Definition — Extreme enthusiasm for The Beatles, as manifested in the frenzied behavior of their fans in the 1960s.
“The band took to spending weeks on end in the studio as a way of escaping from the mayhem of Beatlemania.”
When Scottish concert promoter Andi Lothian first booked The Beatles in January of 1963, fifteen people showed up. When he booked them again that October, local police were pleading with him to let them onstage early to appease the fans growing increasingly agitated.
He told The Guardian, “The girls were beginning to overwhelm us … It was absolute pandemonium. Girls fainting, screaming, wet seats. The whole hall went into some kind of state, almost like collective hypnotism. I’d never seen anything like it.”
The Beatles had since released their chart topping album and single, both titled Please Please Me. While the phenomenon had already sparked to life in the United Kingdom, it took a few well placed breaths to send Beatlemania across the pond.
Roots in History
The word mania was first used to describe fandom in 1844. As reported by The Guardian, German poet and essayist Heinrich Heine coined the term Lisztomania to describe the pandemonium that erupted from fans during performances by the piano virtuoso Franz Liszt.
Back then, the phrase also carried implications of mental illness. The word Beatlemania, though, carried no such connotations (despite its close association with overactive pituitary glands). Parents of Beatlemania-afflicted teens, however, definitely thought their children were hypnotized by a spell of strange music that caused transistor radios to become permanent fixtures to their ears.
The Beatles had already been introduced to the States with the songs “Please Please Me” and “From Me to You,” and the singles were both flops initially. This made the American branch of The Beatles’ record label apprehensive about promoting them domestically. Fate was on their side, however, and the Fab Four were about to catch a break.
According to History.com, American television host Ed Sullivan was walking through London’s Heathrow airport when he encountered hordes of ecstatic teens, eager to see The Beatles’ return from tour. Shortly after, Sullivan booked them on the Ed Sullivan Show. Prior to seeing the commotion in the airport, Sullivan had never heard of them. He suspected, though, that they could be “as big as Elvis.”
The Beatles in Technicolor
With a performance on the Ed Sullivan added to their agenda, the Beatles’ American record label agreed to back their upcoming album. The band had also gained exposure in the States after CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite reported on the Beatlemania phenomenon raging across the UK and parts of Europe.
After seeing one such newscast, 15-year-old Marsha Albert from Maryland wrote to her local radio station asking, “Why can’t we have music like that here in America?” After some digging, a radio DJ unearthed the unreleased single “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” reports History.com. The song was wildly popular and sent The Beatles’ record label into a frenzy as they worked to meet customer demand. The single sold 1 million copies in the span of a few days. The British Invasion had begun.
While there are varying accounts of who coined the term Beatlemania first, the word mania and its historical roots ensured it was only a matter of time before it would be used to describe the band whose popularity spread like wildfire. The phenomenon only needed to wait until the conditions were right to make that leap across the Atlantic successful.
Order Amidst the Craziness
Along with the Beatles, Bob Bonis also confronted the raging crowds of teenage girls while serving as their U.S. Tour Manager from 1964 to 1966 (as well as for the Rolling Stones’ first five stateside tours). Armed with his Leica M3 camera, he was able to capture The Beatles in moments of order, amidst the chaos and flurry of screaming fans.
These never before available photographs of The Beatles at the height of Beatlemania are now available from the Bob Bonis Archive as strictly limited edition fine art prints. Each photograph is hand numbered, estate embossed, and comes with a Certificate of Authenticity from the GRAMMY Museum® at L.A. LIVE!