There has been much recent and excellent coverage of a significant anniversary –  the Beatles coming to America in February of 1964.   Although, in just a few weeks, there will be a semicentennial anniversary that has never been equaled in American popular music.  Such an incredible feat has been paralleled by few. Similar to the 1972 Miami Dolphins’ undefeated season in NFL Football, Usain Bolt smashing the 100 meter dash record in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, or Charles Lindberg’s feat of Trans-Atlantic flight in 1927, the young men from Liverpool, England, burst on to the American popular music scene with a fervor seldom seen before. Breaking all kinds of records, they would eventually advance to become the top selling musical act of all time.

The feat that has never been equaled by any popular music act occurred April 4, 1964, when The Beatles occupied the top five positions on the American Billboard Top 100 chart.  Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, held the top five Billboard positions with these classic Beatles hits:

1) ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’

2) ‘Twist and Shout’

3) ‘She Loves You’

4) ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’

5) ‘Please Please Me’

Only a few weeks before this incredible achievement, The Beatles had performed on one of American TV’s most popular family shows of the era – The Ed Sullivan Show.  A weekly must for family entertainment, the Sullivan show featured a great variety of acts from comedians, to acrobats, to music. On the evening of Feb. 9, 1964, 73 million Americans tuned in to see the budding stars from England perform a live set of songs to the studio audience – ‘All My Loving’, ‘Till There Was You’, ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ ‘I Saw Her Standing There’, and ‘She Loves You’.

The performance had an absolutely inconceivable effect on the country’s younger generation. Many bought records; ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ with the flip side of ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ sold over one million copies in the days before and after the Sullivan appearance. Subsequently, Capitol records had to enlist RCA records to help press even more copies to keep up with the demand, as it became the fastest selling single in the history of recorded music at that time. There was an explosion in the music recording industry and well as the musical instrument industry.

Scores of budding musicians decided their future was to play music after seeing the Beatles.  The Ludwig drum company sold so many sets of ‘Ringo’ Black Oyster Shell finish drum sets that Bill Ludwig would later refer to the spacious newly built suburban Chicago family home as “the house that Ringo built.”  Ringo’s appearance behind the set also converted the next generation of drummers to the ‘Matched Grip’ stick technique. That old ‘Traditional Grip’ had to go, it was now for old fogies the kids said!

In the months after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, America needed something to change its mood, and ‘Beatlemania’ was the antidote.  The American music scene at the time was semi-sterile.  Record companies were pushing clean-cut handsome teen idols like Fabian, Bobby Vee, Pat Boone, Dion, Frankie Avalon and Ricky Nelson. These were safe artists that were much tamer than the previous decade’s rebellious rockers Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, Little Richard and the now Hollywood version of Elvis Presley.  And who could forget the tragedy of the plane crash that took Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper from us in 1959.  With this now obvious hole in the American popular music scene, the boys from Liverpool took the influence of Berry, Little Richard, Elvis and Holly and returned Rock ‘n’ Roll back to us at just the right time.  Many of The Beatles American Rock ‘n’ Roll influences can be found on the early recordings of ‘Roll Over Beethoven’, ‘Rock and Roll Music’, and ‘Words of Love’; covers of Berry and Holly songs.

I asked a few friends in the recording industry what the Beatles meant to them, starting with a bandleader that often performs the Beatles ‘Helter Skelter’ for an encore from “the greatest band of all time”:

“The Beatles are the stone that hit the quiet waters of planet earth at a time when nothing too exciting was happening in popular music. First a big splash, then 50 plus years of ripple effect. That ripple effect will continue on for hundreds, if not thousands, of years to come because the genius that is The Beatles has never been (and probably never will be) equaled by anyone in pop music … ever.”

Kip Winger (Winger, Alice Cooper, Alan Parsons, Bob Dylan)

“The Beatles, through their music, style and awareness of the world at large, gave me direction and confidence that led me to a way of life I could have never imagined before they existed…They opened my eyes and mind to self expression and the idea of universal good will…All you need is love, and The BEATLES”

Victor DeLorenzo (Violent Femmes, Nineteen Thirteen)

“I sat on the carpet in front of the TV watching The Beatles when they were still together – I think I was 7 or so – and their antics were a special part of British culture. I was listening to some Pigface the other day – there is sitar all over it – that started with ‘Norwegian Wood’ I guess and most English musicians from that period would, I think, share some influence from them – not so much the instruments or, let’s face it, some of Paul’s sappy song lyrics – but from an experimental point of view? From the studio to lifestyles to being smart and funny – a chunk of that came from them.”

Martin Atkins (Public Image Ltd, Ministry, Nine Inch Nails, Pigface, Killing Joke).

Sources

Harry, Bill. The British Invasion. New Malden, Surry, UK. Chrome Dreams Publishing, 2004.

Charlton, Katherine. Rock Music Styles – A History. 6th Ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Publishing, 2011.

http://www.edsullivan.com/artists/the-beatles/

http://www.cnn.com/2014/01/30/showbiz/beatles-ed-sullivan-beatlemania-5-things/

Ben Hans is a Music Occupations Instructor at MATC.  Take a fun elective course and sign up for his History of Rock Music class (Music-206-001), which runs in the Fall semester. You can contact Ben at hansb@matc.edu or through his website, www.benhans.com

Learn about MATC’s Music Occupations Associate Degree program at http://tinyurl.com/ktko2yx

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