A Fun and Fascinating Look at When The Beatles Came to America.
“I think one of the cheekiest things we ever did was to say to Brian Epstein, ‘We’re not going to America until we’ve got a Number One record.’” – Paul McCartney
On February 7, 1964, Pan Am Yankee Clipper flight 101 from London landed at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City—and The Beatles had arrived in America. Just six days earlier, ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ had become the Number 1 song in the country, having already sold more than a million copies nationwide.
Two days later a record-breaking 73 million Americans tuned in to watch The Beatles perform on The Ed Sullivan Show. The Fab Four would follow that up by electrifying a crowd in Washington, DC with their first concert in the United States. Beatlemania truly had arrived, and it would only get bigger.
In August 1964, The Beatles would make a triumphant return for their first North American concert tour. In just 33 days, The Beatles would sell an unprecedented number of tickets, earn more than any musical performers had before them, and establish their place in music history.
THE BEATLES in America 1964 is a magical mystery tour filled with fascinating stories, first-hand accounts, and in-depth coverage of John, Paul, George, and Ringo throughout their 1964 visits to America.
Take a step back through the mists of time and experience The Beatles in America like you never have before.
The Beatles Are Coming!
“I think one of the cheekiest things we ever did was to say to Brian Epstein, ‘We’re not going to America until we’ve got a Number One record.’” – Paul McCartney[i]
By 1964, the Beatles were ready to conquer America. They were experiencing astonishing success in England, having achieved three Number One singles and two Number One albums on the U.K. charts. Yet, despite their success at home, The Beatles were still unknown in the United States during the fall of 1963.
As ‘Love Me Do’ made the U.K. music charts in 1962 (eventually reaching No. 17), Parlophone, The Beatles’ record label, offered the song to Los Angeles based Capitol Records. Both Parlophone and Capitol were subsidiaries of EMI Records, so Capitol had the right of first refusal for the release of Beatles material in the United States. Upon hearing the song, Capitol A&R executive Dave Dexter passed on releasing it. Dexter recalled his decision in a 1988 interview:
“I got one Beatles record […] and it was in with about seventeen other sample records. And, of course, the British companies they wanted us to issue as many of their records over here [the United States] as possible, because it was the biggest record market in the world. And I can only remember when I heard Lennon playing a harmonica on this record, I thought it was the worst thing I’d ever heard. So, I nixed it. I didn’t want any part of the Beatles.” (Haddix, University of Missouri-Kansas City) [ii]
While Dexter would become infamous to Beatles fans for rejecting
The Beatles on more than one occasion, his decision to pass on ‘Love Me Do’ at the time was not surprising. Dexter’s rejection was in keeping with both his general attitude toward rock ‘n’ roll music and British musical acts. In fact, no British musical act had found sustained success in the United States. Even The Beatles did not seem all that bothered about Capitol passing on the single, as they had yet to achieve success beyond Liverpool at that point. However, things got far more interesting as The Beatles found greater success on the U.K. charts, and Beatlemania swept across England.
‘Please Please Me’ (single) was released in England on January 11, 1963. By the end of February, the song was Number 2 on the U.K. charts. It would spend 18 weeks in the Top 100, with 8 weeks in the Top 10, 11 weeks in the Top 20, and 15 weeks in the Top 40. The Beatles had a hit record.
As with ‘Love Me Do,’ Parlophone sent ‘Please Please Me’ to Capitol Records. Once again, Dave Dexter passed on releasing The Beatles in the United States. Perhaps it was the harmonica again. Whatever the reason, Beatles manager Brian Epstein and producer George Martin were not happy. They believed ‘Please Please Me’ could do well in America and pressured EMI (who owned Parlophone) to get the song released in the United States.
New York EMI entity Transglobal Music handled licensing of American music for EMI global distribution, and U.S. licensing for EMI musical artists when Capitol Records turned down artists for U.S. release. EMI transferred the U.S. rights to license The Beatles music to Transglobal with instructions to get ‘Please Please Me’ released. Other major labels, including Atlantic Records, were not interested. Again, British musical acts had yet to prove they could be successful in the U.S. marketplace. In fact, it would be The Beatles’ success in 1964 that would begin the “British Invasion.”
