How America fell for the Fab Four: The Beatles arrived in the U.S. like a tidal wave (with half a ton of mop-top wigs) – and with 12 hits in the top 100, they really were here, there and everywhere…
One day in mid-October 1963, John Lennon had dropped by at the house in Wimpole Street, London, where Paul was living with the family of his girlfriend, Jane Asher.
The two of them went down to a little room in the basement and sat together on Mrs Asher’s piano stool.
Their manager Brian Epstein had told them that their next, most important task was to compose a song to crack the elusive American market.
Up to now, their hit singles in Britain — From Me To You, She Loves You, Please Please Me — had all flopped over there.
After an hour or so of doodling about, Paul went upstairs to the bedroom of Jane’s brother, and put his head around the door.
‘Do you want to come and hear something we’ve just written?’ he asked. Peter Asher accompanied him back downstairs, and together Paul and John played him their new song, I Want To Hold Your Hand.
‘What do you think?’ asked Paul. ‘Oh, my God! Can you play that again?’ said Peter. As he listened to it for a second time, he thought: ‘Am I losing my mind, or is this the greatest song I ever heard in my life?’
It was released in America as a single on Boxing Day 1963. At three in the morning on January 17, 1964, the Beatles were relaxing in a hotel suite in their pyjamas and dressing gowns when their manager Brian Epstein came in, clutching a telegram.
‘Boys,’ he said, ‘you’re No 1 in America!’ For once, even John was thrilled. Ringo was cock-a-hoop: ‘We couldn’t believe it. We all started acting like people from Texas, hollering and shouting ya-hoo.’
The others picked Ringo up and — ‘One, two, three, four!’ — threw him into the air. In the first three days of its U.S. release: I Want To Hold Your Hand sold a quarter of a million copies. It went on to sell five million.
When Brian Wilson, of the Beach Boys, heard it: ‘I flipped. It was like a shock went through my system.’
In that instant, Wilson realised that the Beatles had rendered him antique. He was two days younger than Paul, but now felt like an old-timer: ‘I immediately knew that everything had changed.’
For the past six months the Beach Boys had been the most popular group in America. But from now on they would be obliged to live in the shadow of the Beatles.
In Freehold, New Jersey, a 14-year-old boy was sitting in the front seat of his mother’s car when the song came on the radio. He felt time stop, and his hair standing on end.
They reached home, but he didn’t go in. Instead, he ran straight to the bowling alley on Main Street, rushed to the phone booth and called his girlfriend Jan. ‘Have you heard the Beatles?’ he asked.
‘Yeah, they’re cool,’ she replied. He instantly set his heart on a guitar displayed in the window of the West Auto store on Main Street.
When the summer came, his Aunt Dora paid him to paint her house, and he bought the guitar with the money he earned. He lived for every release by the Beatles: ‘I searched the newsstands for every magazine with a photo I hadn’t seen and I dreamed . . .dreamed. . .dreamed . . . that it was me. I didn’t want to meet the Beatles. I wanted to be the Beatles.’
Over half a century on, Bruce Springsteen still believes that hearing I Want To Hold Your Hand that day in his mother’s car changed the course of his life.
The Beatles arrived in America with the sudden impact of a tidal wave. By the time their plane touched down in New York, orders for merchandise were rolling in: half a ton of Beatles wigs were following them to America, plus 24,000 rolls of Beatles wallpaper.
As the plane door opened, screams from fans drowned out the sound of the jet engines.
The 13-year-old Tom Petty watched their appearance on The Ed Sullivan show on the family television in Gainesville, Florida.
‘There is a way out,’ he thought. ‘You get your friends and you’re a self-contained unit. And you make the music.’
Within weeks, groups were playing in garages all over his neighbourhood. Billy Joel, 14, was watching with his family on Long Island: ‘They looked like these working-class kids, like kids we all knew.’
He knew his destiny then and there: ‘I said at that moment: ‘I want to be like those guys. This is what I’m going to do — play in a rock band.’ ‘
Not everyone was quite so enthralled. George Dixon in the Washington Post noted: ‘They have a commonplace, rather dull act that hardly seems to merit mentioning.’
