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?