by James Wallace Harris, 5/25/23
I’ve been playing The Beatles all this week and I noticed something that has me thinking about it a lot. The first two Beatles albums Please Please Me and With the Beatles came out in 1963 in the United Kingdom but I didn’t hear them until after February 9, 1964, when The Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show. Obviously, some Americans heard Fab Four songs before then because there were mobs at the airport and 73 million people watched Ed’s show that night.
When do you remember first hearing the Beatles? I got interested in those dates because I was going to write an essay about what I remembered about The Beatles from 1964, but it bothered me I was recalling my 1964 but the tunes were from 1962 and 1963. America and England were out of sync by over a year.
Why hadn’t I heard the Beatles on the radio in 1963? Starting in 1962, I listened to Top 40 music several hours a day on WQAM and WFUN AM radio stations in Miami, so I should have heard The Beatles’ songs if they were released. I just don’t remember hearing them at all in 1963.
“Love Me Do/P.S. I Love You” was released in England on October 5, 1962, but not until April 24, 1964, in the U.S., when it reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Beatlemania could have started in late 1962, or early 1963 — why didn’t it?
“Please Please Me/From Me To You” was the Beatles’ 2nd single in England, released on January 11, 1963. It reached #1 on the New Music Express and Melody Maker charts. “Please Please Me/Ask Me Why” was the first Beatles single released in the United States on February 25, 1963, but failed to chart. Some radio stations around the country played this single but it got no screaming fans and was forgotten. “Please Please Me” reached #35 in Chicago on March 8 on their local charts, and again on March 15, but disappeared after that.
“Please Please Me/From Me To You” was re-released in the U.S. on January 3, 1964, and made it to #3 on Billboard. Again, it was obvious that Americans loved the Beatles, but why did we wait until 1964 to love them? This makes me want to write an alternate history science fiction story about Beatlemania hitting America during Christmas of 1962. And it can’t be all Capitol’s fault.
Three more singles by the Beatles were released in the U.K. in 1963: “From Me To You/Thank You Girl” on 4/11/63, “She Loves You/I’ll Get You” on 8/23/63, and “I Want To Hold Your Hand/This” on 11/29/63. Did Americans visiting England bring back these singles and albums? Weren’t there any word-of-mouth from the jet setters?
According to Wikipedia, 34 songs were recorded by the Beatles in 1962 and 1963. Capitol turned down the opportunity to put them out, and a little label, Vee-Jay snapped up the rights. Vee-Jay planned to release Introducing… The Beatles, a repackaged of the UK album Please Please Me in July of 1963, but Vee-Jay didn’t get it out until January 10, 1964. Then Beatlemania hit and Capitol took back the rights.
Theoretically, I could have heard some of the Beatles songs in 1963 on WQAM or WFUN in Miami, but I don’t think so. What if Beatlemania had arrived a year earlier? Would that have launched The Sixties sooner? The 1960s up until the assassination of John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, never felt like the legendary times we call The Sixties. 1960 to 1963 felt like the 1950s.
The Sixties, at least to me, began when The Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan. Seeing them that night felt like Dorothy opening the door in The Wizard of Oz when the film went from black and white to Technicolor. The magic of the Sixties ended for me with Charles Manson and Altamont. In 1970, The Beatles broke up, my father died, and I moved from Miami to Memphis. That’s when I felt The Seventies began.
I was going to write an essay comparing The Beatles’ first two albums against their competition. In America, our first two Beatles albums in 1964 were a mixture of songs from the UK 1963 albums and 1962-1963 singles plus some cuts from the third and fourth British Beatles albums recorded in 1964. It’s all rather confusing if I wanted to understand music as a product of its times.
Here’s an overview of what The Beatles were doing in 1963. As they were writing those songs, or doing covers of American songs, it was 1963. But they made a social and psychological impact on us in 1964. That delay fascinates me.
This week I played all the Beatles albums from Please Please Me (UK 1963) to The Beatles (White Album) (UK/US 1968). I can play all the albums through Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) over and over and did this week. All the songs appeal to me. Each album was a unique masterpiece. Things completely fell apart with The Beatles (White Album). (George Martin and others thought it should have been a single album. I agree completely. The White album feels like a single album with a bunch of outtakes and demos.)
Even though I loved all those Beatles albums through 1967, I’ve only put a few of their songs on my Top 1000 playlist on Spotify. I’ve been wondering why for a long time. I want to compare The Beatles’ songs to the hits that came out at the same time that I love better. But when I saw the dates when the first two albums came out were from 1963, I wondered if should I compare those songs to songs coming out in 1964 when I first heard those Beatles songs, or to songs that were coming out in 1963 when The Beatles recorded their songs?
As I listened to the Beatles’ albums this week it was obvious with each album John, Paul, George, and Ringo progressed in creative sophistication. But then so did pop hits each year. In America, those 1964 Beatles releases stomped the 1964 American releases. But shouldn’t they be compared to 1963 songs?
Finally, could I have heard some Beatles songs in 1963 and they just made no impact on me? Did it take Beatlesmania to get us to love The Beatles? And could the reason I put so few of their songs on my Top 1000 playlist is because Beatlesmania and The Sixties ended in 1969?
