I Want to Hold Your Hand: The Start of Beatlemania in the U.S.A.
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Fifty-Five Years of The Beatles’ Milestone Chart Entry
THERE will be people out there who will debate...
IN THIS PHOTO: Paul McCartney is mobbed by fans in Teddington on 11th July, 1964/PHOTO CREDIT: Sunday People/Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix via Getty Images
when ‘Beatlemania’ truly began and sparked in the U.S. In this country, we can chart it to late-1963 but it might have begun a little before then. The boys has already released their debut album, Please Please Me, in March 1963 and they also released With the Beatles in November of the same year. With two albums down, fans here could not get enough and it was clear this exciting new band were taking over the world! Unlike their debut album, there was a lot more original work from John Lennon and Paul McCartney. The debut had some cracking cuts but With the Beatles offered some of the best work from the band so far – including All My Loving. It was a busy and exciting time for the band and, in fact, second album was released in Canada with the augmented title Beatlemania! With the Beatles. That was on 25th November, 1963 and the magic of The Beatles was starting to spread. The boys had been releasing music for a little bit until that point but they were still fresh and new. The fact their music seemed to offer something exciting and embracing meant this fever and desire would heighten and explode. A lot of the music of the time (1963-1964) was quite safe and soft whereas The Beatles provided this rather intense and catchy Pop that was exhilarating. These four lads were breaking hearts and it would not be long until they stormed the U.S.
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With the Beatles went on to sell by the case-load and people could not get enough of them! An important song that brought them to the attention of the American market was I Want to Hold Your Hand. The single entered the U.S. chart at number-forty-five just ten days after its release! It was the U.S. chart debut and the song became the fastest-breaking and fastest-selling in the history of Capitol Records! Many might say the fact the song started so low in the charts means one cannot truly call that the start of Beatlemania but it was a record-breaking disc and one that spent seven weeks at the top of the charts. The boys sort of went from promising and talked-about to these new icons. Many say their subsequent T.V. appearances in the U.S. – including appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show in February 1964 – was more important and meant they reached a larger audience. The Sullivan shows were vital but it was that chart entry and the fact I Want to Hold Your Hand rocketed that fuelled the passion. By The Beatles’ standard, it is not the most complex or audacious track. They would soon go to produce these complex and studio-stretching masterpieces but this was early days and they were trading in the radio-friendly, tight Pop songs that had an innocent message but were far more exciting than anything around.
It would be weird to see a band explode in America based on a song revolving around hand-holding a simple request for connection. The Beatles were more than simple Pop songs and catchy choruses. The boys’ electric performances and harmonies thrilled; they were handsome and clean-cut but had these exotic accents and they had a streak of cheekiness. The song was like nothing floating around the U.S. charts and it was a revelation to young ears. People were responding to this rare and wondrous force and it would not be long until The Beatles’ lives were transformed. The band had already scored hits in the U.K. and were taken to heart at an early stage. Breaking America, as is now and as was then, is the biggest thing a band can do but many have minor success and that is about it. Maybe they will get some big gigs but, in the case of The Beatles, it was like a political and social revolution. The fact they were getting T.V. requests in the country helped bring their music to a wider audience and showed what tight and insatiable performers they were. This illuminating article talks of the start of Beatlemania in the U.S. and the success of I Want to Hold Your Hand:
“Armed with a gig on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” The Beatles finally gained traction in the United States. Capitol Records agreed to back their upcoming record, and CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite reported on the Beatlemania phenomenon in England. In early December, a 15-year-old Maryland girl named Marsha Albert saw the group on the news and wrote her local radio station asking, “Why can’t we have music like that here in America?” When a DJ tracked down a copy of their still-unreleased single “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” the song became a massive hit. Capitol Records had to scramble to get the single onto record store shelves, and it went on to sell 1 million copies in a matter of days...