With no major U.S. record label interested in The Beatles, Transglobal’s attorney, Paul Marshall, offered the song to Vee-Jay Records, an independent label in Chicago mostly known for R&B and Gospel. In the early 1960s, Vee-Jay was punching above its weight with hits such as Gene Chandler’s ‘The Duke of Earl,’ and the Four Seasons’ ‘Sherry’ and ‘Big Girls Don’t Cry.’ Perhaps most important, regarding EMI and The Beatles, Marshall had placed EMI artist Frank Ifield’s Number 1 U.K. song ‘I Remember You’ with Vee-Jay for U.S. release (after Capitol rejected Ifield). ‘I Remember You’ reached Number 5 on the Billboard Hot 100. Because of Ifield’s success, Vee-Jay was willing to take a chance on The Beatles.
On January 10, 1963, Transglobal granted Vee-Jay Records right of first refusal to manufacture and sell Beatles recordings in the United States under certain conditions for five years. The first songs licensed were ‘Please Please Me’ and ‘Ask Me Why.’ On February 7, 1963, exactly one year before The Beatles would arrive in America for the first time, Vee-Jay released ‘Please Please Me,’ with ‘Ask Me Why’ on the B-side. The initial release was rushed, and early pressings of the record even had a misspelling of the band’s credit as the BEATTLES on side A of the 45 RPM. Despite ‘Please Please Me’ being a hit in England, the song did not sell well and never reached the U.S. music charts.
Vee-Jay then released ‘From Me To You,’ with ‘Thank You Girl’ on the B-side of the 45 record, on May 6, 1963, hoping to replicate the song’s U.K. chart-topping success. While ‘From Me To You’ spent 7 weeks at Number 1, and 21 total weeks on the U.K. charts, it sold just 21,126 copies and climbed only as far as 116 on the Billboard chart in the United States. While well short of its success in England, the single did far better than The Beatles’ U.S. debut ‘Please Please Me.’ Many speculate ‘From Me To You’ may have reached the Billboard Hot 100 had Del Shannon’s cover of the song had not been released in June 1963. After having a Number 1 hit with “Runaway,” Del Shannon’s cover of ‘From Me To You’ received more radio airplay, helping it to reach Number 77 on the Billboard Hot 100.
In the spring of 1963, Vee-Jay received the tapes for the Please Please Me LP. Vee-Jay dropped the previously released songs ‘Please Please Me’ and ‘Ask Me Why’ to get the album from fourteen to the U.S. standard twelve tracks. Having dropped the title song from the LP, Vee-Jay changed the name of the album to Introducing…the Beatles and scheduled a July 1963 release.
Plans to release Introducing…the Beatles were put on hold when Vee-Jay faced a financial crisis, and began one of the most fascinating, albeit rather confusing, periods of The Beatles music history in America. Vee-Jay’s president, Ewart Abner, had been taking money from the company accounts to pay personal gambling debts, and this left Vee-Jay short on cash. By late 1963, Vee-Jay would face a series of lawsuits, including from The Four Seasons, for failure to pay royalties. On August 8, 1963, after Transglobal stated Vee-Jay failed to make statements of sales and failed to pay royalties for Frank Ifield and The Beatles, Transglobal sent Vee-Jay a Western Union telegram:
“REQUIRE YOU IMMEDIATELY CEASE MANUFACTURE AND DISTRIBUTION OF ANY AND ALL RECORDINGS CONTAINING PERFORMANCES OF FRANK IFIELD OR THE BEATTLES STOP PLEASE CONFIRM THAT ALL MANUFACTURE HAS STOPPED AND ALL MASTERS AND PRESSINGS RECALLED AND DESTROYED.” (Western Union Telegram)[iii]
It is interesting to note the Western Union telegram includes the same misspelling of BEATTLES as the first Vee-Jay pressings of ‘Please Please Me.’ Yet another misspelling was hardly the issue. Vee-Jay was in turmoil and EMI was left without a U.S. distributor for The Beatles, just as the Please Please Me LP was in its 14th week at the top of the U.K. album charts. Additionally, the single ‘She Loves You’ was set for U.K. release on August 23, 1963, with hopes for a U.S. release shortly thereafter.