9 thoughts on “Why Didn’t I Hear The Beatles in 1963?”
Great post – I was almost 16 when the Beatles came out. We didn’t get to see them in the US until 1964 because Kennedy was shot in late November of 1963. The Sullivan show and the Beatles agreed it was too soon. But they had been played on records and on the radio – just not in the same order they came out in the UK. I know the first songs I heard were I Wanna Hold Your Hand and I forget – She Loves You? Please Please Me? – The Ed Sullivan show advertised pretty hard, so yes, of course there’d be crowds at the airports when they finally got here.
That said I first heard them at a “sock hop” (records and a DJ) over Christmas vacation of 1963. I thought they were okay but … I really wanted the DJ to play more :”Surfin’ Bird .” https://tinyurl.com/yaz6fwae (the original Trash Men – we just all jumped up and started dancing right where we were – and we kept going.)
There was a picture of the Beatles in Life magazine right about then, too. Not the cover, but a big glossy on the inside of the back page, I believe. I had 3 very close girlfriends and we each had dibs on our own certain Beatle. (Mine was Ringo.)
This is the best history I could find about the introduction of The Beatles in America said:
Feb: 1963 – Vee-Jay releases “Please Please Me”
May: 1963 – Vee-Jay releases “From Me to You”
Sep: 1963 – Swan Records release “She Loves You”
Sep: 1963 – American Bandstand played “She Loves You” – teenagers laughed at their hairstyles
Nov: 1963 – CBS Morning News aired a 5-minute story about Beatlemania
Dec: 1963 – CBS Evening News aired a 5-minute story about Beatlemania
Jan: 1964 – Capitol releases “I Want to Hold Your Hand”
The full article is here:
Hmmm. I remember you and I talking about this and me trying to clear out the cobwebs of this memory. What I’m very clear about is that I first heard a Beatles record before I had ever heard of them. It was at my friend Susan’s house and her mother was excited to play it for us—we were having a party and I must have been in 6th or 7th grade. I’m a 1951 baby so I would have been in 6th grade in 62/63 so I would guess we were in 7th grade. I remember us having a scavenger hunt at that party so the weather must have been reasonably warm so I would guess fall of 1963. We were in Memphis so it’s generally warm through at least October. By the time the Beatles were on Ed Sullivan, they were huge in my 7th grade world. I don’t remember what songs we heard but I would guess I Want to Hold Your Hand, Please Please Me, or She Loves You. I do remember it was one 45 so it could only have been 2 of those. I have no idea where Mrs. Berlin got the record. I’m almost positive she hadn’t been to England. Susan was my best friend at that point so I would have known about it—at that time a parent going to England would have been a huge deal. I really need to contact Susan to see if we can flesh out this memory!
Yes, we were in the 7th grade. I was living in South Carolina at the time, out in the country, but at my school in Aiken, it was Beatlemania after Ed Sullivan. I remember roller skating in New Ellington, a tiny town, and they played Beatles all night while kids skated to their music. The Beatles were all the girls talked about for a couple of months.
See my message to Becky for the timeline of released songs before Ed Sullivan.
Vee-Jay release “Please Please Me” and “From Me to You” in Feb. 1963. See here for photo of the 45 sleeve:
Does that trigger a memory? “From Me t You” was released again in May. But I think it had the same sleeve.
Swan release “She Loves You” in Sept. 1963. See this link for a photo of the 45 sleeve.
“I Want to Hold Your Hand” was released 12/26/63. See link for sleeve.
Maybe this pictures will trigger more memories.
first recollection i have of hearing the beatles is a couple days after xmas in 1963; i want to hold your hand on WFUN. their best work came later: revolver,sergeant peppers lonely hearts club band, the beatles. at which point, they should have quit while they were ahead and spared us abbey road. (any idea when across the universe was written/recorded? an underappreciated gem, to say the least.) i have spoken.
Ed, I moved to South Carolina days after JFK was shot. So I missed my chance to hear “I Want To Hold Your Hand” on WFUN. If I had been in Miami I would have heard it.
I thought things fell apart with The White Album and they had one last great album with Abbey Road.
I loved The White Album when it came out. Back then, any news or releases from The Beatles was a major bit of excitement. But I listened to The White Album this week and it was painful. Many great songs mixed in with many so-so songs, and several clunkers. It’s a shame it wasn’t a solid single LP.
my sentiments exactly,more or less,anyway. edit THE BEATLES to two sides, drop ROCKY RACOON in favor of ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, and you would have had an lp that , while not in the same class as WILD HONEY or WHEELS OF FIRE would have been better listening than SUPER SESSION or anything released by canned heat or the iron butterfly.
If you had older sisters, you knew the Beatles from the start. I was 12 in 63 but they were 15 and 18. I had been their Lindy partner for a few years so I got to hear my sisters scream at the records. Ed S was the icing on the cake.
My sisters were instant Beatles fans and bought all their albums. And, they had their favorite Beatle: Karen loved John, Eileen loved Paul, Paula loved George. Somehow, Ringo was left out. I listened to the Beatles, but I preferred The Rolling Stones.