You knew they had to show up sooner or later, and why not today, the 50th anniversary of the first time they set foot in the U.S. Yup, the date was 7 February 1964. And what a welcome for John, Paul, George, and Ringo.
They came over to play on the Ed Sullivan Show, which aired on February 9th. The second appearance was on 16 February, and the third on February 23rd. It so happens that this year those dates fall on Sundays as they did in 1964.
Here in the States, “She Loves You” wasn’t getting much attention, but when “I Want to Hold Your Hand” came along and got to # 1, and The Beatles played Sullivan, well, then there were soon five Beatles songs in the Top Five, this one among them, having hit #1 itself for a couple weeks.
In 1964, I turned 5. In August. This is the music of my childhood. There is a shortlist of things I could come up with from childhood that have had a long-term effect on who I am . . . things like “middle child,” “lost an older sibling early,” “raised Catholic,” etc. Somewhere on that list would be The Beatles. How early did I become aware of them? I don’t remember a distinct impression from the Sullivan shows, though I’m sure they played in our house. The Beatles didn’t make a real in-roads on my consciousness until the 45 we had: “A Hard Day’s Night” backed with “Should Have Known Better.” And when the film was shown on TV was when I was fully clued in about them as figures who were oddly both fictional and real. My first taste of what celebrity really is.
“She Loves You,” though, was unavoidable. It had the tagline “yeah yeah yeah”s that became associated with The Beatles, sneered at by elders as moronic and ungrammatical. To answer “yeah” rather than “yes” to a query from an elder was deemed insolent.
I was also struck—in my dim-remembered past—by the fact that the singer is telling some guy about how a girl feels about him. What a nice guy! The fact that Paul and John sing together is probably the thing that most struck me, as I was used to songs with lead singers. And, apart from the infectiousness of the “yeah yeah yeah,” there were a few other points about the song that grabbed me (I always liked it better than “I Want to Hold Your Hand”): the drumbeats that open the song and the way they punctuate after “yeah yeah yeah” (twice) and the way a fourth, descending “yeah” (that’s the one that gets me) leads into Harrison’s guitar part (ah, Rickenbackers) before the first verse (which is only so-so, I never liked the “yesterday-yay” bit) that gets a big jolt from “she said she loves you” (thump) “and you know that can’t be bad” (guitar figure) “she said she loves you and you know you should be glad.” Now, when that part comes back around we get the great “ooooooo” after “glad” (1:02), which, from then on out becomes the most charged part of the song (you wait for it to repeat and it does), until the part at the end, on third time, “with a love like that you know you should . . . be glad!” (then “yeah yeah yeah” as harmony). The other thing, which was kind of mature for boy-girl relations at the time, is that the lyrics call upon a guy to “apologize to her because she loves you.” Wow.
Granted, for a pre-teen there’s something icky about that, like some girl loves you and you’re supposed to care? But The Beatles say you shouldn’t blow her off, y’know, like you should consider her feelings ‘n’ stuff.
Anyway, when I recall the early Beatles it’s like thinking back to playground etiquette and how one learns to get along with other kids. The fact that these guys were a frame of reference for virtually everyone colors those days for me. Leastways, for kids so young, it defined what popular music was, it owned the radio and it made for collective occasions when other kids asked if you “heard the new one yet.” Because time seems to take so long to pass at that age, the time from 1964 to 1969 took forever. They changed so much, but then, so did I. And so did my siblings and my peers. At times you forgot about The Beatles, but they were always there somewhere and their earlier songs were often more prevalent than current ones once they got seriously into making albums. Which is also a way of saying that The Beatles were for me the time from “A Hard Day’s Night” to “Penny Lane.” Then later appearances with “Hey Jude” and, finally, “Let It Be” and I was into double digits. The first LP of theirs I heard was Abbey Road, and by then the rumors of their eventual demise (to say nothing of McCartney's actual demise) were already in the air.
All of which I’m sure I’ll get to, one way or another. But today it’s the time to “meet The Beatles” fifty years on.