Some things you will never ever forget. One, for me, is Ed Sullivan introducing “these youngsters from Liverpool.” Hands clenched on head, pulling at hair, “eek, aah, oohh”. In the living room with parents, sitting on the floor in front of the television, screaming. Watching John-Paul-George-and-Ringo, February 9, 1964. I still can hear “well, she was just seventeen, and you know what I mean, the way she looks, is way beyond compare.”
Even now – old enough to realize that my parents must have been looking askance at each other, each blaming the other’s gene pool for having produced such a half-wit of a child – the memory sends shivers through me. After that and before, I watched bands I loved on Ed Sullivan’s “shew”. But the Beatles were “way beyond compare.”
I think we in North America were lucky in our introduction to them. They were already an established sensation by the time they came on tour. We already knew it was ok to like them; indeed being Beatle-crazy was de rigueur. Probably in England, there had been girls who said ‘they’re ok but it’s Frankie and the Fruitcakes who are really going to make it big.’ In light of knighthoods, billions in sales and historical perspective of the musical and social change started by the Beatles, those girls probably still feel a bit silly.
Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein made a way bigger misjudgment. According to Terry O’Reilly on CBC’s Under the Influence, Epstein let someone else market Beatles products – at a 90/10 split, the 10% going to the Beatles. Who didn’t buy a Beatle wig? And I had Beatles bubblegum trading cards, uncut sheets. My father got them from a friend at O-Pee-Chee Gum. I cut them into individual cards, not keeping even one whole. I could have retired on the proceeds of those.
The fact that none of the plentitude of Mersey Beat bands ever matched the Beatles’ success does not deny the success that many did achieve due to the spin-off effect. The Beatles were not created in a vacuum; they were influenced by their contemporaries and they opened doors for others. In September 1964, the Beatles came to Toronto. My mother would not let me go, despite wheedling and tantrums. Two months later, my friends and I stood along Oxford Street in London (Ont.), waiting for the Dave Clark Five to drive past. They were playing at Treasure Island Gardens and, again, my mother said I couldn’t go. But being in that crowd of girls on the street, screaming our heads off, made up for a lot. The Dave Clark Five weren’t the Beatles, but they were close enough. Tellingly, I have no memory of the Rolling Stones coming to London the next year. That suggests their music was beyond my pre-adolescent ken.
Terry O’Reilly mentioned a 1960s band called the Beau Brummels. They were from California but their music and foppish suits seemed British. And, maybe more importantly, their name put their records alphabetically right after the Beatles in record bins, thereby increasing their sales.
I will be watching the Beatles special February 9th on CBS. I’ll probably sit on the floor as close as possible to the tv, maybe scream a little. For sure, I’ll cry a little for four lads and a girl from long ago.