Hardcore Beatle fans know that 49 years ago this week in 1964, America was invaded by the British. It was a fast and decisive battle. No blood was shed and it took only 15 minutes.
British: 4, America: 0.
On February 7, 1964, The Beatles landed in the U.S. (with future Let It Be producer Phil Spector also on the plane, having flown over to England and back again just to be with The Beatles on their first transatlantic flight). Capitol Records, their new U.S. label, went into a panicked promotion mode that spun completely out of control and New York City’s AM radio djs broadcast a simple message to youngsters everywhere from the invaders: the Beatles are coming!
Kids cut school. TV networks sent film crews. Mayhem ensued. Mission accomplished. And they hadn’t even plugged in yet.
But just who these guys? There had never been a popular rock and roll band before. No had cared who backed up Elvis or Buddy Holly. The Beatles spoke English but it wasn’t the Queen’s English. Their hair was long but their suits were well cut. They laughed at private jokes. They quietly insulted journalists. They lit cigarettes during interviews. One of the Beatles even quoted Joyce---backwards. Who were these guys?
After the Fab’s plane landed, the band held a press conference in the Pan-Am lounge in newly designated John F. Kennedy airport and right away, the hard boiled journalists in attendance (who had made their beats in court houses and morgues) realized this “four-headed monster” (as Mick Jagger called them) not only didn’t take the press seriously, they didn’t seem to take themselves seriously either. “Sing!” cried out a reporter. "No," said John Lennon, "we need money first.”
The final battle of this bloodless coup took place the following Sunday night and from the first notes of "All My Loving," The Beatles owned America. In seconds, the lads showed what a stage-splintering live act they still were. 45% of American homes tuned in (some say more). The performance even brought the crime rate down nationally during the broadcast. And musicians all over America—from Bob Dylan to Sam Cooke to young Roger McGuinn noted that something was happening and that ‘something’ was The Beatles.
The Beatles were more than Elvis x 4. Elvis, for all his musical gifts and uncanny knack for connecting with an audience, was--at heart--a kid, much like the kids who bought his records. The Beatles, on the other hand, were adults--street tough musicians who had raised themselves up playing bordellos, bars, and theaters in Hamburg and Liverpool for four years straight, night after night.
The sound The Beatles made was just as bizarre—and exciting—as their wit. It combined R&B grooves with country harmonies, Duane Eddy guitar licks, and a Cajun drum beat turned inside out. With the exception of Motown, Vee Jay in Chicago, and Sam Cooke's SAR records--all African-American owned labels--there was virtually nothing close to rock and roll in the U.S. on February 7, 1964.
So for the kids of 1964, a rock and roll band was a shock—something completely unimagined—and we’ve been dealing with the aftershocks ever since. The Beatles re-made pop music in their image that night at the Ed Sullivan Theater and the impression they made is still what drives pop music today. Many of you are reading this story on a computer named after The Beatles’s record company which they formed a mere three years later.
If you've ever wondered what all the fuss was about or doubted it was that big a deal, Albert and David Maysles film The Beatles: The First U.S. Visit (originally shown as What's Happening! The Beatles In the USA) is a fantastic introduction to western culture circa 1964.
The Beatles themselves had pretty much everything they needed at this point to conquer the world. Except, perhaps, for a guitar that had some bite to it and by the end of the year, Paul would take care of that and buy his Casino, which, in 2013, is still going strong.