There would later be legal questions surrounding Vee-Jay’s rights to distribute The Beatles in early 1964, but as far as Transglobal was concerned, right of first refusal to Beatles recordings in the United States reverted to Capitol Records. Capitol was approached to see if they were interested in releasing ‘She Loves You’ in the United States. Dave Dexter, again, passed on The Beatles.
Transglobal then signed a deal with Swan Records, a small Philadelphia independent label, for the U.S. release of ‘She Loves You’ and the B-side ‘I’ll Get You.’ But after the debacle with Vee-Jay Records, Transglobal was unwilling to extend licensing beyond the two songs and did not offer right of first refusal to Swan for future Beatles recordings. Swan released ‘She Loves You’ in the United States on September 16, 1963. Two days later, the song went to Number 1 in the U.K., spending six weeks in the top position and a total of 33 weeks on the U.K. charts.
The reaction to ‘She Loves You,’ at least initially, in the United States was far different. Swan only sold about 1,000 copies and, despite getting positive reviews in Billboard magazine, the song received little radio airplay or attention from listeners. Famed New York disc jockey Murray The K recalls playing ‘She Loves You’ on WINS radio:
“They brought a record to me, and mentioned the possibility that The Beatles might come to the U.S. I said, ‘Okay, I heard a lot about it.’ I put it on the air. I had a record review board contest on WINS at the time where I’d play five new records each day. The audience would vote on which record they liked best, and the winners of each week would be played on Saturday. When I ran them in a contest with a record called, She Loves You it came in third out of the five records. But I still continued to play it for two or two-and-a-half weeks. Nothing happened. I mean, really no reaction. Nothing!”[iv]
Paul McCartney even recalled how The Beatles were not an instant success in the United States: ‘From Me To You’ was released—a flop in America. ‘She Loves You’—a big hit in England, big number one in England—a flop in the USA. Nothing until ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand.’[v] After Beatlemania came to America, Swan Records would re-release ‘She Loves You.’ It would become a Number 1 hit for The Beatles in the United States and spend 15 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
The eventual change in fortunes for The Beatles in America were taking hold in England around the same time that the release of ‘She Loves You’ in the United States was flopping. On October 13, 1963, The Beatles performed on Val Parnell’s Sunday Night at the London Palladium, England’s equivalent to The Ed Sullivan Show, where 15 million people watched them perform ‘From Me To You,’ ‘I’ll Get You.’ ‘She Loves You,’ and ‘Twist And Shout.’ The crowd of screaming Beatles fans blocking Argyle Street outside the theater led to news reports of the hysteria, which the British press called “Beatlemania.”
Scottish promoter Andi Lothian claims to have coined the phrase to a reporter on October 7, 1963. It seems the first printed use of the word was on October 21, 1963 in a feature story, titled “This Beatlemania,” by Vincent Mulchrone, which appeared in London’s The Daily Mail newspaper. Regardless of the exact origin of the phrase, historians point to the Beatles’ October 13, 1963 appearance as the breakout moment for Beatlemania in England. And it would have a tremendous spillover effect in America.
Beatlemania arriving in America would result from converging events from the end of October 1963 to The Beatles themselves touching down at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York on February 7, 1964.
The first would be a chance encounter between Ed Sullivan and Beatles fans at London Airport on October 31, 1963. Ed Sullivan was passing through London Airport (as Heathrow International Airport was known at the time) for a flight to New York after a European visit, when he witnessed firsthand the pandemonium of Beatles fans. When he asked what all the commotion was about, he was told they were there to greet The Beatles returning to London from a concert tour of Sweden. Upon returning to New York, Sullivan had his staff inquire about The Beatles.