Over half a century on, Bruce Springsteen (above) still believes that hearing I Want To Hold Your Hand that day in his mother’s car changed the course of his life
In the National Review, the conservative iconoclast William F. Buckley penned a diatribe under the title: ‘Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, They Stink.’
The viewing figures offered no comfort to the critics. Seventy three million Americans had tuned in to The Ed Sullivan Show, the second-largest viewing figure in the history of commercial television.
The first came 11 weeks earlier, following the chilling words ‘News just in of shots fired in Dallas.’
Pam Miller, 16, of Reseda, California, was so besotted with the new arrivals that within the privacy of her schoolgirl diary she turned herself into a Liverpudlian.
On February, 10, 1964, she wrote: ‘Paul you are gear. Really Fab. Say chum, why are you so marvellous, luv? The most bloomin’ idiot on earth is me, cause I’m wild over you chap.’
From then on she posted Paul a poem every day, sealed with a kiss. Virtually every day, her local radio station would deliver an update on the state of Paul’s relationship with his new girlfriend.
Pam listened with growing resentment of the young lady she came to call ‘the creepy freckle-faced bow-wow, Jane Asher’, or simply ‘Pig-Face’.
Maxine M., in Cleveland, Ohio, wrote asking the Beatles to call her, adding: ‘If my mother answers, hang up. She is not much of a Beatle fan.’
Donna J., from Portland, Maine, admitted in her letter: ‘I have every one of your records and I don’t even have a record player.’
Touching down in Houston the following year, the Beatles’ plane was surrounded by fans while its engines were still running.
Some managed to climb onto the wings, and crawled towards the portholes, waving at those inside. In Dallas, young fans walked from the airport to the Beatles’ hotel, many of them in tears.
One clutched a bunch of grass in her hands, screaming: ‘Ringo! Ringo walked on this grass!’
By April 4, 1964, The Billboard Hot 100 went like this:
1. Can’t Buy Me Love — The Beatles.
2. Twist and Shout — The Beatles.
3. She Loves You — The Beatles.
4. I Want to Hold Your Hand — The Beatles.
5. Please Please Me — The Beatles
31. I Saw Her Standing There — The Beatles.
41. From Me To You — The Beatles.
46. Do You Want to Know a Secret — The Beatles.
58. All My Loving — The Beatles.
65. You Can’t Do That — The Beatles.
68. Roll Over Beethoven — The Beatles.
79. Thank You Girl — The Beatles.
In addition, two songs about the Beatles made the Hot 100 that week: We Love You Beatles by the Carefrees, and A Letter To The Beatles by the Four Preps.
Night John was thrown out by Brigitte Bardot
During his early teens, John Lennon started collecting a series of photographs in Weekend Magazine of Brigitte Bardot, for whom the term ‘sex kitten’ had recently been coined.
During his early teens, John Lennon started collecting a series of photographs in Weekend Magazine of Brigitte Bardot, for whom the term ‘sex kitten’ had recently been coined
The magazine offered in weekly instalments a new piece of what would eventually grow into a life-size pin up of Brigitte Bardot in a swimsuit.
Having collected the full set, John taped the composite poster onto the ceiling above his bed. John’s fidelity to Brigitte (pictured) survived money and fame.
Then, in June 1968, fantasy collided with reality when she arrived in London, and sent word that she would like to meet one or more of the Beatles.
John was the sole volunteer. Before the big meeting, he popped round to see Beatles press officer Derek Taylor and asked him for some marijuana to calm him down.
Taylor only had LSD, so they both took that instead. The two of them then climbed into John’s Rolls Royce and were driven to the Mayfair Hotel, where Bardot was staying.
Suffering an attack of nerves, John sent Taylor into the hotel while he remained crouched on the floor of the car.
Taylor found Brigitte Bardot dressed all in black leather, surrounded by female companions. When he told her that John Lennon was in the car outside, she seemed disappointed that no other Beatles had come.
By this time, Taylor’s tabs of LSD were kicking in, causing great waves of paranoia. He and John were in danger, he told Bardot, and they were being watched by mysterious people.
Bardot didn’t understand what he was saying, but suggested he ask John to come up. Lennon duly came to the room, but the twin traumas of LSD and Brigitte Bardot in leather rendered him speechless.
