Editorial: When a fever swept over the U.S.
Fifty years ago, a fever swept over this country. At the time it burned hot, leaving many a young person to swoon and many older people at a loss to understanding what was happening.
It’s fair to say the United States was never quite the same. Still, there are very few people who were infected that have any regrets about catching Beatlemania back in 1964 — or, for that matter, since.
Today is the anniversary of the day that the Beatles — John, Paul George and Ringo — arrived in the United States for the very first time. It was a short visit, with a concert at the Washington Coliseum (where tickets cost from $2 to $4), two in New York City’s Carnegie Hall and what was scheduled to be a television appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” that turned into three straight weeks of playing for his viewers and a screaming teenage audience.
At a time when AM radio disc jockeys ruled the musical airwaves, many had heard some of the band’s tunes, with “Please Please Me” becoming the top single in the country the year before. “I Want to Hold Your Hand” hit No. 1 here on Feb. 1, just before their arrival.
What awaited the Beatles was a fervent, nearly hysterical welcome, the intensity of which was unlike any we’d seen before. As the introduction to Life Magazine’s story put it, “No sooner did the four ragmops set foot on U.S. soil than we were theirs ...” Or as Life reporter Gail Cameron wrote, “Like the Blitz, it began with shrieks, sirens and total panic.”
Those scenes of screaming crowds are ingrained in our historical consciousness. Yet in today’s instantaneous world, it may be hard to fathom what an impact this made.
Consider that “The Ed Sullivan Show” was a television institution, where the whole family would tune in to watch on Sunday. An estimated 45.3 percent of U.S. households with televisions turned to CBS to see the Beatles. That translates to more than 73 million people, or one in three Americans, watching these four lads from Liverpool.
The trip firmly established the love affair between the U.S. and the Beatles, beginning what was truly a magical mystery tour that remains part of our cultural and musical fabric today.