For their part, The Beatles were unaware of Sullivan being at the airport, or that the fans were there for them. They thought the crowd was waiting to see the Queen. It soon became clear to the four lads from Liverpool that the fans, wearing Beatles wigs, and screaming so loud they drowned out the plane engines, were there for them.
On November 4, 1963, The Beatles performed on the Royal Command Performance in London, where John Lennon made his famous remark: “For our last number I’d like to ask your help. The people in the cheaper seats clap your hands. And the rest of you if you’d just rattle your jewelry. We’d like to sing a song called ‘Twist And Shout’.”[vi] The Beatles had been the most anticipated act of the evening, and their performance was a tremendous success.
Peter Prichard, a London theatrical agent who also worked for Ed Sullivan as a European talent coordinator, told Sullivan about The Beatles’ appearance on the Royal Command Performance, and the hysteria surrounding them in England. Ed Sullivan remembered what he had witnessed a week earlier in London Airport. Prichard also reached out to Brian Epstein and told him he should try to get The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show.
Epstein already had a scheduled business trip to New York for promoting one of his other acts and to understand why The Beatles were not catching on in the United States, and what he could do to promote them in America. Arrangements were made for Brian Epstein to meet with Ed Sullivan on November 11, 1963.
The two men met on both November 11th and again on November 12th to complete the deal. Also in attendance at the second meeting was Ed Sullivan producer Bob Precht. They agreed for The Beatles to appear on the Ed Sullivan Show live on February 9, 1964, from the Ed Sullivan television studio in New York City, and again live on the show from a Miami hotel on February 16, 1964. The group would receive $3,500 (the equivalent of $29,571 in 2020) for each performance, plus travel, lodging, and top billing. Precht suggested taping a third performance to air on February 23, 1964. Epstein agreed to have The Beatles tape the performance following their live broadcast on February 9th. They would receive $3,000 (equal to $25,346 in 2020) for the taped performance, bringing their total for all three shows to $10,000 ($84,490 in 2020).
With the Beatles scheduled to appear three times on The Ed Sullivan Show, EMI sends a copy of ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ to Capitol Records. Despite the single having more than a million advanced orders in the U.K., assuring an instant hit, and The Beatles scheduled performances on The Ed Sullivan Show, Dave Dexter rejects ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand.’ This is now the fourth time Dexter has had Capitol Records pass on releasing The Beatles in the United States. Dexter would later claim he accepted ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ after an A&R man played it for him on a trip to England,[vii] but other accounts tell it differently.
The accepted story is that Brian Epstein placed a call directly to Capitol president Alan Livingston in November 1963. Livingston himself recounted the story in interviews over the years.
“I’m sitting in my office one day and I got a call from London from a man named Brian Epstein, who I didn’t know. I took the call. And he said, ‘I am the personal manager of the Beatles and I don’t understand why you won’t release them.’ And I said, ‘Well, frankly, Mr. Epstein, I haven’t heard them.’ And he said, “Would you please listen and call me back.’ And I said, ‘OK,’ and I called Dexter and said, ‘Let me have some Beatles records.’ He sent up a few, and I listened. I liked them. I thought they were something different. I can’t tell you in all honesty I knew how big they’d be, but I thought this is worth a shot. So, I called Epstein back and said, “OK, I’ll put them out.’”[viii]
Capitol Records signed The Beatles and Epstein got Livingston to back the U.S. release of ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ with an unheard of $40,000 promotional campaign. That was the equivalent of nearly $388,000 in 2020. Livingston would comment that Capitol didn’t even need to spend the full budget because of the Beatles’ success in late 1963 and early 1964. Capitol, and The Beatles, got a little help.
