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Boomer's Journal - Beatlemania

By Rachel Barduson

A long-time family friend, neighbor and fellow Evansville school bus route rider, Jim Standish, asked me a few months ago if I knew what happened in February of 1964.

He was talking about The Beatles.

What do you remember about the British Invasion of Feb. 7, 1964? It was on that day that The Beatles first stepped foot on American soil and a new phase in rock-and-roll history began. John, Paul, George and Ringo arrived at Kennedy Airport in New York with thousands of screaming fans there to welcome them. Two nights later the Beatles recorded history as they sang to screaming fans on the Ed Sullivan Show and thousands of households across the country were able to tune in on what were mostly black and white television sets. It has been recorded that 73 million viewers watched their performance.

The Beatles -- John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr --- make an arrival at JFK airport in New York City on Feb. 7, 1964. Public domain photo

My sister Louise and I have decided we were possibly the only two people in the entire world who missed that television performance. The hoopla about a new British band wasn’t realized so much by our family on a farm on the Grant/Douglas County line in the middle of Minnesota.

Louise was a senior at Evansville High School when the Beatles arrived. Jim Standish was a junior. I was in the fifth grade and my recollections of this historic landing are much smaller on the global scale. As my sister and I reminisced we concluded that we probably did not get the channel that Ed Sullivan aired on. The only channel we did get was Channel 7 airing from Alexandria. Someone else will have to answer that question for me – did Channel 7 – KCMT television air Ed Sullivan? What we know for sure is that we did not see them that night, on Feb. 9, 1964, two days after they first arrived in NYC.

Where were you when Beatlemania began?

What I remember most about that epic time in history happened in the lunch room at school. It’s quite a bit more simple and it goes like this: Mrs. Strand and Mrs. Borgrud, our school cooks, donned Beatles wigs to serve lunch one day. There was only this one day that they donned those wigs...that I remember anyway. Although we may have had curious and confused looks as to why our school cooks were wearing wigs that looked like silly hairstyles, we were told it was all about the Beatles. Everyone thought it was funny; They were a hit while they served lunch. It was fun and a great time was had by all. I guess. I was only 10 years old and it’s really the only thing I remember about the Beatles arriving on American soil, and I’m sticking to it.

It’s interesting what we remember about certain “historic” events in our lifetime. On a serious note, I remember exactly where I was sitting in the fifth grade when Mrs. Lang told us that President John F. Kennedy had been shot in Dallas, Texas, and school would be dismissed immediately. This happened in my sister’s senior year of high school.

In February of 1964, whether my sister, my neighbor Jimmy Standish, or I knew it...Beatlemania had begun. In reality, across the pond, it had already begun in the fall of 1963 and we actually were just trying to catch up on the news. Although The Beatles had not arrived in America yet, they had appeared on television in America in November, 1963. My sister and I, and maybe Jimmy, missed that television appearance too.

Here are a few “did you know” fun facts about when the Beatles, before they came to America, and after:

• On October 13, 1963, the frenzy surrounding the Beatles was given a name: Beatlemania, after the group’s landmark appearance on Sunday Night at the London Palladium. It was Britain’s top-rated entertainment program, the equivalent of the Ed Sullivan Show. The Beatles were the main attraction that night – the closing act – and their appearance triggered pandemonium, inside the theatre and out.  They performed four songs before a rapt national television audience estimated at 15 million.

• American journalists picked up the story. “Thousands of Britons ‘Riot’ – Liverpool Sound Stirs up Frenzy,” headlined the Washington Post. Time magazine described Beatlemania in vivid detail in an article headlined “The New Madness.” That same week, NBC, CBS and ABC dispatched crews to cover the Beatles performing at the Winter Gardens Theater in Bournemouth. The date was Saturday, Nov. 16, 1963 and NBC was the first to air the following Monday with its report by Edwin Newman. CBS aired a story on its morning show that Friday, Nov. 22. CBS’s plans to air a story that same night were scrapped after the assassination of President Kennedy that afternoon. ABC apparently never aired a story.

• Almost three months before they arrived in New York in February, 1964, Huntley-Brinkley featured a report by Edwin Newman on the Beatles phenomenon. They first appeared on American television on Nov. 18, 1963. The four-minute piece was seen by millions of people across the country. It was the biggest single audience for the Beatles anywhere outside England up to that moment. 

• The Beatles’ appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show was the single most significant moment in pop music on Feb. 9, 1964. The show marked the beginning of the Beatles first U.S. 10-day tour. 

• TV and news coverage raised awareness of the Beatles, feeding a growing appetite for their music among American record-buyers. The Kennedy assassination had left Americans hungry for something to feel good about. Eleven weeks after Dallas, the spark of Beatlemania jumped the Atlantic and set fire to a huge American audience. 

• In December 1963, Capitol Records released the song “I Saw Her Standing There” as the B-side on the label’s first single by the Beatles, “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” which exploded onto U.S. airwaves, charting for 15 weeks, including a phenomenal seven weeks at number one. When John, Paul, George and Ringo arrived in New York City on Feb. 7, 1964, the Beatles were at the top of the charts, just where they said they would be.

As a 10-year-old during that time in February, 1964, I wasn’t paying as much attention to The Beatles as I was to the upcoming Valentine’s Day party and the annual fifth grade versus sixth grade boys basketball game. This game was a big deal for us fifth and sixth graders. This was kind of our big opportunity to pretend we were like the high and the gymnasium no less. (When I was in fifth grade our class lost the big game. When I was a sixth grader, our class won the big game – as was the typical outcome every year.

Yes, as a mere 10-year-old fifth grader, February 1964 was memorable in part, because of The Beatles, who influenced the world of pop culture, fashion, and  music for the remainder of the 60s and on into the future.

The Beatles. The Fab Four. Beatlemania. So much history. So much more to write...yet where to start with such a phenomenon of our time. Let’s just start by bringing it closer to home...what were you doing when The Beatles first touched down on American soil?

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