I greeted The Fab Four when they arrived in America in 1964
While Paul McCartney reminisced about words of wisdom from his mother Mary on Carpool Karaoke, and Ringo Starr invited everyone on the planet to say or think “PEACE ON EARTH” at noon on his July 7th birthday, I remembered February 7th, 1964. It was just two and a half joyless, somber months since young President Kennedy was assassinated, and I welcomed the Beatles to America along with everyone else who could get to the airport to meet their plane (including my own mom Sally Baselice – Ed.)
Yes, I was there, crushed up against it, gawking in at the new arrivals. By virtue of a somewhat altered high school press pass, during the age before the words “airport security” were being dreamt up, I joined thousands of other crazies at the not so “Idle Wild*” airport, beyond the flimsy barrier fence, right onto the field next to the becalmed PanAm clipper aptly named “Defiance” to greet the new English conquerors, the heralds of a cultural change as significant as the Renaissance. They immediately took possession of their American teenage converts, by smiling and simply waving hello to their followers, slowly descending the outdoor staircase to the tarmac.
First off the plane was George, followed by John, Paul and Ringo. Next after came Brian Epstein, their manager, then the press and photographers who were to become a permanent part of the Beatles routine wherever they went. As the four young men walked into the terminal for a quick press conference, the crowds strained to reach over temporary fences to touch their idols, still screaming their names till someone asked for some quiet so the reporters could ask questions of the boys. Holding Signs like “Beatles Are Starving Barbers,” “Beatles Unfair to Bald Men,” but most of all “Welcome BEATLES.” The feeling in the building was overwhelming. The police were being “pressed hard” to hold back the crowds. Thousands of young women, their faces clenched in wild fantasies of ecstatic yearnings pushing and clawing their way to the barriers for a chance to touch one of their dreams.
Hysterical teenage reactions to pop stars surfaced in every recent decade. But the police at the airport were not quite expecting the four Liverpudlians to generate so much excitement. Especially as the first few songs released in 1963 had not sold particularly well. Five to ten thousand school-skipping fans stormed the barricades. Crowds of screaming girls pelted the Beatles with jelly beans and candy kisses and chanted: “We Want the Beatles! WE WANT THE BEATLES!” which was misheard and recorded by the attending AP reporter in his story of the day as “We Want the Beatniks! We Want the Beatniks”!
You could feel the wild drum-rolling cymbal-banging hysteria battering your eardrums. It was exhilarating; I felt the earth was moving under my feet. It was just a taste of the sound of millions of Beatle fans to come over the next 50 years. That taster became an obsession when I saw the Beatles perform in New York Mets’ Shea Stadium. Of course, when I say I saw them, it’s because well, I couldn’t possibly hear them. No band sound system at that time was capable of piercing the high pitched longing voices of 55,000 teenage girls dreaming and screaming from the instant the Beatles appeared through the entire performance which only ceased when their fans were sure the group had gone. Each individual fan had been pleading for her voice to be heard above the others, just to be noticed and taken home by one of the boys in the band. (Non-stop during the concert a veritable sun of flashbulbs from the audience vainly tried to light up the bandstand.)
The Airport Interview
VIDEO: The Beatles Press Conference at JFK Airport (1964)
The scene was chaos, and the noise level in the room made it sometimes difficult for the reporters to hear the questions and answer.
Q: “Are you a little embarrassed by the lunacy you cause?”
JOHN: “No, it’s great.”
GEORGE: (giggling) “We love it.”
JOHN: “We like lunatics.”
Q: “You’re in favor of lunacy?”
JOHN: “It’s healthy.”
Q: “Are those English accents?”
GEORGE: “It’s not English. It’s Liverpudlian, you see.”
PAUL: “The Liverpool accent – so, the way you say some of the words. You know, you say GRASS instead of GRAHHSS, and that sounds a bit American. So there ya go.”
Q: “In Detroit Michigan, there handing out car stickers saying, ‘Stamp Out The Beatles.'”
PAUL: “Yeah well… first of all, we’re bringing out a Stamp Out Detroit campaign.” (laughter)
Q: “What about the Stamp Out The Beatles campaign?”
JOHN: “What about it?”
RINGO: “How big are they?”
