The Good Ol’ Days: Here Come the Beatles
I don’t recall the first time that I heard the Beatles, but it was probably on the radio. It’s like asking a tsunami survivor when they heard the first wave. A minute before, there had been no Beatles on the air. Ever afterward, it was almost 24/7 Beatles, unless the station signed off at 10:20 p.m., like KGCA did, and then signed back on at 5:55 a.m. And Don Erickson would sooner call a losing Panther game than play a Beatles tune on his weekday wake-up show (you can look it up).
There has never been such an impact on American music and culture than what the Beatles brought to our borders, beginning in 1962. Their history, from formation in Liverpool to their bellicose break-up, is well-documented. But as one of those affected, I would like to weigh in. And my weight is about 100 pounds more than when I heard my first Beatles song.
The Fab Four’s first single “Love Me Do” rocketed to number one (with a bullet) on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, which has been radio’s primary source of music popularity for over 60 years. There were many “Top 40” stations that were sort of like juke boxes, only with commercials, news and deejay patter. In addition to KGCA, we could hear the Beatles on KQDY (“Cutie”) in Minot, CKY and CKRC in Winnipeg, KFYR in Bismarck, etc. At night, when WLS Chicago or KOMA Oklahoma City came in, there was even more Mop Top madness.
CKY (580-AM) was the leader in bringing us new Fab Four releases. When they obtained the latest album, CKY would promote it as “the Western Canada premiere” of the record. Then, when they played cuts from it, they would play a chorus singing or saying “CKY” every 10 or 15 seconds to prevent radio rivals from recording it off the air.
The Beatles weren’t an instant hit, initially. Their follow-up singles “Please Please Me” and “From Me to You” failed to chart when they were released in early 1963 on Vee Jay Records. Capitol Records passed on them for a short while until it was obvious that the lads from Liverpool could be bigger than, dare we sayt, Elvis. Capitol released the first album “Meet the Beatles” in January 1964 and it went immediately to Number 1. All of the Beatles subsequent albums went to the top of the charts except for “Something New” and “Yellow Submarine”, which both topped out at Number 2.
Speaking of Elvis, KOMA once conducted a poll to see who was the more popular and it became really contentious. This was in about 1965 and the deejay reported that callers were evenly divided 50-50. I think the Beatles finished first by a nose 51-49 and the deejay sounded sorry that he even brought it up.
Elvis was the hero of our older brothers and sisters, uncles, aunts, cousins, etc. who had been born 10-15 years earlier than us Baby Boomers. We came along after World War II and were “at that age”, whatever “that age” is for teenagers, when the Beatles burst onto our scene. Where Elvis was sort of a duck-tailed rebel with great pipes and shaky hips, the Beatles were a carefully crafted boy band managed by a man named Brian Epstein. Epstein made the boys dress and cut their hair alike and turned the leather-jacketed rockers into “Teddy Boys”. We Yanks, especially the fairer gender, enthusiastically embraced the first wave of what would be called the “British Invasion”.
When the Beatles came to America on their first tour in February, 1964, they came off their Pan Am flight accompanied by a curvy flight attendant wearing a scarf over her well-coiffed head. All the pop music-playing New York radio stations were at JFK, including the Number 1 station in the nation WABC, which called itself “W-A-Beatles-C” in honor of the occasion.
The lads appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show Sunday night, February 9th and although the producers partitioned the teenagers up in the balcony, they screamed so loud that we could hardly hear Ringo drumming, much less the other three Beatles singing. Along with about one third of America, my parents and I watched that performance on CBS-TV and they could no more understand what was happening than I can grasp the significance of today’s pop legends.
A week later, the lads from Liverpool went to a Miami Beach gym where Cassius Clay was training for his first championship fight and both sides used the other for publicity. After posing for photographers with The Greatest, the boys left the gym and Clay was heard to ask who those four little guys were.
If you go to St. John’s Wood in near northwest London, you will find Abbey Road Studios where the Beatles recorded with their musical mentor/producer George Martin, the so-called “fifth Beatle”. All the Abbey Road street signs have been stolen and local motorists angrily honk their horns when tourists attempt to photograph themselves walking on the most famous pedestrian crosswalk in world history (you can look it up).
Bill is a Rugby native, graduating from RHS in 1966. His family operated the Gronvold Motor Company until 1968. He is a retired FAA air traffic controller and although he resides in Orlando, Florida, his heart will always be with the Heart of America.
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