It was a cold February day at the newly-renamed John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City. At about 1:20PM, Pan Am flight 101 landed to the excitement of the 3,000 screaming fans who had been waiting patiently all morning. Four young lads from Liverpool, England, were about to step onto U.S. soil and change the world forever. The Beatles had arrived in America. The British Invasion had begun.
Timing played a huge role in the Beatles success in the United States. It’s easy to forget that when the Fab Four arrived, Americans were still mourning the loss of their slain President John F. Kennedy, who had been shot down less than three months prior. Violence in Vietnam was escalating rapidly. The country desperately needed a distraction from the harsh realities they had been made to face.
Even though they were the talk of Europe, the Fab Four had arrogantly told their manager Brian Epstein that they would refuse to come to the United States until they had a number one hit under their belts. Radio stations all over the country began playing “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and in just two weeks, it shot to the top of the charts and Ed Sullivan booked them on his Sunday night variety show. By the time John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr stepped off that blue and white jet at JFK, millions of Americans were loving the new British sound the Beatles brought with them.
Just listen to the opening of “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” Today it doesn’t seem extraordinary, but in 1964, no one had ever heard guitars making sounds like that! This was something strange and new. These four young men with their long hair and collarless suits represented change, and young Americans welcomed them with open arms.
The Beatles’ arrival in the United States signalled the start of a new era. Over the course of the next six years, the world would undergo an enormous cultural revolution, and John, Paul, George, and Ringo would be leading the charge all the while. If they had jumped the gun and come to the States without a chart-topping hit, it’s totally possible that they would have fizzled out like so many foreign acts had done before them. But their hunch paid off, and they earned their roles and the voices of their generation.
So as you go about your day-to-day routine, fire up your favorite Beatles tunes and remember that most of the contemporary pop culture you know and love really got its start 47 years ago today when those four lads from Liverpool stepped off a plane and waved hello not only to their adoring fans, but to a whole new chapter of history.