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The Fab Four 50 Years Later

1963 TV Concert: “It’s The Beatles” Live

Following their appearance on the BBC television show Juke Box Jury, The Beatles recorded a special concert appearance for the corporation at Liverpool’s Empire Theatre. The performance took place in front of 2,500 members of The Beatles’ Northern Area Fan Club, between 3.45 and 4.30pm. It was filmed in its entirety by the BBC, and 30 minutes were broadcast that evening from 8.10pm to 8.40pm during a special programme entitled It’s The Beatles. The group played a short version of From Me To You, followed by I Saw Her Standing There, All My Loving, Roll Over Beethoven, Boys, Till There Was You, She Loves You, This Boy, I Want To Hold Your Hand, Money (That’s What I Want), Twist And Shout, and another version of From Me To You. Technical problems and lack of rehearsal times meant the sound balance for the concert recording was sub-standard. Both The Beatles and senior figures at the BBC later expressed concern at the often embarrassing nature of the footage, which included the absence of Ringo vocals during Boys and the director focusing on the wrong members of the group during key moments. After the concert the BBC also recorded a two-minute interview with the group to use on the Christmas Day edition of Top Of The Pops. The Beatles then made the short journey to the nearby Odeon Cinema on London Road where they gave two evening concerts. The police closed Pudsey Street to the public to allow the group to reach the venue unhindered.

beatles9e-1-webThe Fab Four 50 Years Later by / New York Daily News 

Almost 21 years ago, my wife gave birth to our first child. I had been awake for about 24 hours, so I was more than a little dazed when the obstetrician placed our newborn daughter in my arms and asked me if I had any questions.

“Yes,” I blurted. “Will she know who the Beatles are?”

“Beats me,” he replied, with a laugh. “But why do you care?”

I’ve been thinking about that this month, as America marks the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ first visit to our shores. The two surviving members of the band, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, sang together on stage last month at the Grammy Awards. And tonight at 8, exactly a half-century after the Beatles’ historic appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, CBS will air a two-hour special featuring contemporary pop artists covering their songs.

So what made the Beatles so special, in their time and in our own? Why do we care?

ap-century-collectionThe best way to answer that is to look at the other acts who shared the bill with them on that fateful evening back in 1964. After the Beatles played three songs, a magician named Fred Kaps performed a card trick and a sleight-of hand involving a bottomless salt shaker. Impressionist Frank Gershin, who later played “The Riddler” on Batman, did send-ups of Dean Martin and Marlon Brando. And then came the inimitable Tessie O’Shea, a generously proportioned banjo player whose best-known song was “Two-Ton Tessie (from Tennessee).”

Get the picture? American popular culture was staid and predictable, produced by self-satisfied adults for their own entertainment; adolescents were mostly left out of the picture. But the Beatles brought them back in. That’s why youngsters in the crowd shrieked and screamed during the band’s three songs, and again when the Fab Four came back to play two more. “If you don’t keep quiet,” Ed Sullivan warned, “I’m going to send for a barber.”

The quip alluded to the Beatles’ famously floppy hair, of course. To promote the band’s American tour, their record company sold “Beatles’ wigs” and required sales staff to wear them at all times. In Hollywood, meanwhile, actress Janet Leigh became the first A-lister to get a “Beatles” hairdo from her hair stylist.

imagesA woman, with a man’s haircut? Or were the Beatles a bit like women themselves? The band mixed things up on the gender front, too, which helped account for their extraordinary popularity among young women. The nearest rock icon to the Beatles, Elvis Presley, streamed all of his sexual energy through his hips. The Beatles were sexy in a much safer way, from their preppy clothes to their toothy white smiles and, yes, their long hair. And the girls loved it.

Not everybody did, of course. “Beatle music is high pitched, loud beyond reason, and stupefyingly repetitive,” Newsweek wrote in November 1963, as the Beatles prepared plans for their U.S. tour. To a reporter at CBS, meanwhile, the Beatles were “merely the latest objects of adolescent adulation” and “the modern manifestation of compulsive tribal singing and dancing.”

Indeed, the Fab Four themselves wondered whether they’d make it in America. “They’ve got everything over there,” Starr told a British reporter. “Will they want us too?” In a now-famous $100 bet they made before the tour, only McCartney wagered that it would be a success; Starr, John Lennon, and George Harrison bet against it.

They needn’t have worried. McCartney’s own father had berated him for the “Americanisms” in his songs, especially the use of the term “yeah” for “yes.” And the band’s carefully cultivated style-long-haired but straight-laced, optimistic but ironic-fit perfectly in the U.S., where the postwar baby boom was coming of age.

If you were born in 1946, you were 18 years old when the Beatles came to America. You probably had some purchasing power, thanks to a long run of national prosperity. But you were also restless and impatient, bored by the bland propriety and hollow affectations of the adult world.

beatles-i-want-to-hold-your-handThen came the Beatles. Like Bob Dylan, who burst onto the scene around the same time, they wrote their own songs. More than that, though, they channeled the restless energy of youth itself. As the British poet A. E. Housman wrote, they were “the lads that will never be old.”

That’s how we want to see ourselves, in these still-young United States: eternally happy, fresh-faced, and eager to embrace the challenges of the world. And we want the same for our kids, too. The newborn baby I held in my arms is now a young adult, poised and serious and ambitious. I am unspeakably, even painfully proud of her. But I also hope she holds on to the passion and exuberance and plain-old silliness of her youth, and of mine.

And yes, she knows who the Beatles are. We made sure of that.

Zimmerman, the author of “Small Wonder: The Little Red Schoolhouse in History and Memory” (Yale University Press), teaches history and education at New York University. ℗ is your source to learn about the broad and beautiful spectrum of our shared History.