
But it is George who is really suspected of being the gag writer.
“Why aren’t you wearing a tie?” asked a supercilious lady. “Why aren’t you wearing a hat?” asked George.
The writers asked him if the place he was brought up in was a bit like Greenwich Village. “No,” said George. “More like Bowery.”
One lady asked Ringo which was the biggest threat to their career, the atom bomb or dandruff.
“The atom bomb,” he said promptly. “We’ve got dandruff already.”
One polite person said she was sorry to interrupt while they were eating but what did they think they would be doing in five years’ time, when this was all over.
“Still eating,” said John,
One woman told Paul he looked just like her son. “You don’t look a bit like my mother,” replied Paul politely.
One man of many years’ experience said: “ It’s a funny thing. I didn’t think much of them at first. Now I feel kind of fond of them.”
In Washington, an English hairdresser said: “It’s frightful to admit, but, with some modification, nearly everyone in Liverpool wears his hair that way.”
There, Lady Ormsby-Gore, wife of the British Ambassador, sent an invitation to the Beatles to attend her charity ball after their show.
They also received two gold discs to mark million dollar sales in America of their long-player, Meet the Beatles and single I Want To Hold Your Hand, and then signed a contract to appear in three films for United Artists.
Shooting on the first movie was to start shortly after their return to England.
John told the ECHO: “No title has yet been fixed, but it will have the word Beatles in it somewhere, I understand. Can we act? We’re going to have a bash, but we don’t reckon to be a bunch of Richard Burtons.”
The final stop on their 10-day trip was Florida.
“According to reports from Miami Beach, where the Beatles go on Thursday to prepare for next Sunday’s second live Ed Sullivan show from the luxury Deauville Hotel, security precautions there will be even stricter,” said the ECHO.
A Deauville Hotel spokesman said: “We shall have 80 guards on duty to prevent our guests being disturbed.”
The Beatles travelled to Miami from New York on February 13. Their arrival was watched by 7,000 fans, who had been alerted to The Beatles’ presence by local radio stations WFUN and WQAM.
“Miami was like paradise,” Paul said on Anthology. “We had never been anywhere where there were palm trees. We were real tourists; we had our Pentax cameras and took a lot of pictures. I’ve still got a lot of photos of motorcycle cops with their guns. We’d never seem a policeman with a gun, and those Miami cops did look pretty groovy. We had a great time there.”
The Beatles’ second appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show was to take place at their Miami hotel, the Deauville one week after their record-breaking debut.
There was an audience of 2,600 – but there were 3,500 tickets issued, and police had to calm angry ticket holders who were denied entry.
The Beatles performed six songs: She Loves You, This Boy, All My Loving, I Saw Her Standing There, From Me To You and I Want To Hold Your Hand.
The show was watched by an estimated 70 million people.
Ed Sullivan said of the lads: “The thing that impresses me most about the Beatles is that despite their youth they are real professionals.
“ That’s about the highest compliment you can give a person in show business.
“It’s obvious to me they were brought up right. They are polite, intelligent, youngsters. They’re gentlemen.”
After a couple of days off The Beatles flew from Miami to New York, where they boarded an aeroplane to take them to London. They arrived back in the UK following day.
They had been away for only a few days but in that time everything had changed. America had fallen in love with The Beatles and Britain’s hold on the band had slipped, ever so slightly on what was fast becoming the biggest band in the world.