As for me, it began on a summer afternoon in l963. For some reason, it was the only summer of my childhood when I spent more time indoors than out, mostly playing with modeling clay and monster toys on the floor of my bedroom, in our house on Grandview Street. I always had the radio on and grooved especially intensely to Leslie Gore’s “Judy’s Turn to Cry” and Peter, Paul and Mary’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” (wow, those three looked like real beatniks!). Throughout the deliciously long days, I’d switch between KCBQ and KDEO, and whenever one of those two songs came on I’d stop all activity in reverence and joy.
Then came The Day. Around 2pm the DJ became honestly excited (or so it seemed to me. Honesty in radio these days seems a fool’s dream). I’ll paraphrase what I’ve never forgotten: “ I’m going to play a song by a group from England. It’s called ‘From Me to You’ and the group is called the Beatles and they’re really popular over there in London and the entire country. And I really dig their sound!” Then I heard the Beatles for the first time. To me it was strange and entirely different from all the other stuff I had been immersing myself in for about two years, which included Jan and Dean and the Beach Boys, even Johnny Crawford from the television show The Rifleman. Everything about “From Me to You” was different, to my young ears, from anything else I’d ever heard. This was good. Real, real good…
When the song ended, the DJ refused to leave it alone: “That’s one terrific song by a new English group called the Beatles… spelled like the word beatnik, not like the bugs. And this song does bug me, though, in a totally boss way… there’s just something about it that… well, I dig it so much I’m gonna play it again! From the Beatles, from England, ‘From Me to You’… here it is again!” I always called it “The Ecstatic Presentation” and have never heard another play/play again moment on radio since that day.
It was, curiously, the only time I heard the song on the radio that summer. Or that year. I raved about it to my brothers later that day, and I knew they trusted me every time after they’d made me “swear to God,” but it was a shame that my word was to be the only evidence of something new, something wonderous that was out there and could be coming our way very soon. The song haunted me for months, even up to Christmas time, when I thumbed through a recent issue of Life magazine, which Mr. Moraros had brought in for the perusal of any of his curious fifth-grade students at Longfellow Elementary School in Clairemont. Geraldine Chaplin was on the cover and inside was a big feature, loaded with photographs, titled “Here Come Those Beatles!” Spread across the bottom half of the feature’s first two pages was a portrait of four of the strangest-looking men I’d ever seen, caught in mid-”Wooooo!” and wearing their hair as long as maybe half the female population were wearing theirs at the time. No, they weren’t wigs. These were the guys who had put out that “From Me to You” record last summer! The article made it clear that people on the other side of the Atlantic were going crazy for them; the young men and boys were even letting their hair grow long now, just like the four Beatles. Collarless jackets like the Beatles wore were a major new fashion over there as well. Girls were fainting at Beatles concerts, caught in the enviable clutches of unprecedented, virginal lust. Ed Sullivan was so impressed, he’d booked the group for his Sunday night TV show two months hence, in February l964.
That issue of Life quickly became the most-referred-to visual aid in our class for the entire school year. By the time summer vacation arrived again, nearly everyone from our class and from every other class at Longfellow had his/her own personal collection of Beatle magazines, as well as 45s and LPs, and gum cards, paperbacks, you name it… Nationally, those very rare parents who’d allowed their sons to grow their hair long like the Beatles spent a lot of time babysitting their offspring who’d been expelled from school! The majority of parents wouldn’t allow their boys to “look like those freakish singers who look like girls” but the few lucky lads who were allowed to and somehow got away with it at school quickly became the most popular kids in class – the sort that, in just a few more years, all the girls would be most anxious to mount. For now, these dudes at least became Instant Makeout Kings. Thanks, Beatles.
America at large mostly saw the Beatles for the first time on the Ed Sullivan Show on Sunday evening, February 9, and then on the same show the following two Sundays as well. The interesting thing about the third show is that it had actually been taped on the afternoon of the ninth, prior to their big national debut. So because of this, if you’re ever asked in some trivia match “What was the first song the Beatles ever played live for an audience in America?” the answer isn’t “All My Loving” from Sullivan Show #1 but “Twist and Shout” from Show #3. Also on #3, watch Sullivan lying through his stoneface as he congratulates the lads for the fine way they’ve handled themselves during their previous “weeks” in the U.S. (when they’d only been over here for two days at the time.)
Another guest on Sullivan Show #1 (a fact that makes #1 all the more special) is the appearance of young Davy Jones in a featured bit with the Broadway cast of Oliver, in which he beautifully performs the part of the Artful Dodger (when Jones had left the London production to join the Broadway cast, he’d been replaced by young Leonard Whiting. Jones eventually became a Monkee and Whiting became a Beatle-haired Romeo in Zeffirelli’s fabulous Romeo and Juliet.
The Thing about the Beatles – and this is a fact that hasn’t changed a bit in 50 years – is that everything they did was so damned good, way better than anything anyone else was doing, and they were constantly evolving, progressing so much in the following five years that to many, their work towers over everything that followed. Popular culture as we know it seems to naturally divide at a pre-Beatles/post-Beatles, pre-February ’64/post-February ’64 point. Case closed. Oh, except for one final bit of trivia:
Name another English product making its American TV debut on February 9, l6, and 23 of l964 – 50 years ago this month.
Answer: Although bisected each week by CBS’s Sullivan Show, NBC’s Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color used the same Beatle dates to present the three-part The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh, which was filmed at Disney’s English studios and starred Patrick MacGoohan. Interestingly, Disney would use the same studios the following year for his telefilm The Legend of Young Dick Turpin, which featured an Artful Dodger-inspired character named Jimmy the Dip. The role would be played by Leonard Whiting…
It gets weirder, but right now, I feel like listening to Capitol’s LP, Meet the Beatles, for the zillionth time in 50 years. Do forgive me, luv.