1964- The Beatles Have Landed

June 30, 2014

 

 

1964- The Beatles Have Landed

by

R.E. Prindle

Beatles At Idlewild

Beatles At Idlewild

The mystery of the Sixties explosion is a troubling one. Why would a simplistic musical group touch off the post-war changing of the guard and why at that time? How could a mere recording group of four very young men have such a profound effect on culture for, really, the century?

The detonators of the Sixties bomb came from a narrow time span of two or three years on either side of 1942-43. And they happened in England. The fuse was in that country while the explosion took place in the United States.

The English age cohort born in the center of the world war missed the war but grew up in the privations of 1945 to 1954 and the slow recovery of the fifties. This had a profound effect on their psyches.

The extreme Cold War tensions of the period from 1945 to 1960 also had their effect. The ending of the draft or what the English called National Service in 1960 meant that those born in ‘42 and ‘43 were relieved of duty. The could get on with their lives.

In the US the use of the Atomic Bomb against ‘the little yellow people’ of Japan had a racially devastating effect. Never mind that the Japanese started the war with the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. The big bad White Americans had used the ultimate weapon against the defenseless little colored people. It wasn’t an act of war; it has been characterized as racist.

Then in 1949 the Soviet Union got the Bomb. This fact alone touched off a low grade hysteria. Americans were in panic mode for the next ten years. School kids were taught to get under their desks and cover their heads as though that were some sort of defense against atomic annihilation. Imagine the lesson that entered their minds. Everyone’s nerves were quivering constantly. The great panic, the persistent latent hysteria was epitomized by the 1964 film Dr. Strangelove: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb. By some strange trick of memory I am convinced I saw the movie in 1958 when I was in the Navy. I can ‘remember’ the guys I saw it with and I have to convince myself that imdB isn’t wrong.

And then one of the biggest disasters ever to hit the United States hit: John F. Kennedy was elected president. Three years of torture followed. Three long years of sitting on the edge of our chairs wondering not if but when the idiot was going to pull the plug. His assassination was almost guaranteed the day he was elected.

Waiting For The Electrician Or Someone Just Like Him

-Firesign Theater

Like some few others I have wondered if the extraordinary success of the blasting cap of the explosion, that is the Beatles, wasn’t some sort of conspiracy. I just couldn’t figure out how such an amazing thing as four dips from Liverpool England could become earth shakers without plotters involved somewhere and making it happen. Then after writing my essay The Beatles: An Attempt To Explain The Paul Is Dead Controversy an explanation occurred to me.

The Beatles were the perfect storm caused by the tense nerve wracking eighteen years from 1955. People were wound too tight and needed release.

All of the storm elements were there waiting to come together. They didn’t have to but if one or two was missing the Beatles would never have happened. It has been said that in life there is a tide that if caught ensures success but if missed all fails. The Beatles caught that tide and rode it before imploding in the late Sixties.

Lennon, McCartney and Harrison were the right age, complementing each other perfectly. Jettisoning Best and Sutcliffe, then replacing Best with Starr was a master move. Ringo did not clash with the front line.

Then the war had created a situation in Hamburg Germany that provided a tough, hard proving ground for aspiring British bands. The Beatles learned to play and please a diverse audience.

Returning to England without direction or management that might lead to a career the perfect manager in the form of Brian Epstein appeared. He himself knew nothing of managing bands but perhaps believing he had a tiger by the tail he threw himself into it battering down the doors until a reluctant EMI sent the group over to their perfect producer who knew what to do with them- George Martin.

Epstein got them touring and the public liked their records. They were a phenom in England but England is a small place. Of course no one realized that Lennon and McCartney would be the greatest song writing team of the century, who could have predicted it? No one could have planned that. The question for Epstein was how to capitalize the English fame.

The final element of the storm fell into place. Epstein booked the band for a Swedish tour. While the girls were storming the boys at the Swedish airport an amazed American TV producer who happened to be in Sweden at that airport watched in amazement. Always on the qui vive for an astonishing new act Ed Sullivan walked over to chat up the boys. He liked what he saw and booked the band for the beginning of 1964. How probable was that?

How probable was it that Kennedy would be assassinated toward the end of 1963 to validate their arrival?

Ed was convinced but in the US if we had heard of the Beatles it was with a shrugged, so what. Big in England? Who cared? The closest the English had come to rock was Tommy Steele and what a laugh he was. Not that funny though. No need for a repeat.

Actually the Beatles had been offered around the US record companies with no takers other than the small obscure VeeJay label. In 1963 the JV record had disappeared without a trace. Nothing there was there? I didn’t think so. I Want To Hold Your Hand? Right. Some sexual revolution, hey?

Ed And The Boys

Ed And The Boys

Ed Sullivan was a master showman no doubt about that. Plus he remembered the sensational ratings Elvis had given him. When the news of the Sullivan booking reached EMI they notified their US subsidiary Capitol Records. Capitol tried to retrieve the VJ recordings but failing that they just rode over them.

Now the big promotion began: The Beatles Are Coming, The Beatles Are Coming. Well, OK, we’re waiting. The big 707 jet plane was still new. There weren’t even docking facilities yet, the plane just parked out on the tarmac and passengers debarked down stairs walking to the terminal.

It is said that Capitol recruited a bunch of girls for the arrival and set them screaming. Probably so. Some genius got the TV cameras to record the Beatles’ arrival on what must have been a slow news day. No English band had ever made it in the US. Even the Rolling Stones arriving a few months after the Beatles flopped on their tour.

The Beatles apparently expected nothing but were greeted by batteries of newsmen with microphones and a thousand screaming girls. Hey ho! Welcome to America boys. You can see the bewildered, amazed, bemused expressions on their faces. Very cool. Just the right effect. Even if you didn’t like their music, it failed to impress me, you did like John, Paul and Ringo, George not so much. General nods of approval next morning.

And the screaming girls on the Sullivan show! What the hell was going on? Who’d ever seen that before? Something was happening here but we didn’t know what it was, did we? And so history was made. The tide was rolling in. the Beatles became the cynosure of the world. The first world wide band. This particular transition to a new world was made. But why?

I think that when Kennedy was assassinated it broke the continuity between the post-WWII world and the new. After Kennedy’s death there was a sort of void, a period of dithering. Quo vadis?

When the Beatles landed it broke the spell, released the pent up hysteria of eighteen years that spilled out all over the Sixties. The tide came in and washed our sins away.

It need never have happened but it could and did. The perfect storm raged. All the elements of the storm had come together in the proper order.

A precursor storm may have been the Twist phenomenon but most of the elements were missing for it to release the pent up emotions although a part of the hysteria yearning for release flashed through.

While the notion of a conspiracy is attractive, we all love a good conspiracy, perhaps even desirable, I don’t think it’s there. It was just the possible that coagulated and happened. No one was prepared it was all improvisation after the Sullivan show.

I Want To Hold Your Hand

I Want To Hold Your Hand

 

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