This past Saturday marked the 55th anniversary of the London premiere of The Beatles’ feature film debut, A Hard Day’s Night, with its accompanying album celebrating an anniversary just four days later. 1964 already proved monumental for the Liverpool quartet, who visited America for the first time, appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, and experienced such “mania” as has never been replicated. But a new album, their first featuring original songs only, and a film offering an intimate look at The Beatles’ cheeky, down-to-earth personas sent the world into a frenzy.
We’ve all seen the footage of screaming girls drowning out the young rock and rollers’ performances. But without reading the incessant newspaper coverage dedicated to the beloved (and hated) mop-tops, it’s impossible to grasp the full scope of Beatlemania and why it’s a global event we’ll never experience again. To that end, let’s explore some of America’s hysterical raw thoughts and reactions toward The Beatles from throughout the milestone year of 1964.
“You Make Me Feel Alright” (Except for the Fainting)
Headlines like “100,000 Expected to Greet Beatles at Airport Tonight” (Santa Cruz Sentinel, Aug 18th, 1964) ran in every city The Beatles visited and even some where they were falsely rumored to appear. In these stories, newspapers offered their readers exact times and locations to join the craze, requiring security and medical professionals to be on full alert.
“Red Cross Ready for Beatle Rush,” The Indianapolis News reported in September, explaining that a total of “Six doctors, 25 registered nurses, 65 first aid men, 20 ambulance drivers, and 23 volunteer Red Cross workers” were assigned to their Indiana State Fair show. Red Cross chapter chairman Paul J. DeVault warned readers, “Faints are expected due to the extreme excitement on the part of some teen-agers.” Fainting was indeed a common occurrence. Mavis Cole, reporting for The Chicago Tribune from the London premiere of A Hard Day’s Night, wrote, “Approximately 120 of their fans had fainted or been carried away in hysterics and the police had arrested two troublemakers.”
“Such a Mean Old Man” (Not the Critics’ Choice)
The critical response to The Beatles early in their career was overwhelmingly negative. Even their historic performance on The Ed Sullivan Show was decried by Boston Globe critic Percy Shain, who preferred Judy Garland’s 9:00 p.m. concert special over The Beatles’ one-star performance. “Really, now, is that music?” he began. Shain’s main complaint was the lads’ animal-like voices, as he critiqued, “I’ve heard better cackling down at the barnyard.” The unimpressed Shain further described their sound as “something like nasal whining twangy chords and a drumbeat.”
Of course, the crowd’s behavior wasn’t attractive either, as Shain wrote, “The audience was as much the show as these four top-heavy howlers…The paroxysms of joy that every bray evoked all but burned up the screen.” The only compliment Shain had to offer was that “their movements are not suggestive in the sense that Elvis Presley’s were during his heyday. They seem like well-behaved boys.” Thank goodness for that.
“Majoring in Medicine” (We Need an Exorcism!)
Doctors and psychologists had plenty to say about The Beatles’ performances and offered their reasons why Beatlemania had taken hold in America. In August, child guidance expert Dr. Bernard Saibel attended a concert for The Seattle Times — an experience he called “unbelievable and frightening.”
“The music is loud, primitive, insistent and strongly rhythmic and releases in a disguised way the all-too-tenuously controlled, newly-acquired physical impulses of the teen-ager,” he concluded. “Mix this up with the phenomena of mass hypnosis, contagious hysteria, and the blissful feeling of being mixed up in an all-embracing, orgiastic experience and every kid can become ‘lord of the flies’ or The Beatles.” He continued to suggest paranormal activity at the event, saying, “Normally recognizable girls behaved as if possessed by some demonic urge, defying in emotional ecstasy the restraints which authorities tried to place on them.” The blame for the chaos, according to Dr. Saibel, lie with “the bizarre, gnome-like, fairy-tale characters” on stage.
Other psychologists like John Gabriel tried to understand the mass attraction to the unkempt stars, explaining it as a byproduct of The Beatles’ androgynous appearance. “The Beatles perhaps are truly masculine in real life,” Gabriel told The Dayton Daily News. “But on stage, with their long hair and tight suits and Cuban heels, they seem to engender important feminine ingredients.” An unnamed psychologist agreed with Gabriel in talking with The Brandon Sun: “They give the impression of being asexual — that is, they pose no threat to the pre-adolescents. They are exciting and absolutely safe.” I’m sure Freud would approve their diagnoses.
“Doing The Garden, Digging The Weeds” (Good for the Garden)
Others took scientific measures to determine the effect Beatles music had on the natural world. As The Star-Gazette reported in June, Lynn Boshkov, 15-year-old daughter of a Columbia University professor, discovered “Radishes simply go wild over The Beatles.” I’m sure we all did this experiment in middle or high school. You take a plant and apply different variables to the samples to see their effects on growth. In this case, the young Boshkov grew radishes while playing different musical selections to promote growth. The contestants — operatic soprano Lily Pons, Czech composer Antonín Dvorak, and The Beatles.
Unsurprisingly to the Fab Four fan, the radish plant exposed to The Beatles performed best in every category, including “weight of foliage above ground,” “weight of radish and root,” and “number of leaves above ground.” The story didn’t say whether Boshkov followed proper scientific method and repeated the experiment. But as for The Beatles’ viability, it seems the proof is in the radishes.
