Beatlemania: When the Fab Four took over the world

by Dave Thompson

“It was 45 years ago today” … is there any song lyric that has been so over-used, and become so cliché-ridden as that?

It seems as though every time someone sits down to write about a Beatles anniversary today, that line springs unbidden to their mind. Yet it is probably safe to say that without the anniversary that we mark this year, neither that lyric, nor any of the myriad others with which The Beatles gifted the late 20th century, would ever have been written.

For it was 45 years ago today, or at least this year, that the phenomenon we know as Beatlemania truly started, and while the band had already been top of the pops in Britain and Europe for more than a year before they arrived in America, it was only with their conquest of America that they could truly take on the world.

And if they had failed, then they’d just have been another in that so-long line of Limey imports that really don’t mean a thing. They might even have broken up, and then where would we be?

Instead they swept all before them, arriving in New York as virtual unknowns, then leaving as bona fide superstars. And, by the end of 1964, there wasn’t a power in pop (or any place else for that matter) that could touch them.

Brian Epstein bought The Beatles to America. Their manager since discovering them in the sweaty bowels of the Cavern Club, it was Epstein’s persistence and dedication that molded an unfashionable beat group that had been rejected by every label in the U.K. into one that caused every A&R man in the land to have sleepless nights.

Of course he then turned his attention to America — there really was nowhere else to go.

The Americans didn’t care. Throughout the first flush of U.K. success by The Beatles, EMI’s U.S. counterpart Capitol  showed absolutely no interest in the group.  A few singles wound up on various tiny independents, where they sold nothing and were heard by just as few, but Epstein had faith regardless.

He was planning a visit to New York in the first week of November 1963, primarily to visit an old friend, Geoffrey Ellis. He also planned on meeting with a handful of agents, just to see if he could get some action, and maybe some TV shows as well. Which is how he happened to be on the phone to Ed Sullivan at the most appropriate moment imaginable.

In the normal scheme of things, an unknown Englishman would have had no chance of speaking to a TV god like Sullivan — imagine calling up the network today and demanding to speak with David Letterman about some unknown foreign band you represent. It wouldn’t happen.

But Sullivan had just been in England, when he was caught up in absolute pandemonium — The Beatles flying home from a tour of Scandinavia to the kind of reputation that would normally greet heroes and movie stars alone.

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