We knew who they were and their success had nothing to do with the death of President Kennedy.
Prior to the ascension of the Beatles, the biggest acts in the land were the Beach Boys and the Four Seasons. By ’64, Elvis had already petered out, he was an old man in bad movies. Doo-wop was dead too, but that does not mean we were in a burgeoning era of creativity, that limits were being tested on the radio. Rather, we were ready for something new.
The only thing I can equate it to is the summer of ’95, when everybody bought a computer so they could play online. I’d bought my Mac Plus nearly a decade before. People saw no use for Macs, never mind PCs, they were business tools, and then suddenly everybody had to have a desktop machine, so they could connect with their brethren around the world, it’s the energy we’re still running on online today, the human need to…connect.
And that’s what the Beatles did, bring us together, our bond with their music connected us, and the old fogies had no idea what hit them.
Sure, President Kennedy had died. It’s an indelible event in the minds of baby boomers. But it wasn’t the older Freedom Riders who built the Beatles, it wasn’t college students and intellectual pipe smokers, it was the barely pubescent, adolescents at best, who cottoned to this new sound the way today’s kids jumped to Instagram. This was not a cultural turnaround based on a needed pick me up after the assassination, but a middle of the winter, unforeseen left field assault, that drove us all to the radio and the record store.
This was before everyone moved to the Sun Belt. This was just after Major League Baseball moved to the west coast, before most people knew anything about hockey, never mind the NBA. The weekend was comprised of Biddy League basketball and Wide World of Sports. Yes, Jim McMahon was our star, sports ruled, and then came…
Sure, we knew the “Ed Sullivan” show. “Bye Bye Birdie” had memorialized it years before.
But we’d been infected by “I Want To Hold Your Hand” a month previously.
If anything, the Beatles owed their success to filling the after holiday vacuum. Yup, in the cultural doldrums of January 1964, “I Want To Hold Your Hand” burst onto the airwaves and some people got it and some people didn’t but in a matter of a week, we were all Beatlemaniacs. Not because of media manipulation, but because the music had such energy, the vocals were so good, the songs…made us feel alive.
So by time the Beatles hit “Ed Sullivan,” we were already in the know enough to show up at the airport. And in this era of only three TV networks, there was almost no youth oriented news. Which is why we all scrambled for information in mainstream news outlets. It’d be like the “Wall Street Journal” covering a bake sale…we couldn’t believe something so dear to us was actually deemed important by THEM!
And by this time we knew the songs by heart. If your parents didn’t buy you “Meet The Beatles,” they didn’t love you. We knew their ages, when they were born, that John Lennon was married, we had to know, we had to get closer.
And then came Sunday night.
No, that’s not true. We knew long before that the Beatles were going to be on. We counted down the weeks, the days. We talked about it at school. Everybody was on the same page, America was at war, a culture war.
And when the band came on…
We took photographs of the television set. Forget that they didn’t come out, with the flash and all, we wanted to memorialize the event, back when everybody didn’t have a camera and photos were still in black and white and you picked and chose what you shot.
And they were cool.
The way John Lennon bounced on his feet like a frog.
The way Paul McCartney leaned his body at the waist, like he owned the world.
The way quiet George Harrison alternately smiled and seemed disinterested.
The way Ringo shook his head and his hair, as if there were electricity jolting him through his throne.
There was a burst of energy so severe, the sixties were shaken from their foundation into a new era. The baby boomers jetted away from their parents and the establishment that very night. Because unlike today’s one hit wonders, unlike yesterday’s one hit wonders, the Beatles had something to back it up. A whole album you could listen to from beginning to end. Another hit in the wings, “She Loves You,” and there was a plethora of acts from across the pond ready to follow this invading army. Previously we’d seen England as war-torn and not fully recovered, now we saw it as a hotbed of innovation and liberalism and fashion.
And to say we were not jaded would be an understatement.
There were no hipsters, except for Maynard G. Krebs on TV.
Oh yeah, there were a couple of ancient naysayers saying that Elvis was king and this music was a fad.
But the Beatles didn’t seem to care.
They were nonchalant. Believers in their own myth and power. And unwilling to bend to the powers that be to be successful. It was all a lark. That was the magic of “A Hard Day’s Night,” the way they didn’t seem to care yet did all at the same time, the way the whole world kowtowed at their feet…these four scousers who knew what they’d been through but to this day has never truly been revealed. From desperation with pluck, to worldwide fame that lasted.
And there’s no tribute, no TV show that can capture this magic.
Because today everything’s just fodder, grist for the mill, wherein statistics rule and art takes a back seat. Every year we hear about some middling act breaking some Beatles chart record. Hogwash. They’re nothing compared to the Beatles, who not only ruled the airwaves for years, but changed everything.
We were primed that Sunday night. We knew something was happening.
But we didn’t foresee the change.
We grew our hair. We bought musical instruments. We aspired to bigger and better stereos, to get closer to the music. We came to believe you were either one of us or them, and “them” were left behind.
If you were there, you remember it, you know what I say is true.
If you were not…
You will never really know. Like I said, it’s akin to the Internet revolution. the same way you’re addicted to your mobile phone, that’s the same way we were addicted to the Beatles and the British Invasion. Listening and talking about the music 24/7, as if it was the only thing that mattered.
And it was.