With Beatlemania raging across England, the American press took notice. TIME magazine published a story in their November 15, 1963 issue where they stated: “Beatlemania, as Britons call the new madness, was striking everywhere.”[ix] Both CBS and NBC sent crews to cover The Beatles performing at the Winter Gardens Theater in Bournemouth, England on November 16, 1963. NBC was the first to broadcast a story with a nearly four-minute report by Edwin Newman on the Huntley-Brinkley Report (the forerunner to NBC Nightly News). Millions watched the broadcast and got their first taste of what was soon to come to America. But it would be the CBS News broadcast that would play a significant role in launching The Beatles in the United States.
On the morning of November 22, 1963, the CBS Morning News aired a preview of a story about The Beatles and Beatlemania in England. CBS planned to broadcast the full story that evening on the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite, but later that day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas.
On November 29, 1963, ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ was released in the United Kingdom. It debuted at Number 10, and the following week was at Number 1. The song stayed at Number 1 for five weeks, and on the U.K. charts for 22 weeks.
With America still mourning the death of President Kennedy, Capitol Records issued a barely noticed press release on December 4, 1963, announcing they had signed The Beatles. Following is the text from that Capitol Records Press Release:[x]
CAPITAL NEWS December 4, 1963
NEW ENGLISH MADNESS TO SPREAD TO U.S.;
BEATLEMANIA WILL BE IMPORTED HERE
HOLLYWOOD—Beatlemania, the totally unprecedented musical phenomenon that has turned England topsy-turvy this past year will spread to the United States in 1964. Alan W. Livingston, president of Capitol Records, Inc., announced today that his company has concluded negotiations with Electric & Musical Industries (EMI), Ltd., for exclusive U.S. rights to recordings by The Beatles, the sole cause of the mania.
In making the announcement, Livingston said: “With their popularity in England and the promotion we’re going to put behind them here, I have every reason to believe The Beatles will be just as successful in the United States.
Interestingly, the Vee-Jay Records board of directors were meeting on that same day to discuss the future of the label. There was no mention of The Beatles at that meeting, but when the Capitol press release was reported in Billboard magazine on December 14, 1963, it would change the fortunes of Vee-Jay Records, cause headaches for Capitol Records, and add an interesting twist to The Beatles story in America.
With the massive promotional budget, Capitol planned to release ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ on January 13, 1964. But a CBS broadcast, a teenaged girl from Silver Spring, Maryland, and a Washington, D.C. disc jockey would cause the record label to move the song’s release to the day after Christmas, 1963. The extra airplay over the Christmas school break likely moved ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ up the charts more quickly than otherwise would have happened, and jump-started Beatlemania in America.
Three weeks having passed since President Kennedy’s assassination, CBS News felt the nation could use an uplifting story. They decided it was time to air the full story on The Beatles which had originally been scheduled for the evening of November 22, 1963. On December 10, 1963, the story by Alexander Kendrick, CBS’s London bureau chief, aired on the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite. Watching the news that evening was Washington, D.C. disc jockey Carroll James, and 15-year-old Marsha Albert of Silver Spring, Maryland.
In a 2004 Washington Post interview Marsha Albert talked about that CBS News story: “It wasn’t so much what I had seen, it’s what I had heard,” Albert recalled. “They had a scene where they played a clip of ‘She Loves You’ and I thought that was a great song.”
The next day Marsha sent a letter to Carroll James at her local radio station, WWDC. “I wrote that I thought [The Beatles] would be really popular here, and if [James] could get one of their records, that would really be great,” Marsha said.
Carroll James asked WWDC’s program director to contact someone at British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC), as British Airways was known then, to see if they could bring a Beatles record over from England. On December 17, 1963, a BOAC flight attendant delivered a copy of ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ to James.
Carroll James called Marsha Albert and told her he had the record and was going to premier it on his show that evening. He then said if she could be at the radio station by 5 o’clock, he would let her introduce it. Which she did, with: “Ladies and gentlemen, for the first time on the air in the United States, here are the Beatles singing ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand.'”
