The Birth of Beatlemania

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The Beatles arrive in America. Public domain.

When the iPod was created, Steve Jobs was asked what music he had on his iPod. Then he was asked, “If you were going to be placed on a deserted island and could have the music of only one band on your iPod, would it be the Rolling Stones or The Beatles?”

Jobs replied, “That’s easy. It would be The Beatles.” After a moment of reflection he added, “But if you asked if it would be The Beatles or Bob Dylan, that would have been a much harder one to answer.”

They were called the Fab Four. Fifty-five years ago they suddenly appeared on America’s shores and set the stage for the British Invasion. How American youth responded is difficult to explain in words but the pictures say it all.

I remember it well. Our family moved to New Jersey from Cleveland on January 20 that year. Twenty days later, the Beatles made their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show.

In the days of early television a lot of what aired was a carryover from the days of vaudeville and travelling circuses. The King of TV’s variety shows was Ed Sullivan. In Cleveland we had the Gene Carroll Show, which had originally been the Giant Tiger Variety Hour. Theme song of the Variety Hour was that Bourbon Street favorite, “Hold That Tiger.” The song still reverberates inside me as my dad must have watched it every week when we were growing up.

Ed Sullivan didn’t really take this kind of entertainment to a new level, he simply brought it to a bigger stage. If you’re my age you remember the guy who would spin plates atop vertical dowels, trying to get ten going at a time. The show was a hodgepodge of homespun entertainment. There was usually a music act in the mix, and on February 9 it was The Beatles.

I turned 12 that year, along with a gazillion others who didn’t know at the time that they were going to be called the Baby Boomer generation. Little did these innocents know that one day they would take the blame for all of the world’s excesses and all the world’s problems.

On January 2 that year Dylan’s third album, The Times They Are A-Changin’, was released, with its songs protesting racism and other injustices, a song about the murder of civil rights leader Medgar Evers, a song about the senseless, brutal beating of Hattie Carroll. It was an album of songs in stark contrast with “She Loves You” and “I Want To Hold Your Hand.”

For the past several years we’ve been seeing magazines and TV shows depicting the events of fifty years ago. This summer it will be Woodstock, man’s first steps on the moon and the breakup of the Beatles. And all throughout there will be contrasting themes, for in addition to celebrations there were also riots in the streets. For many these nostalgic reflections will be passionately consumed and the media-makers will profit from it as we drift through our memories.

When the Beatles arrived in 1964 was still a time of innocence. 73 million people tuned in to see that mania live. Those of us who saw it remember it well. It was electric. It was insane. And yes, the earth moved.

Originally published at

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An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon

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