With some effort he managed to say ‘Hello’, but little else. Bardot said that she had booked a table in the hotel restaurant, but neither John nor Taylor were sure they could walk that far.
Brigitte, in Taylor’s words, ‘was not best pleased’. She and her female companions stomped off to the restaurant downstairs, leaving John and Taylor in the hotel suite.
When Bardot and her entourage returned from dinner, they were surprised to find the two men still there, Taylor slumped on Bardot’s bed, and John strumming a guitar.
Bardot’s indifference quickly turned to irritation; before long she asked them to leave. John returned home, where his friend Pete Shotton was staying.
‘What happened, what happened? I can’t bear the suspense another minute!’ said Pete.
‘F*****g nothing happened,’ said John. ‘I was so f*****g nervous that I dropped some acid before we went in and got completely out of me head. The only thing I said to her all night was hello, when we went to shake hands with her.
Then she spent the whole time talking in French with her friends, and I could never think of anything to say.’
It had been, he concluded, ‘a f*****g terrible evening’.
On August 28, 1964, as the Beatles struggled to make their way through the crush in the lobby of the Delmonico Hotel on Park Avenue in New York, Ringo found himself trapped in a crowd of girls.
One of them tore his shirt open; another grabbed at the gold St Christopher medal he had been given by his Auntie Nancy.
Ringo only realised it had disappeared once he had extracted himself from the scrum, and by then it was too late.
When the Beatles arrived at their hotel suite for a live interview, it was clear that Ringo was upset.
‘Somebody grabbed me St Christopher’s medal,’ he said mournfully.
He had worn it, night and day, ever since his 21st birthday, a year before he joined the Beatles; small wonder he associated it with good luck.
The interview with a DJ was being broadcast live. Outside in the street, 6,000 fans were glued to their transistor radios to hear what was being said in the room above.
The DJ had a bright idea. ‘I said to the kids: ‘Look, somebody must have found Ringo Starr’s St Christopher medal. Look, if you return it you will not be in trouble and you’ll come up here . . . and you’ll meet Ringo and he’ll give you a kiss.’ ‘
The fans proved wily. Within an hour, the shops of Manhattan had sold out of St Christopher medals, and an equal number of calls had been received from girls claiming to have found Ringo’s. One of them was answered by the DJ himself.
How Diana’s bodyguard tried to shut them down
On January 30, 1969, shortly after midday, PC Ken Wharfe noticed the blue light was flashing on the police phonebox at the corner of Piccadilly Circus.
He walked over and picked up the Bakelite receiver. It was the duty sergeant. ‘Can you hear that awful noise?’ ‘What noise?’
‘Get your men over there and go and turn it down.’ PC Wharfe replaced the handset, and turned to his colleague.
Mal Evans told PC Shayler that the Beatles had to record just one more track, and then they would be finished, and the noise would stop. ‘One, two, three, four …’ said George, and they launched into Get Back, the last song they would ever play together live
‘OK, listen. Old Sarge there wants us to go and turn the noise down.’ The two of them walked down Regent Street, where they found a crowd — ‘Mainly of women, I have to say’ — rushing down Vigo Street.
It turned out the noise was coming from the roof of 3 Savile Row, the headquarters of the Beatles. PC Wharfe — still only a probationary officer — duly knocked at the front door of the Apple building, and was let in, only to discover that several other policemen were already there.
There seemed to be too many to deal with a minor noise infringement, but none were prepared to leave.
‘We chatted among ourselves: should we stay or should we go? But we said that we were never going to see the likes of this again, so we stayed. The fact is that nobody was going to call anybody off, because this was a unique occasion.’
Most of the police gathered that day in the Apple hallway were the same age as the Beatles or younger, and so, almost necessarily, Beatles fans.
At 19, Ken Wharfe was nearly seven years George Harrison’s junior. Small wonder, then, that they were unsure what to do.
‘In fact, we were effectively trespassing there, because we hadn’t been invited, not properly, so it’s possible that they could have asked us to leave.’
Wharfe’s colleague PC Ray Shayler tried to work out the legal situation. ‘We were scratching on the subject. We were thinking that it was a breach of the peace, because while the property may be private, the effect was public. And that’s how we worked it out — that’s how we were going to deal with it if we needed to.’