The WWDC switchboard lit up with requests to play the song again. The demand was overwhelming and ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ was played on heavy rotation at WWDC. James, at least initially, wanted to keep it exclusive to WWDC, so he faded the middle of the song and added “This is a Carroll James exclusive.” The calls kept coming to the station, and ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ was a hit with the Washington, D.C. listeners of WWDC.
Besides the many requests for the song, the radio station also received a less than enthusiastic call from Capitol Records. Capitol was not happy WWDC was playing the record before the January 13, 1964 release date, which they had carefully planned in anticipation of The Beatles performing on the Ed Sullivan Show in early February. Capitol even considered getting an injunction to stop WWDC from playing the song. But when James told Capitol the song was already out there and he would not stop playing it, they reconsidered the label’s position. After all, didn’t record labels promote artists to get radio stations to play their records?
Capitol released ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ early in the Washington, D.C. market. As this was happening, James made a copy of the record and sent it to a friend and DJ in Chicago. That DJ made a copy and sent it to another DJ in St. Louis. The reaction to ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ in both cities was like Washington. Capitol moved the national release to December 26, 1963.
Soon, ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand,’ and the B-side ‘I Saw Her Standing There,’ were playing on radio stations across the country. ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ sold 250,000 copies in the first three days. Within two weeks the record had sold 500,000 copies, and by January 10, 1964, ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ had sold 1 million copies Capitol in the United States. The demand was so high, Capitol even contracted with Columbia and RCA to help press some records.
The Beatles would arrive in America with the Number 1 song in the country. ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ entered the Billboard Hot 100 at Number 45 on January 18, 1964, and reached the Number 1 spot on February 1, 1964, six days before the Beatles touched down at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. It would remain in the top spot for seven weeks and spend fifteen weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 music chart.
As ‘I Want To Hold Hand’ was racing up the U.S. charts, both Vee-Jay Records and Swan Records recognized the opportunity to be part of Beatlemania by re-releasing the material they had in their possessions. Swan retained the rights to ‘She Loves You,’ and re-released the song in early 1964. By February 22, 1964, ‘She Loves You’ was No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, behind only ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand,’ still reigning at the top of the chart. ‘She Loves You’ would eventually reach No. 1, only then to be replaced by ‘Can’t Buy Me Love.’
While Swan Records saw a boost in its bottom line from the sales of ‘She Loves You,’ Vee-Jay Records needed similar success from their Beatles masters to stay in business. Despite the Transglobal telegram from August 1963, ordering the destruction of Frank Ifield and Beatles masters in their possession, Vee-Jay still had their four original releases and the Introducing…the Beatles LP.
The Vee-Jay board of directors was meeting on January 7, 1964. Legal counsel advised the Vee-Jay executives they still held distribution rights, under the original terms of the contract with Transglobal, for the four songs they previously released: ‘Please Please Me,’ ‘Ask Me Why,’ ‘From Me To You,’ and ‘Thank You Girl,’ but Vee-Jay could not release material from Introducing…the Beatles as they had not exercised the right of first refusal during the time stipulated in the original agreement. Later court documents and reports seem to show Vee-Jay had six months after any early cancellation of their contract in which they could distribute previously released Beatles recordings, provided they had originally released the material within 30 days of receiving master recordings from EMI. This was the case with the four previously released songs, but not the songs on Introducing…the Beatles album.
Vee-Jay re-released the songs ‘Please Please Me’ and ‘From Me To You.’ Both songs would make the Billboard Hot 100, with ‘Please Please Me’ reaching Number 3 and ‘From Me To You’ peaking just outside the Top 40 at Number 41. In fact, ‘Please Please Me’ sat at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 behind Capitol’s release of ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ and Swan’s release of ‘She Loves You,’ and the single would sell nearly 1.2 million copies in the United States for Vee-Jay.
Despite warnings from their attorneys, Vee-Jay also released the Introducing…the Beatles LP. Management felt the sales of the album outweighed the risk of a lawsuit from Capitol. They released Introducing…the Beatles on January 10, 1964, ten days before Capitol would release Meet the Beatles.
