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Old Feb 05, 2004, 05:42 PM   #1
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Default They Came, They Sang, They Conquered

It was 40 years ago today...Here's an article from the February 6th New York Times:


February 6, 2004
They Came, They Sang, They Conquered

From the distance of 40 years it seems almost silly, but on Sunday, Feb. 9, 1964, at 8 p.m., nearly 74 million Americans just under half the country, according to the Nielsen ratings plopped in front of their television sets to watch four English rock 'n' rollers in their early 20's introduce themselves to the country by playing five songs on "The Ed Sullivan Show" on CBS. The band was, of course, the Beatles, and their debut, which is being celebrated by the Museum of Television and Radio with a photography show starting today, drew the largest TV audience that had been measured up to that time.

Those viewers were not universally enthralled. Some had already declared themselves hostile to the Beatles because they found the group's pudding-bowl hairstyles, velvet-collared jackets and pointy boots silly; or the falsetto "woos" and head shaking that punctuated their songs gimmicky; or simply because anything that caused such a furor among teenage girls had to be objectionable. Others were simply curious what the fuss was about, and no doubt some tuned in out of habit to watch an almost universally beloved variety show that, on this Sunday, also included a semistaged excerpt from the Broadway hit "Oliver!," impressions by Frank Gorshin, Tessie O'Shea's somewhat rumpled British vaudeville and a few comedy and gymnastic acts.

All this attention the Beatles were getting was peculiar in the context of the time. Not least, it upended the balance of trade in popular music between Britain and America. This transaction had previously worked in only one direction: American stars were popular in Britain, but British singers and bands, who tended to produce either watered-down cover versions of American hits or derivative rock that was unexciting to American ears, found it impossible to crack the American market. The Beatles had a foot in that tradition: they opened and closed their concert sets with American rock standards Chuck Berry's "Roll Over Beethoven," the Isley Brothers' "Twist and Shout" and Little Richard's "Long Tall Sally" and their first two albums included covers of other American songs, too.

But it was their own music that grabbed listeners' attention, and the songs that had most thoroughly saturated the Top 40 airwaves at the start of 1964, "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and "She Loves You," were the work of the group's principal songwriters, John Lennon and Paul McCartney.

Cultural Transformation

In the Beatles' music a listener could identify the influences of American rhythm and blues, as well as show tunes and older pop forms and, for an exotic touch, the modal harmonies of British folk song. This amalgam quickly became a winning formula for the British Invasion bands that followed in the Beatles' wake.

In a huge reversal British music was transformed from box-office poison to solid gold, and American bands would soon be imitating it.

That first "Ed Sullivan Show" performance proved a cultural turning point, one of those moments when everything changed, or at least, a point to which one can trace changes in everything from style in its broadest sense (in music, art and fashion, for example) to the way rock 'n' roll was marketed and perceived. It was one of the few such moments in recent American history that did not involve an assassination or a surprise attack, although one school of thought holds that the explosion of Beatlemania across America in early 1964 was part of the country's way of healing itself after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

The ripples reached even into the classical music world, where rock was regarded as ephemera, the musical equivalent of, say, potato chips. Leonard Bernstein and Leopold Stokowski were among the first to declare the Beatles' music to be good stuff; Aaron Copland and Ned Rorem soon offered arguments in the group's defense, too, and it wasn't long before young composers who came of age during their reign began describing the Beatles' work as influential.

Conquering the Airwaves

Because the Beatles' records and look had so fully commandeered America's attention in the weeks before their arrival at Kennedy Airport on Feb. 7, their two-week stay in the United States which included three Sullivan appearances, concerts at the Washington Coliseum and Carnegie Hall and a vacation week in Miami Beach was so copiously documented that anyone interested in revisiting that heady time will find the materials easily at hand. The Museum of Television and Radio is commemorating the anniversary with "It Was Forty Years Ago Today . . . The Beatles in America," an exhibition of photographs from the CBS Photo Archive and the collection of Bill Eppridge, who covered the Beatles' visit for Life magazine. The museum is also offering a selection of radio interviews conducted by the journalist Larry Kane during his travels with the Beatles six months later during their summer American tour.

The museum's video collection, which includes extensive Beatles holdings, may also be perused by visitors, and for certain items, it is the place to go. An example is a clip from Jack Paar's NBC variety show from Jan. 3, 1964. When CBS announced that Sullivan would present the Beatles' first American performances, Paar acquired film of the group performing "She Loves You" in Southport, England, on Aug. 26, 1963, for a British television special, "The Mersey Sound." He did not have them live in the studio as Sullivan would, but he was technically the first to present the Beatles singing a complete song on American television.

