On February 7, 1964, the Beatles made their first visit to the United States, prompting Walter Cronkite to quip, “The British invasion this time goes by the code name ‘Beatlemania.’” The band was already popular in the U.K., but their instant appeal to audiences in the U.S. was unlike anything anyone had seen before; thousands of screaming teenagers met the Beatles’ plane at New York’s Kennedy Airport and thousands more were waiting for them to arrive at the Plaza Hotel. Not even Elvis Presley had generated that level of uninhibited euphoria, and it left people, especially the parents of all of those starstruck teens, curious about the shaggy-haired young men who were taking over the airwaves.
Before 1964, only two British singles had ever topped Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, and both of them were instrumentals. The Beatles’ popularity paved the way for many of Britain’s hottest acts to follow, from the Rolling Stones to the Who, ushering in a new musical era dominated by British performers. Here are five fun facts about the Fab Four and the musical phenomenon known as the British Invasion.
Beatlemania Provided a Diversion to a Nation in Mourning
In February 1963, Chicago DJ Dick Biondi became the first disc jockey to introduce U.S. listeners to the Beatles when he played “Please Please Me,” the band’s first U.S. single. The song was picked up by other radio stations, but it was months before the Fab Four caught on in America. On the morning of November 22, 1963, CBS News aired a story about the Beatles’ popularity in England, but the segment on the band slotted for that evening was shelved when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated later that day.
A few weeks later, Walter Cronkite decided the country could use a break from their collective grief and decided to finally air the Beatles story. Marsha Albert, a 15-year-old girl from the suburbs of Washington, D.C., saw the segment and wrote to WWDC radio to request they play more of the band’s music. Disc jockey Carroll James had also seen the report, got a copy of the track “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” and invited Albert to come to the studio to introduce the song on December 17. Radio stations in other major markets followed suit, and Capitol Records, which had been planning to release the single in January, decided to rush-release it on December 26. The label originally planned for 200,000 copies to be pressed, but that jumped to 1 million — all of which were sold by January 10, 1964. Beatlemania had taken hold in the U.S. and the British Invasion was on its way.