Fifty years later, ‘Monitor’ readers remember the Beatles
American TV host Ed Sullivan, left, talks with three members of the British pop group The Beatles during a rehearsal for their appearance on his TV show, in New York, Feb. 8, 1964. From left, Sullivan, John Lennon, Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney. George Harrison, the fourth member of the group missed the rehearsal due to illness. (AP Photo)
Some of the nearly 19,000 Beatle fans scream their enthusiastic approval as their idols appear in the Convention Hall, Atlantic City, Aug. 31, 1964. (AP Photo)
** ADVANCE FOR SUNDAY, JULY 1**FILE**Just the sight of The Beatles from a distance caused this reaction among a group of Girls at the Los Angeles International airport in this Aug.18, 1964 file photo. Airport security kept the British singers away from several thousand youngsters during a brief stopover in Los Angeles en route to San Francisco. (AP Photo/stf)
This February 11, 1964 photo provided by Christie's auction house, from a collection of photos of The Beatles shot by photographer Mike Mitchell at the Washington Coliseum in Washington, D.C., shows Paul McCartney, left, and John Lennon during group's first US concert, two days after their Ed Sullivan appearance. The concert photos, taken when the photographer was just 18 years old, will be auctioned by Christie's in their sale "The Beatles Illuminated: The Discovered Works of Mike Mitchell," in New York on July 20, 2011. (AP Photo/Christie's, Mike Mitchell)
It was 50 years ago today. . . . On Feb. 7, 1964, the Beatles arrived in America for the first time – and were greeted by 3,000 screaming fans. On Feb. 9 the band played on CBS’s “Ed Sullivan Show,” and more than 73 million people tuned in. We asked Monitor readers for their Beatles memories. Here’s what we heard:
Happy and alive
I first heard the Beatles’ music in the spring semester of freshman year in college. Someone was with it enough to know they would be on Ed Sullivan that February. Some of us put off studying that night to watch. After that, we’d gather in someone’s room and play the first album. The music made me feel so happy and alive. We all just got up and danced to it. The Beatles had good melodies, simple lyrics and an innocent quality. It was easy to sing along with their songs. To me they were a natural transition from Buddy Holly and the Beach Boys.
I saw them on the Ed Sullivan Show and was mesmerized. But I remember better my father commenting on how long their hair was – about 1½ inches long!
‘Twist and Shout’ – in Italy
I was a college student in Florence, Italy, in the spring and summer of 1963. We listened to music on Italian radio. Pop records were mostly in Italian, but some were in French and in English. In the summer of 1963 the Beatles were getting radio play time in Italy with “Please Please Me,” “I Saw Her Standing There” and “Twist and Shout.” Italian students asked for translations. When I returned to campus at Stanford in September of ’63, I told my friends about this new British group. That was a few months before the January ’64 U.S. release of their Meet the Beatles album, which my roommate and I immediately bought and played almost continuously to the detriment of study time in the dorm.
Partial to the less-popular songs
Meet The Beatles was released around the time of their arrival in the United States. I don’t recall a lot about the actual visit – a young girl at the airport, so overcome with emotion that she fainted into the arms of a friend; watching them perform on The Ed Sullivan Show; news coverage of mobs of fans. But I loved the album and listened to it nonstop for quite a while.
I now feel very much as I did then about the songs on their first album, and on many of their albums: The songs that became popular worldwide, i.e. “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “I Saw Her Standing There,” “All My Loving,” sounded amateurish to me. But the less-popular “Do You Want to Know a Secret,” “P.S. I Love You” and “Baby, It’s You,” I enjoyed much more. The slower and “quieter” songs showed off their guitar skills and their voices. Throughout the years I have acquired most of their albums or cassettes or CDs, or burned my own CDs from iTunes. I feel as though I watched young men with halfway-decent talent develop into musical geniuses. Almost all singers and instrumentalists of all genres today were directly influenced by the Beatles, and/or have covered one or more of the Beatles’ compositions. What a tribute!
I attended a Paul McCartney concert in Worcester, Mass., some years ago. I sat with a friend in the far reaches of the nosebleed section, and Sir Paul looked to be about the size of a dime. It didn’t matter, because his presence was huge. There was no guest act, no comedy routine, only great music. He can still hold his own.
A new generation emerges
When I was a junior in high school in 1962-63 in Florida, Tommy Sykes and I often barreled down the dirt roads between Clearwater and Dunedin in his 1950 Merc, a cloud of dust billowing behind us. Tommy was editor of the school paper, and I was his assistant. The radio was tuned to WLCY – Elsie, for short – with volume up loud.
The next year, as editor, I followed the same route at the same speed in my two-tone ’57 Chev. Elsie’s DJs weren’t fools. In the 15 minutes between school and the print shop, I’d hear at least three Beatles songs – and sing along badly.
“I Saw Her Standing There,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand” – the Beatles turned out hit after hit during those early months. The words were catchy, the melodies easy to pick up.
The point is that the Beatles were well known to us teenagers months before they showed up on Ed Sullivan on Feb. 9, 1964.