It took just three days for Capitol to sue Vee-Jay. The next day, Vee-Jay filed a countersuit against Capitol and Swan alleging their exclusive license to distribute Beatles recordings was still in effect. On January 15, 1964, the court issued a temporary injunction:
“restraining and enjoining until further order of the court, the defendant, Vee Jay Records, Inc., its agents, attorneys and servants from manufacturing, selling, distributing, or otherwise disposing of or advertising the sale by it, its agents, attorneys and servants of any and all recordings by the vocal group commonly referred to as the `Beatles’.”
On January 16, 1964, Vee-Jay was also hit with a restraining order preventing them from distributing Introducing…the Beatles because of including ‘Love Me Do’ and ‘P.S. I Love You.’ Beechwood Music Corporation, a subsidiary of Capitol Records, controlled the licensing rights for those Beatles songs and had not granted use to Vee-Jay Records.
Throughout the winter of 1964, the lawsuit between Capitol and Vee-Jay would see the injunction against Vee-Jay lifted and reinstated several times as it made its way through the courts. During periods when the injunction was lifted, Vee-Jay would release as many copies of Introducing…the Beatles as they could. However, because of the restraining order for ‘Love Me Do’ and ‘P.S. I Love You’ still in effect, Vee-Jay swapped out those songs for two they had previously released: ‘Please Please Me’ and ‘Ask Me Why.’ Copies of Introducing…the Beatles with ‘Love Me Do’ and ‘P.S. I Love You’ became known as Version One, while copies of the album with ‘Please Please Me’ and ‘P.S. I Love You’ became known as Version Two.
Despite the various lawsuits winding their way through the courts, both Capitol’s Meet the Beatles and Vee-Jay’s Introducing…the Beatles sold very well in the United States. Meet the Beatles, released on January 20, 1964, debuted on the Billboard 200 at Number 92 on February 1, 1964. It would reach No. 1 on February 15, 1964 and spend 11 weeks in the top position, only to be replaced by Capitol’s release of The Beatles’ Second Album. All said, Meet the Beatles would spend 15 weeks in the Top 10, 49 weeks on the Billboard 200 album chart, and sell more than 4 million copies.
Introducing…the Beatles made the Billboard 200 album chart at Number 59 on February 8, 1964. The album would go to Number 3 a week later, and on February 29, 1964, Introducing…the Beatles would reach Number 2, behind Meet the Beatles. Vee-Jay’s release would remain in second position, behind the Capitol release, for 9 weeks, and spend 49 weeks on the Billboard 200 chart.
In April 1964, Capitol Records, including its subsidiary Beechwood Music, and Vee-Jay Records would reach a settlement where Vee-Jay could distribute the 16 Beatles songs in their possession until October 15, 1964. After that date, the U.S. rights would belong exclusively to Capitol Records. In April 1964, Vee-Jay released the ‘Twist and Shout,’ with ‘There’s A Place’ on the B-side, on their new Tollie label. ‘Twist and Shout’ would sell 1.2 million copies for Vee-Jay/Tollie and reach Number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, only behind Capitol’s release of ‘Can’t Buy Me Love.’ By October 15, 1964, Vee-Jay had sold over 1.3 million copies of Introducing…the Beatles during the periods where they could distribute the album.
Even with the legal wrangling between Capitol and Vee-Jay, there was no doubt Beatlemania had reached U.S. shores in the first months of 1964. As part of Capitol’s promotional campaign, they produced millions of stickers announcing: “The BEATLES are coming!” And when they did, The Beatles had four songs on the Billboard Hot 100, including ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ at Number 1, and their LP Meet the Beatles had debuted on the Billboard 200 album chart. America was ready for The Beatles, and The Beatles were coming.
