With The Beatles’ popularity rapidly expanding throughout Europe, the Beatlemania phenomenon and its hop across the Atlantic became a matter of when, not if.
Music from the Fab Four had been introduced to the states before with the singles “Please Please Me” and “From Me to You,” but they were not well received. Also, U.S. media coverage of the band’s rise to fame in the UK was often approached with undertones of jest.
The Beatles had already been wildly popular in the UK since early 1963, but for Americans, it took some time to warm up to the eccentric group of shaggy-haired boys from Britain. In the 2008 book Can’t Buy Me Love: The Beatles, Britain, and America, author Jonathan Gould notes how the band was often likened to an insect infestation with headlines such as “Beatle Bug Bites Britain.”
Beatlemania Invades U.S. Radio
U.S. newscasters also reported that Brits were late to discover this wonderful thing called “rock-n-roll,” because after all, Americans had already produced the likes of Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly. But between the critical and confounded news commentaries, The Beatles and their love for the blues took its place in the forefront of America’s consciousness.
After the single “I Want to Hold Your Hand” hit U.S. radio waves and skyrocketed to No. 1, the masses rose up and unanimously demanded more. Citing the previous failures of their two singles, The Beatles’ record label was reluctant to fund promoting the band in the States. But now with their appetites whet, Americans swarmed to their local record shops and the Beatles’ record label scrambled to keep up. Sales of the 7-inch single eclipsed the 1-million-mark in a matter of weeks.
The success of the single and a scheduled appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show convinced the record label to promote the band in the states. In the weeks leading up to The Beatles’ boots hitting U.S. soil, the label launched an aggressive advertising campaign. Their arrival was brought to the attention of the American public via 5 million promotional posters, writes Gareth L. Pawlowski in the 1989 book How They Became the Beatles.
A Nation United By Grief
In the months preceding their arrival, though, Americans were in the throes of a tumultuous emotional state. Just eleven weeks before The Beatles landed on U.S. soil, President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed in Dallas, Texas. The nation was in mourning, in fear, and in disbelief, writes Jonathan Gould in Can’t Buy Me Love.
He notes that teenagers, in particular, were having difficulty coping. Gould illustrated that teens began to shift from a state of disbelief into one of despair. This was evident from high school essays in which students shared sentiments like, “I never felt so empty in all my life,” and, “I was feeling the whole world is going to collapse on me.”
But as popularity of the new single spread like wildfire, and as fans became aware of the Beatles’ trip across the pond, excitement and eager anticipation began to swell into the fevered pitch created by screaming fans awaiting the arrival of Pan Am Yankee Clipper flight 101 from London.
The Beatle Has Landed
Dressed in their trademark mod suits, The Beatles touched down at John F. Kennedy airport in New York on February 7, 1964. According to History.com, the Fab Four were greeted by over 4,000 ecstatic fans (who nearly started a riot) and roughly 200 journalists.
It was official — Beatlemania had arrived on American soil and the British Invasion was moving ahead with full force.
Ringo Starr recalls the flight in the television documentary series The Beatles Anthology. He said, “It was so exciting. On the plane, flying in to the airport, I felt as though there was a big octopus with tentacles that were grabbing the plane and dragging us down into New York. America was the best. It was a dream, coming from Liverpool.”
Paul McCartney reminisced by saying, “There were millions of kids at the airport, which nobody had expected. We heard about it in mid-air. There were journalists on the plane, and the pilot had rang ahead and said, ‘Tell the boys there’s a big crowd waiting for them.’ We thought, ‘Wow! God, we have really made it.’”
The Beatles on Ed Sullivan
In only two days, on February 9, The Beatles would serenade and win the hearts of Americans nationwide with their first televised performance on The Ed Sullivan Show.
That night, approximately 74 million Americans tuned in to watch the Beatles, or almost half the country, according to a 2004 New York Times article titled They Came, They Sang, They Conquered. The show had the largest number of viewers that had ever been recorded in U.S. television history.
Two days after their performance on the Ed Sullivan show, February 11, The Beatles played their first-ever live U.S. concert at The Washington Coliseum in Washington D.C. The next day they played their second U.S. concert at Carnegie Hall in New York.
Then, on February 16, they made their second appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, which attracted some 70 million viewers. Finally, on February 22, The Beatles flew home to rest, and to process their new place in world history.
Catching Up With Bob Bonis
It wouldn’t be until August of that same year that they would meet up with Bob Bonis for their first official American concert tour. Bonis served as the band’s U.S. Tour Manager on all three American tours between 1964 and 1966 (and also for the Rolling Stones on their first five trips stateside).
While The Beatles displayed their passion for music on stage, Bonis practiced his own artistic passion for photography. Using his always-ready Leica M3 camera, he captured both intimate and chaotic moments during the peak of Beatlemania.
These iconic moments are now available for the first time 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!