That night, I watched the Beatles from the carpeted floor of our TV room. My parents watched, too, but it was no use talking with them about the Beatles. The Beatles were to them what punk and rap later became to me.
So, in a daze, I got up and walked to the end of the street. Many other teenagers in the neighborhood had had the same experience. There were seven or eight of us. The most profound comment any of us made was “Wow!”
I don’t think the Beatles changed the world, but more than the other early rock-’n’-rollers, they signaled that a new generation was emerging and an old one fading.
My dad brought home the With the Beatles album from a business trip and gave it to my brother. I was 8 and insanely jealous. We knew right away that they were special. Then my brother, 12, got to see the Beatles at the Crosley Field baseball stadium (later demolished) in our hometown of Cincinnati, and, again, I was miffed not to be included. I had bobbleheads of the Beatles. Of course, Paul was my favorite. He was the most handsome.
A Beatles haircut
The night that the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show, I was on the couch watching the show, way before cable, adjusting the antenna for better reception. Still my parents bought me Beach Boys and Jan & Dean albums for my birthday. The first Beatles record I bought was Beatles ’65, and I’m going to have to listen to it when I finish this letter. My parents wouldn’t let me get a Beatles haircut until I started sixth grade, and I never cut it again for 20 years. Not that I grew out of it – the pony tail just irritated me when I bought my first convertible. The sacrifices one makes.
The Zenith survived!
That February night, as a 10-year-old girl with a 17-year-old sister, our ’56 Zenith was tuned to the Ed Sullivan Show on one of the three TV stations available. I became a fan, even more so than my sister. I still have the memories, the sister, the Beatles albums and the Zenith!
A crush on John Lennon
I was in my teens, and I had a real crush on John Lennon. The way he stood and moved while performing made me swoon. As I recall, the big deal with our parents not liking them was their long hair. I could never understand why so many of my girlfriends were crazy about Paul. He was cute, but not sexy like John.
Screaming and crying hysterically
I was 14 years old when the Beatles led the British Invasion of the United States. My best friends and I bought their album, crowded around the TV on Sunday night to see them on the Ed Sullivan Show and picked our favorite Beatle. Mine was Ringo. Life as I knew it was permanently altered when we four got tickets and a ride to their concert in Washington, D.C. We never heard a word they sang because we, along with every other young girl in the crowd, were screaming and crying hysterically for the entire concert. It is exhausting to even think about. Two and a half years later, far more mature, the four of us attended the Beatles concert at D.C. Stadium and complained, as only 16-year-olds can, about how difficult it was to hear the music over the screaming fans. Ah, life.
Part II to my Beatlemania is that when my niece was 2, I realized my brother was playing Beach Boys CDs for her, so I gave her a CD of Meet the Beatles. When she wanted to listen to it, she’d request “the bug” music. When said niece reached the age of 12 and bought a guitar, I gave her my copy of the Beatles Songbook. This year, at the age of 14 (it’s a circle of life thing) she and her best friend (who is a bigger Beatle maniac than I ever was) have started their own band. Their entire repertoire consists of Beatles covers.
The Beatles: Rosetta Stone to the Sixties
The Beatles arrived in America in 1964 as fellow mates, brothers from overseas, all of us goofy and naive teenagers, rebounding from the oppressive angst of the 1950s to swoon over carefree refrains like “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”
Also, the Beatles, like many baby boomers, grew into innovative, multifaceted adults who explored new ideas, became politically active against the Vietnam War, exposed social and gender injustice, brought sex and drugs out of the closet and, at their best, became spiritual visionaries imagining a brighter future for all of us:
Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world . . .
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one.
Indeed, what Aaron Copland once said is certainly true: “When people ask to re-create the mood of the ’60s, they will play Beatles music.”
Yeah, I was one of those callow, pimple-faced kids in 1964, a stranger in a strange land, a freshman at Columbia University in the middle of New York City, moaning my recently slain young president along with his vision of Camelot, grinding away in my dorm room cramming to catch up on all the classics my prep-school cohorts had long ago read when, one day, I had to come up for air and took a walk downtown toward Times Square when I heard this singular tune for the first time, the refrain from “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” wafting out onto the street from all the little record store doors along the way.
Somehow this sweet melody salved my soul like the first warm breeze of spring. I just knew in my heart it was the beginning of something good.
Didn’t know what to make of them
My father, serious medical doctor that he was, who had raised us on classical music, called us (six of us kids and our mother) to the TV and said something like, “You’ve got to see this!” I think we didn’t know what to make of them. They were so playful and having so much fun.
Group of nutty kids
I learned to appreciate what the Beatles stood for and tried to say in later years, but when they popped on the scene in the ’60s they were just another group of nutty kids to me.
Just as Elvis disturbed my teenage dreams of love, companionship and peace, the Beatles to me were just pipsqueaks making some big bucks. By that time I had heard the power in the voice of the great Paul Robeson, which needed no amplification, on the steps near the Lincoln Memorial and Potomac River. I had also witnessed in boot camp the great Joe Lewis work out on a punching bag, if you want to talk about a beat and a crescendo.