IN THIS PHOTO: The Beatles spend a bit of time enjoying their fame in Miami, Florida in February 1964/PHOTO CREDIT: Daily Express/Archive Photos/Getty Images
By all accounts, The Beatles still had no idea what was in store for them on February 7, 1964, when they took off from London bound for American shores. Lennon remembered thinking, “Oh, we won’t make it,” while Starr recalled feeling “a bit sick” with anticipation. But when they touched down in New York, the group found themselves greeted by a flock of 3,000 ecstatic, screaming fans—many of them teens playing hooky from school. The band was stunned. “Seeing thousands of kids there to meet us made us realize just how popular we were there,” Harrison later said. In their first press conference, The Beatles appeared relaxed and upbeat. Clad in matching suits, the band fired back at the sea of reporters with cheeky quips that the New York Times later called the “Beatle wit.” “We have a message,” McCartney declared in between questions about the band’s name and their mop-top haircuts, “buy more Beatles records!”
The band would manage to escape the wild fans and find some time to sight-see. They would be able to find some time to unwind but it would not be long until the boys were playing for Ed Sullivan and being introduced to the nation. By the middle of February, the band were playing U.S. gigs and Beatles wigs were being sold to adoring fans. The band had become a brand; they were almost God-like in such a short time and it can all be traced from the charting of their song, I Want to Hold Your Hand. The T.V. ratings following The Beatles’ appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show on 9th February, 1964 were off the chart – as the articles continues and makes apparent:
“Television ratings for the appearance proved astronomical. According to the Nielsen Company, a record-breaking 73 million viewers tuned in to watch The Beatles on “Ed Sullivan”—nearly 40 percent of the U.S. population at the time. Some newspapers still tried to dismiss the British hit-makers as a passing fad, but the numbers didn’t lie: Beatlemania had taken the United States by storm”.
Fans and new converts could not get enough of this new track and a band who were like nothing else around! They would film their second live T.V. slot on 16th February and over seventy-million gathered around their sets. Even though the band would be able to do regular stuff – such as surfing in Miami – fans were hot on their heels.
There were cases of fans cutting Ringo Starr’s hair and others who would launch themselves at the band’s vehicles. It was, in many cases, like it was a zoo but this was almost unprecedented. I can only think of artists such as Elvis Presley who created a storm but even he did not whip up such a typhoon of popularity so quickly! When the band arrived back in London, there was a crowd of thousands to greet them. The Beatles’ invasion of America was a success and it would lead to five Beatles songs entering the Billboard Hot 100. The T.V. appearances had broken records and it was a remarkable transformation – they came to America as a bit of a British curiosity but left on 22nd February as enormous superstars. We can chart the rise and biblical success back to I Want to Hold Your Hand entering the U.S. charts fifty-five years ago. Few could predict the song would take on a life of its own and it would see The Beatles become stars in the U.S. The track itself was to be bested pretty quickly and they would become more accomplished as songwriters – the sheer simplicity, rush and thrill of the track is the secret of its success! If they’d have launched in the U.S. with Hey Jude or A Day in the Life then I do not think that many people would be invested.
The Beatles transformed the strong if slightly predictable Pop scene and provided this new lease. They were mop-haired and scamps; they were like brothers and were pretty playful. Consider the sort of artists that were around in 1964 and they were somewhat stale and anonymous. The Beatles offered a real kick and revolution and people responded in force! Beatlemania would only intensify and it got to the stage where, only a couple of years later, the band were feeling the strain and retired from touring – unable to hear themselves over screaming girls and the sheer volume! The album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967), was their escaping from the stage and spending proper time in the studio. At a time when social media and homogenisation in music makes it hard to foster anyone like The Beatles, it makes that 1964 transformation seem almost like a benchmark. Will any band be able to generate the same popularity ever again?! I cannot recall any artist before The Beatles striking America so hard and being clasped to the chest so firmly. The adoration and raw focus the boys got from fans was insane and they were being met at airports by hordes of screaming! I Want to Hold Your Hand might sound quaint and inconsequential to new listeners and those unaware of their history but, on 18th January, 1964, The Beatles made their U.S. chart debut and their lives would be changed forever. It is amazing to think critics at the time – some, not all – dismissed the song and were tired of it being played on the radio all the time. Bob Dylan was on board and loved the band but felt, because of the unconventional chords and lush harmonies, the band were on weed – he was surprised to find they weren’t when he met them! The Beatles achieved a lot in their career and would enjoy continued success but few are more important than...
IN THIS PHOTO: A fan cannot contain her excitement during Beatlemania in 1964/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
THE start of Beatlemania in America!