Click ahead for more bizarre headlines.
“I Want You So Bad” (Before Stranger Things Merch)
The Beatles helped grow more than just radishes in 1964. Fan clubs sprouted across America, leading to a revolution in everything from vocabulary to hairstyle. “There’s a whole dictionary of [Beatle talk],” one Reno fan told The Nevada State Journal. The dictionary included such slang as “kip in” for “shut up,” “fab” for “great,” “gear” for “wonderful,” “larf” for “laugh,” and “barf” for “sick.” In Salem, Oregon, another local fan club told The Capital Journal they had amassed “30 Beatle books, 9 Beatle records, over 2,000 Beatle bubblegum cards (some are duplicates) and 3,000 Beatles pictures.”
In fact, The Wall Street Journal reported shortly after The Beatles’ arrival in America that teenagers would “spend $50 million on Beatle wigs, Beatle dolls, Beatle egg cups and Beatle T-shirts, sweatshirts and narrow-legged pants.” Lowell Toy Co., whom The Beatles licensed to create official wigs, told the Journal, “We’re turning out about 15,000 a day, but we’ve got a backlog of 500,000 orders.” Few artists today can even reach those numbers in actual music sales … let alone official fake hair.
“Here Come Old Flat-Top” (Goodbye, Penny Lane)
Many adults, however, detested The Beatles’ mop-top appearance, none more aggressively than The Greenwood Commonwealth’s John Bull. “Not since the locust ravaged crops to utter devastation years ago has the United States been so plagued by insects,” he began his op-ed. Bull had no love for the UK, it seems, as he continued, “If this is Great Britain’s idea of helping to balance the export-import trade, let’s stop trading.” He took shots at The Beatles’ singing and dancing before landing on his main complaint, their hair and the subsequent creation of the wigs.
“There seems but one solution,” Bull declared with zeal. “Either the Barber Shop union better get out and protest quick, or even the 75 cent haircut will be a thing of the past, or will Black Flag [a major pest control company] send out a Beatle spray that works on humans, and help us send the swarm back to the home-land.” If this doesn’t scream “Old Man Yells at Cloud,” I don’t know what does.
“Let Me Take You Down” (Ooh, Sick Burn!)
It seems the young folk of Greenwood, Mississippi, didn’t take likely to Mr. Bull’s opinionated piece, and flooded the paper with letters. If you think social media stan culture is bad now, imagine if Beatles fans had access to Twitter in 1964. The following letter from a young Winona, Mississippi, fan may help paint the picture:
“Dear Beatle Hater, did you know you could be sued? Well you can! I know that there is a freedom of speech but only when it is the truth. I want you to tell me just why you want the Beatles sent back to Liverpool? They are not hurting you or me. You are the one that should be sent back to where you came from.
Here is my opinion of the Beatles: I think they all have a very good sense of humor, in which you haven’t got, especially Ringo. They are all cute, I doubt if you are, especially Paul and Ringo. They can sing anything they want to, you probably can’t even hit a wrong note. HA!!! And as for their hair, it is simply marvelous, yours is probally [sic] straight & frizzy. I don’t see anything wrong with ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand,’ in fact I wish they would. I bet no-one has ever held your hand.”
“It Took Me Years To Write, Will You Take A Look?” (A Beatle Ban)
Not all letters to the editor were in defense of The Beatles, however. Sheboygan, Wisconsin’s Donald W. Keniston wrote The Sheboygan Press with “deep concern” for “the best interests of children of this country.” To that end, Keniston wrote a 17-stanza poem titled “Beattle Ban” [sic].
Published a few weeks after the Ed Sullivan performance, the second stanza warns, “Children follow their leader — Monkey See, Monkey Do/ They’ll mimic regardless, good or bad, IF IT’s NEW/ In the past, from TeVee, much good they have had/ But lately, it seems, much more of it’s bad.”
As the poem nears its close, Keniston calls parents to action:
“If you’ve witnessed this trend and wish something done
Let us ALL pull together, and the battle’s half won
If you’re really concerned, to you I implore
Just follow my lead, and we’ll All Declare WAR
Take positive action, and if we do it NOW
We’ll send this type packing on the first garbage scow
Speak to your children, of your views, leave no doubt
And stop their support of the groups so far out.”
I’d bet Keniston’s authoritarian parent-child speech was followed by a dose of guilt trip like, “We gave you most of our lives. We gave you everything money could buy.”
“Some Have Gone, And Some Remain” (Just a Fad)
Despite the craze America experienced in ‘64, many projected Beatlemania to come to an end in ‘65. A headline in The Dayton Daily News in November boldly read, “Now Who Were Those Four Boys?” as though the band had already faded into obscurity. Others like New Jersey’s Kathy McNamara compared the Fab Four to “a fad”, as she told The Courier-Post, “just like eating gold fish, using hula hoops, Elvis, and the twist.” Including the Beatles, she went five for five, as each of those “fads” continues to pervade public consciousness.
Professionals expected the Liverpool group to drop in sales soon, too. One music merchant told The Brandon Sun on July 13, 1964, “I don’t think they’ll last as long as Presley….The Beatles will probably fade out as quickly as they blew in. Personally, I give them about nine months to go.” Almost nine months to the day, The Beatles would release “Ticket to Ride”, the first single (and No. 1 hit) from their triple platinum album Help!