Beatlemania was in the news before then, though. It was first explored in a segment on NBC's "Huntley-Brinkley Report," on Nov. 18, 1963. The "CBS Morning News" weighed in with a condescending report from London on Nov. 22; overshadowed by the Kennedy assassination later in the day, it was rebroadcast on "The CBS Evening News" on Dec. 10.

As comprehensive as the museum's collection is, a nostalgic fan or an armchair historian need hardly leave home to relive the Beatles' introduction to America. A handful of recent DVD releases cover most of the major stopping points, and a few new books go a long way toward filling in the blanks.

Chapter and Verse

The books, in fact, are useful guides to the video productions. Bruce Spizer's "Beatles Are Coming!" is a lavishly illustrated, carefully researched, fine-grained examination of the Beatles' visit and everything leading up to it, including the legal maneuvering among the various American record labels that released the group's earliest recordings here, and the details of the publicity and marketing campaign that stoked the fires of American Beatlemania.

"The Beatles Come to America," Martin Goldsmith's more personal rumination on what the Beatles' visit meant to the generation that experienced it, also includes ample historical detail. And John C. Winn's "Way Beyond Compare," the first installment of a two-volume analytical catalog of every known snippet of film and tape of the band, including newsreel footage, is an invaluable companion. (The second volume, "That Magic Feeling," covering the group's later years, has also just been published.)

Mr. Winn's book comes in handy, for example, when watching "The First U.S. Visit," an 81-minute documentary reissued by Apple on DVD this week in an expanded form, fleshed out with nearly an hour of outtakes in a documentary about the documentary. The film, by Albert and David Maysles, begins with the Beatles at Kennedy Airport stepping off the plane and holding the introductory news conference in which they charmed a skeptical press with snappy answers to questions about their hair and music. ("Why does your music excite your fans so much?" one reporter asked. John Lennon answered, "If we knew that, we'd form another group and be managers.")

From there the production cuts to what appears to be the group's limousine ride from Kennedy to the fan-besieged Plaza Hotel, during which the Beatles listened to reports of their progress on transistor radios in the shape of Pepsi vending machines. But as Mr. Winn points out, that ride actually occurred the next day, when the group returned to the Plaza after rehearsals for "The Ed Sullivan Show."

Dramatic license notwithstanding, "The First U.S. Visit" is an extraordinary film. The Maysles brothers had been commissioned by Granada TV, a British television company that had been documenting the Beatles since the summer of 1962, when it filmed the band performing at the Cavern Club in Liverpool six weeks before the release of "Love Me Do," the group's first single.

Granada asked the Maysles brothers to follow the Beatles around New York and down to Washington, where they performed their first public concert in the United States on Feb. 11. David Maysles flew to London with the early material, which was quickly edited for a 40-minute program, "Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! The Beatles in New York," broadcast in England on Feb. 12. Albert Maysles, meanwhile, continued filming, and CBS showed an expanded 50-minute documentary, "What's Happening! The Beatles in the U.S.A.," on Nov. 13.

The Eye of the Hurricane

The Museum of Television and Radio has "What's Happening!" in its collection, and in some ways it is more of its time than the Apple film, a 1990 revision. One example is the coverage of the Ed Sullivan performances. As Albert Maysles explained in an interview included on the new DVD, when union rules prevented the filmmakers from shooting the shows, they knocked on the door of a random apartment and filmed the family (which included three young girls) watching the Beatles.

Apple had greater flexibility: in the new version, clips from the Sullivan performances are edited in. Similarly, the Maysles brothers managed to film parts of the Washington Coliseum concert from seats in the hall. Visually and sonically, the film has a gritty, you-are-there feeling. Apple inserted excerpts from a more professionally produced film made for a closed-circuit theatrical showing of the concert in March 1964.

In either version, though, the unvarnished quality of so much of the Maysles brothers' work is the principal attraction. They capture the circus atmosphere: the fans singing, chanting and screaming outside the Plaza (and, in a couple of episodes, getting caught trying to sneak into the group's rooms); the airport news conference and a Central Park photo session; and the disc jockey and self-styled fifth Beatle Murray the K creating his own waves of hype and riding them, along with the bemused Beatles, on his WINS radio show. But they also show what Lennon used to call "the eye of the hurricane," or the relative calm in the Beatles' hotel suites.

