By Lucie M. Winborne,
The year is 1963, and four mop-topped musical lads from Liverpool — John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr — are one of the hottest tickets to be found throughout the U.K., inspiring screams and swoons from overcome teen girls. But success in the States has thus far eluded them, since their first two American singles, “Please Please Me” and “From Me to You,” have tanked. Worse, Capitol Records doesn’t seem all that keen on promoting them.
Then one October day, a television host by the name of Ed Sullivan happens to be strolling through London’s Heathrow Airport, where he observes hundreds of fans eagerly waiting to see the boys return from a tour of Sweden. Sullivan has never heard of this quartet who call themselves the Beatles, but with characteristic marketing savvy he figures anyone with a following like that must have quite the potential. And in a few weeks, he invites them to appear on his show.
Things begin to look up. Capitol Records says it will promote the band’s next album. CBS anchor Walter Cronkite reports on the phenomenon called Beatlemania that has overtaken England. Before year’s end, a 15-year-old girl asks her local radio station why American kids can’t have music like that, prompting the search for a copy of a single titled “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” And…liftoff! Capitol Records is soon on a mad dash to stock the song in stores, where it sells a cool million in a matter of days. Ladies and gentlemen, meet the Beatles!
Interestingly, the four Liverpool lads are still completely clueless about the fire they’ve ignited on the other side of the pond when they board a plane for America in early ’64. Yet thousands of hysterical fans are on hand to greet them in New York (many of them taking French leave from school), and at their first press conference, the future Fab Four, in matching suits, field questions about everything from their name to their hair with cheeky aplomb.
Next comes a radio session with influential DJ Murray the K while brothers Albert and David Maysles film a documentary, followed the day after by more interviews and photo sessions, though the group manages to squeeze in some sightseeing. Finally, it’s time to prep for their guest spot on The Ed Sullivan Show (imagine the butterflies they must be experiencing!) and that now-famous phrase, “Ladies and gentlemen…the Beatles!” Fifty-three years have yet to diminish the shiver of anticipation in those five simple words. “All My Loving,” they sing. “Till There Was You.” Then “She Loves You,” yeah, yeah, yeah! In no time, the screams from overwhelmed fans nearly drown out the music they’ve so eagerly come to hear, but who cares? It’s all part of the never-to-be-forgotten magic. TV ratings skyrocket, and records shatter. In just one evening, the Beatles have conquered America.
They — and music — will never be the same.
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