Q: “A psychiatrist recently said you’re nothing but a bunch of British Elvis Presleys.”
JOHN: “He must be blind.”
RINGO: (shaking like Elvis) “It’s not true!! It’s not true!!”
JOHN: (dances like Elvis)
FEMALE FAN: “Would you please sing something?”
Q: “There’s some doubt that you CAN sing.”
JOHN: “No, we need money first.”
Q: “Does all that hair help you sing?”
Q: “Does all that hair help you sing?”
JOHN: “Definitely. Yeah.”
Q: “Have you decided when you’re going to retire?”
JOHN: “Next week.”
JOHN: “No, we don’t know.”
RINGO: “We’re going to keep going as long as we can.”
GEORGE: “When we get fed up with it, you know. We’re still enjoying it.”
RINGO: “Any minute now.”
Q: “After you make so much money, and then…”
GEORGE: “No, as long as we enjoy it, we’ll do it. ‘Cuz we enjoyed it before we made ANY money.”
(At the conclusion of this first press conference, since they were still unknown as individuals to most of the American press, the Beatles chanted their names in the order that they were standing at the microphones.)
How did the arrival for the first time in the USA feel to the Beatles?
John Lennon would say to an American reporter about the overwhelming public response, “We thought we’d have to grow everybody, and everybody seems to know us all as if we’ve been here for years. It’s great!” Before they arrived in New York, he was worried “Oh, we won’t make it.”
Ringo Starr, who was “a bit sick” with anticipation, would later remember: “On the airplane, I FELT New York. It was like an octopus grabbing the plane. I could feel like tentacles coming up to the plane it was so exciting. And the first time in New York, I mean, we’d pulled big crowds, and we’d had big airport receptions, but of course, America is bigger than anywhere else in Europe, so, therefore, the crowds are bigger. So we got off the plane, and we were used to ten, twelve thousand people, you know. It must have been four billion people out there, I mean, it was just CRAZY!”
Pre Arrival Publicity: Murray the K
VIDEO: The Beatles & Murray the ‘K’ As It Happened
New York’s number one radio DJ, Murray the K, had stopped playing “Love Me Do” months earlier. And the Beatles first two singles released in the US had also flopped: “Please Please Me” and “From Me to You.” But Beatles knew about Murray before they arrived as he’d written the liner notes on record albums of groups which the Beatles owned.
When Murray was asked by his radio station manager to go and meet the Beatles when they arrived, he sensed the potential after hearing that the group would be on National TV on the Ed Sullivan Show (the equivalent at the time of America’s Got Talent). He began to play their songs over and over again and promote the Beatles visit during the lead up to their arrival and the Ed Sullivan show.
The TV presenter, Ed Sullivan noticed while at an airport in Europe that a crowd of female fans was waiting for the Beatles at the same time. That was when he decided to book the group for his number one talent show and invited the group to play on his network stage. An Estimated 73 million television viewers saw the Beatles on TV the night of the Sullivan show ending any question remaining about the future US success of the band.
Leaving the Airport by Limo
It was almost dangerous, struggling through the crowds of screaming girls driven to a frenzy being so close to their idols who were about to leave
I think my defining moment, the moment that changed my life forever was when I was being carried along with all those excited teenage girls who were thrusting their bodies forward to try and reach the limo about to take their band away. It didn’t fail to dawn on me that being in a rock and roll band was the ultimate way to attract willing women. There, surrounded by screaming and yelling female fans pushing themselves toward the car, I knew I wanted to get some of that Beatlemania for myself and dedicated the next 15 years of my life to playing lead guitar, writing pop songs and running an A&R Department for a major record company (CBS).
As Beatles were leaving the airport, one girl held up a sign declaring: “I Love You Please Stay Here Forever…Regina K”
No one was hurt except the sad feelings of faces of their fans as the Beatles waved goodbye and drove off to New York City’s famed Plaza Hotel on the corner of Fifth Avenue and Central Park.
Along the way, Ringo photographed four people in a car going in the opposite direction. He published that original 1964 photo in his limited edition book of photographs (Genesis Publications) in 2013. Ringo tracked down the now much much older “teens” and the Today Show recreated the shot. The teens from Fair Lawn New Jersey High School were among the thousands of fans and journalists who converged at the airport when the band landed. They later encountered the limo where Ringo opened the window and snapped what became an iconic photograph.
