Friday, February 21, 2014

The Miracle of '64

There was so much hype for so long about the 50th anniversary of the Beatles first trip to America and first appearance on the Ed Sullivan show, that I missed the actual anniversary days. The first Sullivan show was February 9, 1964.

 Though I saw that Sullivan show and liked them well enough, I personally didn't have my Beatles satori moment until 1965, when I sat in a near-empty movie theater in Manhattan (behind either Bob Dylan or one of many lookalikes) and watched their second film, Help! Now I still score pretty high on the Beatles quizzes that were floating around this month.

 But from the January Rolling Stone cover story I learned that I wasn't alone in initially missing the Beatles significance--neither did his record company. (Of course, I was in high school and this was supposedly their professional expertise.)

 Here's a few key graphs from that story (this is the link but not all of it is online.)

 The story quotes Jonathan Gould in the book Can't Buy Me Love concerning the clueless executives of Capitol Records, who owned the U.S. rights to release Beatles records but didn't think it was worth their while. Then one of their executives read an article in Variety:

 "...Variety reported that the Beatles' most recent single, "I Want To Hold Your Hand," had become the first British record to sell a million copies before its release. The band's previous single, "She Loves You"--which had been rejected by Dexter on behalf of Capitol--had also surpassed a million sales, and the group's second album, With the Beatles, sold 500,000 copies a week after its release.

 'This meant,' writes Gould, 'that in a market one-third the size of the United States, the Beatles had released as many million-selling singles in 1963 as the entire American recording industry.'" 

 So Capitol decided to release some Beatles tunes, but in due time. But people took matters into their own hands. From the RS story (by Mikal Gilmore):

 "On December 10th, Marsha Albert, a 15-year-old in Silver Spring, Maryland, saw a rebroadcast of the CBS Morning News report from November 22nd disparaging the Beatles and the frenzy they inspired in England. Albert wanted to hear more of the music. She wrote to a local station, WWDC; the disc jockey there, Carroll James, located a flight attendant for a British airline, who brought a copy of the 45 rpm "I Want to Hold Your Hand" on her flight to Washington, D.C.

 After the record arrived, James invited Albert to WWDC's studio. In the early evening of December 17th, Albert announced, "Ladies and gentlemen, for the first time in America, here are the Beat­les, singing 'I Want to Hold Your Hand.' " "The switchboard just went totally wild," James later told Bob Spitz in The Beat­les: The Biography. Callers – apparently not all of them teenagers, since WWDC was an MOR station – wanted to hear the song again, and again."

 And 50 years later, again and again.

The Beatles were a phenomenon throughout 1963 in the UK but America discovered them just over two months after the unspeakable trauma of the assassination of President Kennedy, who symbolized hope and the future.  The Beatles did not replace that exactly.  But they did offer another kind of hope for a future with a different kind of joy in it.  Especially for those who were young then--the early and middle boomers--it was a Way.

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