Sunday, February 16, 2014

Best Magazine Reads: 10 Groovy Tidbits About “How the Beatles Took America”

Rolling Stone’s January 16 cover story by the always-fabulous rock storyteller Mikal Gilmore amazingly offered plenty of perspective to the vents f late 1963/early 1964 that one would think we already long-ago knew about The Beatles.  
  1. Manager Brian Epstein, John Lennon, and Paul McCartney made a bet on the plane over the ocean that “the Beatles would take America by storm," while Ringo Starr and George Harrison – who had visited his sister in Benton, Illinois in 1963 – said “they don’t know us, it’s going to be hard.”
  2. The group stepped in at a time when rock n’ roll seemed to be dead. Buddy Holly had died, Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry were blacklisted, Elvis had joined the Army, and rock DJ Alan Freed had been kicked off the radio.
  3. By the end of 1963, The Beatles had five singles in the UK, three hit number one, and debut LP Please Please Me had been number one for 30 weeks, only to be replaced by With the Beatles.
  4. Capitol Records in America had representatives who were not impressed. Newsweek, Time, and CBS Morning News all blasted the band without really knowing much of anything about them and before America had heard them. But a scathing commentary by CBS happened to air the same day that John F. Kennedy later got shot, and it was quickly forgotten. In England, With the Beatles was also being released on that busy November 22.
  5. Gilmore makes a compelling argument that The Beatles stepped into the dark void left by Kennedy’s assassination to offer America another hope of youth and happiness.
  6. Capitol soon had to give in and planned to release “I Want to Hold Your Hand” as a single in mid-January 1964 and would retitle With the Beatles as Meet the Beatles! When a 15-year-old girl from Silver Spring, Maryland saw a rebroadcast of the earlier CBS show, she requested that a local radio station play the song. The station got ahold of a British copy and aired it, and soon other U.S. station’s were getting mass requests. Capitol had to bump up the single’s release to December 26. By February 1, it was number one in America.
  7. Bob Dylan heard it while driving in California and said he knew this was no teeny-bopper phase and that The Beatles were for real.
  8. Two nights after landing in New York, Lennon’s microphone barely worked on The Ed Sullivan Show, so he and Harrison played to the audience while McCartney winked and smiled at the camera, perhaps making America initially think he was the sole lead singer of the band.
  9. Their next show in America was in a boxing-arena-like setup at the Washington Coliseum in D.C. (which I pass not far from Union Station when riding the Metro’s Red Line to work). The band played with much more punk abandon than they had on the Sullivan show, with Starr in particular playing in a way (heavy on the cymbals) that helped the others keep beat through the torrents of crowd noise.
  10. The exhaustion was starting to set in by the summer of 1964, when both the movie and LP of A Hard Day’s Night were released. Starr missed the first 10 dates of the tour due to tonsillitis, and his fill-in, Jimmy Nicol, said McCartney secretly disliked the crowds and focused on blonde women, Lennon drank so much his head swelled and he sweated profusely, and Harrison joined them all in having sex and partying every night.

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