The Delights of Fame

Seen here the Beatles are fresh-faced and new to fame. George Harrison, the youngest, is about to turn 21; Ringo Starr, the oldest, is 23. The camera captures the musicians' delight as they watch television news coverage, read newspaper accounts of their visit and describe their reception in a telephone interview with the BBC in London. (A different version of this section, filled out with audio from the BBC broadcast, is included in "The Beatles Anthology," the group's video autobiography.)

They are also clearly knocked out by the energy of popular culture in New York, particularly the radio, on which nonstop pop programming and the welter of competing commercial stations was entirely unlike what they were used to at home. Through much of the film, their Pepsi-vending-machine radios seem glued to their ears, although they leave them aside to go dancing at the Peppermint Lounge and to chat with fellow travelers on the train to and from Washington. In a way, "The First U.S. Visit" is remarkably similar to "A Hard Day's Night," which the group began filming immediately after this trip. The difference is in the spontaneity of the Maysles brothers' film.

Apple dropped the ball in "The First U.S. Visit" by not including the Washington Coliseum show intact as part of the bonus material. Two new DVD's include the show, but neither is authorized. "The Beatles in Washington, D.C." presents only part of the concert, with the songs separated by interview clips (not all from 1964).

A better and more complete presentation is included (along with an April 1964 television special, "Around the Beatles," and a dreadful print of a 1966 Tokyo concert) on "Beatles Around the World." In both cases the quality is no better than the bootleg versions that have been traded among collectors for 20 years.

Curiously, "The First U.S. Visit" skips the group's two concerts at Carnegie Hall on Feb. 12, probably because the Maysles brothers paused to edit the early footage after the Washington show. They did not resume filming until the Beatles were in Florida, where they played their second Sullivan show in Miami and spent a few days in the sun.

The Sullivan Revolution

The central performances from this trip, though, were the Sullivan shows. The Beatles mostly played their hits: "I Want to Hold Your Hand" was included in all three shows; "She Loves You," "All My Loving" and "I Saw Her Standing There" were in two; "This Boy," "Till There Was You," "Please Please Me" and "Twist and Shout" in one.

They are presented in pristine quality on "The Four Complete Historic Ed Sullivan Shows Featuring the Beatles," a two-DVD set that includes the three consecutive appearances from February 1964, as well as one taped on Aug. 14, 1965. The shows are intact, with all the other acts and most of the commercials included (only the cigarette advertisements have been deleted).

There are some surprises. The "Oliver!" sequence stars Georgia Brown, but also includes the young David Jones, who three years later joined the Monkees, a Beatlesque group created to star in its own television show. But to a great extent the Beatles stand apart in this context. From today's perspective even they seem a bit antique (a rock band in matching suits and ties?), but the other performers and the variety show format itself seem stuck in an earlier era.

This has everything to do with the Beatles and the rock revolution that reshaped our perceptions of popular culture and, in a way, led to its fragmentation into specialized niches. At the start of 1964, for example, it was possible for a show tune like "Hello, Dolly!" to top the pop charts.

The Beatles had a hand in sweeping that world away, yet they might have done so unwittingly. A centerpiece of their 1964 stage set, after all, was "Till There Was You," from "The Music Man."

The Beatles' own world, as captured in these DVD's, crumbled under the weight of their success, too. There is considerable joy in their Ed Sullivan and Washington performances, but in the two and a half years that followed, that quality would slowly be drained from their stage work as the din of their screaming audiences and the hassles of traveling made touring untenable.

But that's another story. Probably the best way to celebrate the anniversary of the Beatles' arrival is to put aside the wisdom of hindsight, for better and worse forget about the later tours, the disputes that led to the group's breakup in 1970 and even the great musical innovations of their studio years and look at Feb. 9, 1964, as a frozen moment when it was all fresh and fun and that was all it had to be.

[size="1"][ Feb 06, 2004, 07:08 PM: Message Edited By: fabgirl ][/size]
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Old Feb 06, 2004, 06:06 AM   #2
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Default Re: They Came, They Sang, They Conquered

Thanks for this, Fab.

Beatles Day February 7

It was 40 years ago today
The Beatles hit the USA.
They have and will remain in style
And they're a guarantee to make you smile.... [img]graemlins/smile1.gif[/img]

This made ME smile!

In nineteen hundred and sixty four
The Beatles hit the US shores!
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