The Beatles Arrive in America
February 7, 1964
On February 7, 1964, Pan Am Yankee Clipper flight 101 from London landed at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City—and The Beatles had arrived in America. Just six days earlier, ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ had become the Number 1 song in the country, having already sold more than a million copies nationwide. The scene in New York was like what The Beatles had experienced across England and Europe. The hysteria known as Beatlemania was on full display in the United States.
Unlike their arrival at London Airport on October 31, 1964, The Beatles knew the screaming crowd of thousands were waiting to greet them. In fact, the band had been informed by the pilot of the crowd before landing. As Paul McCartney later recalled:
“We heard about it in mid-air. There were journalists on the plane, and the pilot had rang ahead and said, ‘Tell the boys there’s a big crowd waiting for them.’ We thought, ‘Wow! God, we have really made it.’”
Ringo also remembered the feeling of arriving in America for the first time:
“On the airplane, I felt New York. It was like an octopus grabbing the plane… I could feel like tentacles coming up to the plane it was so exciting. And the first time in New York… I mean, we’d pulled big crowds, and we’d had big airport receptions, but of course America is bigger than anywhere else in Europe, so therefore the crowds are bigger. […] I mean, it was just crazy! It was fantastic!”
Marvin Scott, senior correspondent for PIX11 News, was one reporter at Kennedy Airport that day to cover The Beatles. He wrote about the experience on the 50th anniversary:
“I was one of 200 reporters and photographers at Kennedy Airport that cold Friday afternoon in February, awaiting four working-class lads from Liverpool who were about to “invade” the very country that inspired them to become musicians. The piercing screams of 3,000 adoring, wide-eyed fans standing on the observation deck overpowered the whine of jet engines as Pan Am flight 101 landed at 1:35 pm.
There was a crescendo of shouts— “We want the Beatles! We want the Beatles!”—and more shrieks when the doors of the plane opened and Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, George Harrison and John Lennon emerged waving to the crowd. They’re a strange looking lot, I thought. What with those funny-looking mod suits and pudding bowl haircuts, they could have been aliens from another planet. Beatlemania had come to America. […]
There was pandemonium, a near riot as the thousands of fans pressed forward, trying to catch a glimpse of their heartthrob musical quartet. Fifty years later, I can still hear their screams ringing in my ears. They were electrifying. I had never seen anything like this before.”[i]
The arrival of The Beatles was a highly anticipated event. Murray The K, famed New York DJ at WINS radio, announced the details of The Beatles’ flight number and arrival time. The information was then repeated on New York stations WABC and WMCA. 3,000 teenagers, mostly screaming teenage girls, lined the upper balcony of the airport arrival building to catch a glimpse of The Beatles as they exited the plane.
The Beatles were led inside where New York City Police separated another 1,000 screaming teenage fans from John, Paul, George, and Ringo as they were ushered to a press room. It was mayhem. A New York Journal-American photographer frantically tugged at the arm of Beatles press agent, Brian Sommerville, and shouted, “We bought an exclusive story, and we can’t even get a picture of them [The Beatles] looking at us—what did we pay you money for?” (The Guardian) On the other side of Sommerville, a group of British reporters complained the police would not let them into the room for the press conference. “This,” Sommerville said, “has gotten entirely out of control.” (The Guardian)
Reporters and photographers crammed into the pressroom, positioning themselves for the upcoming press conference. Camera flash bulbs popped as photographers snapped pictures of The Beatles as they stood behind microphones at the front of the room.
Brian Sommerville made many pleas to the reporters, “Can we please have quiet?” Someone else yells out “Quiet!” John Lennon makes a noise. Then George comments, “Let the feasting begin.”
Fighting against the noise, Sommerville tries again to get the room under control as he shouts, “Unless you keep quiet, we can’t even have a press conference. Will you please shut up!” The Beatles, particularly John, seemed amused at their press agent’s efforts, and the entire spectacle.
Random questions are being shouted to The Beatles from reporters at the front. One asks Ringo how tall he is. Ringo responds, “Five eleven.” Sommerville gets the reporters settled and the press conference begins.