ARRIVING IN NYC – PLAZA HOTEL
VIDEO: The Beatles at the Plaza Hotel (1974)
MORE SCREAMING FANS behind barricades set up across the street from the Plaza.
“We don’t usually like rock and roll but we think they are just great,” said a Julliard student of classical music.
“Anyone can rise out of the crowd and do something like that. It’s just that they’ve worked at it.” said another girl. “I kissed them. Everyone tried to stop me, but I just ran around them. Then Ringo came out of the car. I went to kiss him. I put my arm around his neck. He looked at me and knew I was going to kiss him. So he put his cheek out” a fan said as she broke into a such a big smile that tears rolled down her eyes from joy.”
More Quotes from the Interviews in New York
Q: “Who came up with the name Beatles, and what does it really mean?”
RINGO: “John thought of the name Beatles, and he’ll tell you about it NOW.”
JOHN: “It means Beatles, doesn’t it. But that’s just a name, you know, like shoe.”
PAUL: The Shoes, you see? We could have been called The Shoes for all you know.”
Q: “There have been huge crowds of teenage girls outside complaining that they don’t want to mob you, they just want to speak to you. What do you think about this? Do you want to talk to them?”
RINGO: “Well, have you ever tried talking to about two hundred people at once?”
JOHN: “We’d love to, you know. If we wave, somebody always says ‘Stop that waving! You’re inciting them!'”
Q: “How do you feel about your appearance at Carnegie Hall this week, the center of musical culture?”
RINGO: “Umm well, a bit nervous, but not too much, you know. We just hope we go down, ‘cuz we’re on with a lot of Americans. So we hope they like us.”
Q: “What have you done in New York, and what do you hope to see while you’re here?”
JOHN: “Well, we’ve been out to a couple of clubs. Rock clubs, mainly. ‘Cuz we just like listening to rock when we’re not working, anyway. And we’re hoping some of our favorite artists will come up, but you know, they’re all out on the road or something. They’re not here.”
Q: “Who is your favorite American artist?”
JOHN: “There’s a lot, you know. Marvin Gaye, Miracles, Mary Wells. Those people.”
Q: “When was the last time you had a haircut?”
PAUL: “Uhh, quite a long time, actually. (jokingly, but straight-faced) The last time was about 23 years ago, was the last time I had one.”
Q: “Have you met any interesting American girls?”
GEORGE: “Umm… not yet, but hoping.”
Q: “What do you think of the police protection you’ve been receiving here in this city?”
RINGO: “It’s marvelous. They’re doing a great job, you know, looking after us.”
Q: “Are the crowds as large as you expected?”
JOHN: (giggling) “No. We didn’t expect anything like this, you know.”
Q: (aiming the microphone at Paul) “What is the most interesting offer you’ve ever received?”
PAUL: “Ahh… Yes… Umm… We’ve had a lot of interesting offers, actually. (pause) No comment!”
Q: (laughs) “What do you think of the Christine Keeler Profumo affair?”
GEORGE: (dryly) “It’s great, yeah.”
PAUL: (laughing) “Good publicity!”
GEORGE: (laughing) “Yeah.”
JOHN: “They’re all happening.”
Q: “Have you heard any reviews of your appearance last night?”
PAUL: “The papers this morning just sort of… we only read two of them, and they weren’t very favorable. I think one of the microphones was off, so that may…”
JOHN: “The kids still liked it, you know.”
PAUL: “Yeah. The audience was fantastic. Great reception.”
Q: “Thank you, gentlemen.”
BEATLES: “Thank you!”
The Last Word
I suppose the buzz created by Radio, TV and Press photos of thousands of European Girls literally throwing themselves at the Beatles during the run-up to their US arrival and the continuous radio play by Murray The K created a “hysterical mania” for these new boy singers drawing throngs of girls screaming to the airport February 7th, 1964. And a few of us “journalists” too. That effect was multiplied a few thousand times by their performance on the Ed Sullivan TV show that week when an estimated 40 percent of the American public tuned in to become part of Beatlemania.
VIDEO: The Beatles – I Want to Hold Your Hand– Live on The Ed Sullivan Show