"Ladies and gentlemen... The Beatles!" When you hear the name The Beatles, what comes to your mind? Every time I hear the recording of Ed Sullivan introducing The Beatles publicly on television for the first time in America, my heart swoons. I was born thirty-two years after The Beatles arrived in America for the first time, but the pop culture event (and the band in general) have influenced my life and I always feel romanticized emotions about them.
The Early Years
As their popularity was growing in the UK throughout 1963 with singles "Please Please Me", "From Me To You" and "She Loves You", The Beatles began rising to fame as Beatlemania was born. Yes, there was Elvis and Frank Sinatra that women gushed over a decade before, but with four young men from Liverpool came to play, and the baby boom happened, everyone entered an entire new world. By 1964, their world tours were characterized by same levels of hysteria and high-pitched screaming by female fans at concerts and during the band's travels. When The Beatles arrived in America for the first time in 1964 (and The British Invasion officially began), they were greeted by thousands of fans awaiting their arrival. Along with their arrival, The Beatles also appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show which was viewed by approximately 73 million people.
1965's Shea Stadium show in New York was attended by 50,000 people - setting records for attendance and revenue generation. While half a hundred thousand fans were shrieking at the top of their lungs, thousands fainted, needing medical attention due to excitement and overwhelming sensations. 1965's Rubber Soul marked a profound change in the dynamic between fans and artists.
In 1966, John Lennon fired up controversy for himself and the band by telling a reporter (unknowingly) The Beatles were bigger than Jesus - to an extremely religious society. After touring Japan, The Philipines and The US, The Beatles were mobbed, involved in violence, political backlash and threats of assassination. Frustrated by the restrictions of Beatlemania and unable to hear themselves play over their fans screams, The Beatles ended their touring days and became a studio-only band.
Beatlemania - Fan worship in its intensity and scope. Fans were young adolescent females (being referred to as "teenyboppers") and hyper-excited about The Beatles' existence - due to their charming looks, cheeky personalities, and romanticized love songs.
The Beatles as they were - John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr - all came from working-class and less fortunate families in Liverpool, which made them more relatable to the masses. Why were people so attracted to The Beatles? In a world full of war, assassinations, movements and more, The Beatles felt like a light to the world - providing musical escapism through light-hearted songs.
"Is there really much difference between male crticis debating which is better - Revolver or Sgt. Peppers, and two young girls debating why one loves Paul and the other John? Both require deep knowledge, judgement and a bit of frenzy." - Sibbie O' Sullivan, The Washington Post
So what sparked Beatlemania in America? A fifteen-year-old girl, CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite, and a disc jockey in Washington D.C. Cronkite made a decision to broadcast a report on The Beatles on December 10, 1963. Fifteen-year-old Marsha Albert of Maryland tuned in and saw The Beatles performing "She Loves You" in Britain. She then wrote a letter to her favorite radio station - Washington's WWDC - asking why we can't have this music in America.
Disc Jockey Carroll James, who had also seen the CBS News Beatles report, arranged to have a copy of their latest single "I Want To Hold Your Hand", and had it delivered to him by a flight attendant who worked for British airline BOAC. Exactly one week after the news broadcast - December 17, 1963 - James invited Marsha Albert to introduce the song on his radio show. The station's switchboard began lighting up as eager phone callers were raving about the new sound they were hearing. Soon after, radio stations in Chicago and St. Louis began playing The Beatles which created a domino effect - everyone had Beatle fever.
The Beatles are the best-selling music act of all time, weighing in on having over 1.6 billion records sold, as of 2014. Along with their record sales, the band also had 20 number-one singles that topped the Billboard charts in eight short years. The longest chart-topping single from The Beatles was "Hey Jude", spending nineteen weeks on the charts in America. All in all, The Beatles' songs have spent a total of 132 weeks on the charts.
As we stated before, the early 60s were a crucial time in the world (and tbh the world is always in a crucial time) but The Beatles had the most influential impact on society - music, fashion, culture, politics and more. They were the first band to make music videos, the first to produce songs that dominated the charts for consecutive weeks, and the first to use different genres in their music including pop, rock, classical and jazz.
When The Beatles arrived in America, the country was never the same again. In mass hysteria, fan clubs were born, along with merchandise, sleeping overnight for concert tickets, fainting at concerts and seeing the band in real life, fainting when concert tickets sell out, the list goes on. The Beatles were wildly popular in Liverpool, specifically the Cavern Club where they performed 292 times between 1961 and 1963. There, music fan culture was born and young women began admitting how they found all four members were attractive and which one was their favorite.
With singles such as "Please Please Me", "I Want To Hold Your Hand" and "She Loves You" debuting in the UK, America and beyond, the idea of dating and courtship in their songs were appealing to young girls. Soon enough, every fan was able to buy posters, outfits, badges, dolls, fan magazines, wallpaper, lunchboxes and everything imaginable of The Beatles.
Setting The Bar
As we conclude our exploration through Beatlemania and the history of The Beatles, we realize fan culture began with Beatles fans. Through screaming at concerts, waiting in line for hours at shows, searching for band members just to get a glimpse at them - the legacy has continued throughout the decades - Duran Duran in the 80s, Backstreet Boys in the 90s, Justin Bieber in the 2000s, One Direction in the 2010s, and now we're currently with BTS... However, the masses have never compared to Beatlemania and never will, as The Beatles were the first music act ever to amass such a loyal fanbase.