They approached the receptionist, Debbie Wellum, and asked to see the person in charge. Debbie went to get Mal Evans, who tried to stall the police by sauntering down the stairs rather than taking the lift.
When he finally arrived in the hall ‘about ten minutes later’, Debbie was all ears: ‘He talked to the police. They were saying, ‘You can’t do this,’ and ‘It’s too noisy, we’re getting complaints, and charges will be pressed’.
Mal said it would be over pretty soon, but the police insisted they go up.’ In the streets outside, traffic had ground to a standstill.
‘The taxi drivers weren’t happy — they were shouting and hollering,’ recalls one bystander, Paula Marshall. Jimmy, the Apple doorman, finally escorted all the police upstairs.
Ken Wharfe remembers arriving on the roof near the lift shaft, and finding himself next to Ringo.
‘I was completely starstruck with the fact that I, like most people that age, a real fan of the Beatles, had this free concert on the roof in Savile Row. Nobody from the police could work out what to do. Nobody wanted to do anything. I remember John Lennon throwing out lots of quips about being arrested or whatever, but there was a real party atmosphere.’ While the Beatles continued to play, officers negotiated with manager Peter Brown. ‘They said, ‘You can’t do this,’ and I said, ‘Why can’t we do it?’ ‘Well, you just can’t do this.’ And I said, ‘I don’t see why we can’t do it,’ and they said, ‘Well, does your landlord know?’
And I said, ‘We are our own landlords. We own the place. So why can’t we do this on the roof of our own property?’ And they didn’t have any answer.’
Mal Evans told PC Shayler that the Beatles had to record just one more track, and then they would be finished, and the noise would stop.
‘One, two, three, four …’ said George, and they launched into Get Back, the last song they would ever play together live.
When it came to an end, the four Beatles behaved according to character: Paul apologised to the police officers; John and George refused to speak to them; and Ringo fooled around: ‘I’ll go quietly — don’t use the handcuffs!’
Later, Ringo expressed disappointment that the police had been so discreet: the film would have been so much more dramatic, he felt, if he had been hauled off his drums and clapped in irons.
When Ken Wharfe (who, 18 years later, was appointed a Personal Protection Officer to Princess Diana) reported back to West End Central police station, the sergeant who had phoned to alert him earlier that morning said: ‘You got that music turned down, then?’
‘Hey Sarge, it was amazing,’ Ken replied. ‘It was the Beatles on the roof down at the Apple building.’ ‘Let me tell you something, lad,’ replied the sergeant, who was in his late 40s.
‘When I came to London, I was dating a girl in Holborn. Every Wednesday afternoon, duties permitting, we used to go and have afternoon tea at the Waldorf Hotel and listen to music from a proper band. Any group of musicians that is forced to play on the roof of their office has got no future.’
‘My name is Mrs McGowan, and my daughter Angela found Ringo’s St Christopher medal. Is she in any trouble?’
But was she telling the truth? Her fear that her daughter might be in trouble suggested she was.
When Angela said it had come loose from Ringo’s neck when she tore his shirt in the Delmonico Hotel, the DJ knew he had the culprit.
‘Stay right where you are,’ I said. ‘I’m going to send a car for you.’
The next day, with television cameras whirring, Angie McGowan was introduced to Ringo.
Angie, a pretty brunette, stepped forward, gave a little curtsey, and returned the St Christopher to its owner. ‘It’s very small,’ said Ringo, ‘but it means a lot.’
‘Sorry about your shirt,’ said Angie.
‘I can buy another shirt, but I can’t buy another one of these.’
Ringo gave Angie the promised kiss, whereupon three of her friends stepped forward, and he kissed them, too.
Angie kissed him again, with her hand to his head, and Ringo signed an autograph for her.
The DJ reported that the girls were kissing him again, off camera: ‘He’s still kissing Angie; what is going on over there!?’
Meanwhile, Ringo tucked his St Christopher into his jacket pocket, just to be on the safe side.
One, Two, Three, Four: The Beatles In Time by Craig Brown will be published by HarperCollins on April 2 at £20. © 2020 Craig Brown.
To order a copy for £16 (p&p free, 20 per cent discount) go to mailshop.co.uk or call 01603 648155. Offer valid until April 5.
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