Now I try to give all artists of any skill or talent due credit for seeking and trying to create a better and saner world.
SELDEN R. STRONG
They eclipsed Elvis
Born in 1943, I grew up on American pop music and then enjoyed R&B. It was Elvis who changed my life. I grew my hair and sideburns as long as a Catholic school would allow, which was pretty short by today’s standards.
The Beatles came along when I was in college, and I didn’t understand all the fuss. That started to change with the movie A Hard Day’s Night. I enjoyed their wit and screen personas. Rubber Soul and Revolver sold me that this was a musical phenomenon, and I re-listened to those first hits like “Please Please Me” and “All My Loving.”
I was captivated by the melodies, the thing that has always stood out for me about the Beatles. Begrudgingly, they eventually relegated Elvis to the No. 2 spot on my all-time list of the greats of rock-and-roll.
For many, John was the soul of the Beatles, but for me it has always been Paul and those great pop hooks he wrote and still writes today. The music of the Beatles and Elvis still keeps 70-year-olds like myself feeling young.
High school memories
Sunday night. Five girlfriends gathered in front of Mary Ann’s TV. Freshman year in high school, and when Ed Sullivan swung his arm in introduction we SCREAMED. And danced. And believed. I still have that first album and plenty of high school memories.
Did it change our lives? Yes. The attached photo shows my brother, Paul, and me doing our own rendition of some Beatles song, using my father’s long-dormant guitar and, well, a mop top.
Secret hiding spot
I remember vividly when the Beatles came to America and played on the Ed Sullivan Show. I was 8, and my mother would not let me stay up for the entire show. I hid in the living room where I had a perfect view of the only television in the house. I was behind my father’s chair and watched my older sisters singing along and getting so excited that they kept jumping to their feet. My father sat in his chair to read and never discovered me sitting there. When I finally went to bed, I stayed awake for a long time figuring out how I could arrange for my oldest sister to meet and marry Paul McCartney. I became a devoted Beatle fan and continue to love them to this day.
Everyone joined in
It was in my junior year at UMass Amherst that about 30 of us crowded into our housemother’s little apartment to watch her tiny black-and-white set. There had been so much excitement on campus leading up to this well-publicized performance that probably 90 percent of the 5,000 students were glued to a set somewhere on campus. As the Beatles performed, our little group was somewhat reserved outwardly, but I’m sure those internal screams would have been a mighty roar. We were too cool, too blase to show the thrill we were really feeling.
Their performances over the following weeks increased the excitement that became nearly palpable throughout the campus. One afternoon on my way to class, I was passing through the Hatch, the student union cafe where 100 to 200 students gathered at any given time. In those days, our background music was provided by a mere jukebox on which the Beatles could be heard playing nonstop with an occasional “Moon River” thrown in. As I stopped to greet some friends, “I Saw Her Standing There” came over the loudspeakers. When the Beatles got to the “Oooooh” part, every voice in the place spontaneously joined in. I think it was the most unity I had ever felt with a group (other than at football games) until that time.
An important soundtrack to my life
It was probably right after it was released in February 1964, that I bought Meet the Beatles at Werlein’s Music Store in New Orleans. (I still have it, although it’s seen better days.) That LP, along with Booker T and the MGs’ Green Onions, was a staple at the wild (for that era) dance parties my roommate and I hosted (picture those red bombe-shape candles wrapped with fishnet, empty bottles of Liebfraumilch), and I probably was most smitten with “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” On Sept. 13 of that year, three days before they performed at City Park Stadium, another roommate and I left for Hollywood, where we’d already secured jobs. Bad timing.
Come November of that year, I met the man who would become my husband, an intern at Cedars of Lebanon, where I was a nurse; our song was “And I Love Her.” Although the marriage went south, I still love that piece; perhaps it’s the chords that touch me as well as the words.
Yet two songs stand out from the soundtrack of a painful period when we were living in Spring Valley, N.Y. The first, “Here Comes the Sun,” spoke of hope during an interminable gray winter when my sister, who was pregnant out of wedlock (this was 1970, remember) lived with us; I was also pregnant, and we delivered the following August within two days of one another. We both walked on eggshells around my husband and took comfort in sisterhood’s giggling as a release and the song’s words and melody.
The second, “Hey Jude,” with its 7-minute playing time, unbridled chorus of la-la-la-la-la-la . . . and message of risk-taking for love, that helped me extricate myself from a marriage and identity as a doctor’s wife that was utterly toxic. I can still feel the wind in my hair as I drove my 1967 white Porsche 911 down the half-mile straight stretch of Duryea Lane, “Hey Jude” turned on full blast on the Blaupunkt radio, singing at the top of my voice in those brief moments of freedom, foreshadowing the true freedom when the marriage ended.
Were the Beatles important in my life? You bet they were.
In February of 1964 when the Beatles first appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show, I was 10 years old and in fourth-grade. I remember sitting in the living room and watching TV with my parents. My father said, “Well, don’t they look silly. It looks like someone cut their hair by putting a bowl over their head.”