It wasn’t the biggest story of 1964, but it was one that transformed the music culture of the entire world.
Four young men from Liverpool with strange haircuts and sporting mod suits touched off a near-riotous frenzy when their plane landed at New York’s Kennedy Airport. They wanted to hold our hand, as reflected in the title of their hit recording, but ended up embracing us all in a huge bear hug.
The Beatles had arrived on our shores. A cold wind whipped across the runway as the Pam Am Clipper flight 101 touched down.
The roar of the engines was drowned out by the screeching shouts of 3,000 fans, mostly teenagers, waiting to catch a glimpse of their heartthrob rock-and-roll quartet. The shrieks of “John, Ringo, George and Paul” still ring in my ears. I had never seen anything like this before.
Beatlemania was a welcome respite from news of the Vietnam War, and a diversion for a country still in mourning over the assassination of President Kennedy just a year earlier.
I followed the Fab 4 into Manhattan where they stayed at the Plaza Hotel. Their limo pulled up as throngs of loving fans shrieked at the top of their lungs.
“Ringo, how’s the reception?” I shouted to Ringo Starr as he raced past me. “Marvelous,” was his quick response. Non-fans, who just happened to be there, were stunned by it all. Some had never heard of the Beatles. But they did fast enough.
Two days later they made their first appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” Seventy-three million people tuned in, about 40% of the U.S. population. A couple days later the group made its first public appearance in the U.S. at the Coliseum in Washington, D.C. 20,000 fans went wild.
The next day they gave two back-to-back performances at New York’s Carnegie Hall. Police had to close the streets in the area because of the frenzy created by thousands of fans.
I got to pop a microphone in the face of Ring and George Harrison as they got off the plane from Washington. Both were gracious as they told me how overwhelmed they were by their reception in this country.
On Feb. 22, The Beatles returned to London. The rest, you could say is history. But it all began on this cold day in February 49 years ago, and I’m glad I was there.