It was 50 years ago. On Sunday Feb. 9, 1964, four long-haired mop-topped British lads in matching mod suits and speaking with an exotic accent took to a TV studio stage in New York City and changed the world. They tried to overcome the deafening shrieks of the teenage girls in the audience but to no avail.
The world changed forever. American pop-culture now had something to rival the 50’s phenomena of Davey Crockett fame.
Broadcast in black and white, when they appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show in New York, the program was viewed by a then television audience record of 73 million people. This was almost 50 percent of American households with TV sets. John, Paul, George and Ringo sent shockwaves throughout America. The Beatles were more than pleasant faces in skinny pants and loud guitars. They wrote and performed their own music. John Lennon and George Harrison were on guitar, Paul McCartney on bass guitar, and Ringo Starr (real name Richard Starkey) on drums.
The whole family gathered around the television.
They were nicknamed the Fab Four and arrived in Queens, New York on February 7th on Pan Am #101, at the former Idlewild Airport now called John F. Kennedy Airport. It was on Clipper Defiance (N704-PA), a Boeing 707. When they had left Heathrow Airport in London, there was pandemonium. Thousands of fans had arrived from all over Britain and any ordinary passengers hoping to travel that day had to give up. Screaming, sobbing girls held up ‘We Love You, Beatles’ banners and hordes of police, linking arms in long chains, tried to hold them back. Also on the flight were Brian Epstein, Neil Aspinall and Mal Evans, record producer Phil Spector and his group the Ronettes plus dozens of journalists and photographers.
At the JFK Airport press conference they were peppered with goofy questions. John was asked by a reporter, “How do you find America?” John responded, “Turned left at Greenland.” The line got so many laughs that the bit was repeated in their 1964 movie “A Hard Day’s Night.”
America, traumatized by President John F. Kennedy’s assassination just three months earlier and torn apart by the escalating Vietnam War, looked for distractions. The irreverent guys from Liverpool fit the bill. They put their mark on every facet of American culture, from fashion and hairstyles to the way we thought about youth and superstardom. The British rock-n-roll invasion was on.
The boys were herded into their individual limos (one for each Beatle) and ushered to the Plaza Hotel at 5th Ave. and Central Park South. All along the route, disk jockey Murray Kane offered a running commentary on their whereabouts over the radio. By the time The Beatles got to their hotel, 4,000 screaming teenagers were there to meet them.
The afternoon of the 8th with George staying at the hotel nursing a sore throat, John, Paul and Ringo jumped into an idling limo and instructed the driver to head uptown. The boys didn’t want to see the regular New York sights like the Empire State Building, the U.N., Rockefeller Center, or the Statue of Liberty. They wanted to go to Black Harlem to see the Apollo Theater, their personal entertainment shrine. Paul later reminisced, “This is where so many of our idols had debuted. We talked a lot about Jackie Wilson. I remember the Marvelettes were on the marque. We didn’t get to go in but it was thrilling to drive by. That evening our whole posse ate at the famed “21”. That night John tried to get us all to bed early because we had such a big evening ahead.”
By April 4, 1964, the Beatles had the top five songs on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart – an achievement never equaled. The group created a musical legacy by continually reinventing their music and themselves as entertainers.