‘Ladies and Gentlemen: The Beatles!’

by | Feb 8, 2024

Above: The Beatles with Ed Sullivan in 1964. Photo credit: CBS via Wikipedia

Remembering the British Invasion, 60 years later

By Laura Sullivan

It was a vulnerable and transitional time, those first months of 1964. The United States was still reeling from the assassination of its young president, John F. Kennedy, the previous November.  There was the specter of the Cold War with the USSR. The conflict in Vietnam was escalating, and the United States was becoming an active but unwilling participant. Our parents read the newspapers, watched the network CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite or Chet Huntley and David Brinkley on NBC, and listened to the radio, which had been their lifeline through the Depression and World War II.  

Households struggled to manage budgets, as the average cost of a house was $13,050, and rent was $115. The 1964 minimum wage was $1.15/hour, with the average annual income of about $6,000. A gallon of gas was 25 cents. A loaf of bread was 30 cents, the soon-to-be introduced Ford Mustang would cost $2,320, tickets to the movies could be as much as two dollars, a first-class postage stamp was five cents, and a box of Girl Scout Cookies was 50 cents.  

We, of the Baby Boomer generation, were largely oblivious to these dark concerns, although, of course, we were surrounded by the shock and subsequent mourning of JFK’s assassination. Still, as we entered the New Year, we resumed our regular lives of school, friends, Scouts, church, family gatherings and the popular culture of the times. We continued to have those civil air raid drills in our schools, and bomb shelters, and the Bond movies (starring Sean Connery) more often than not featured a Russian arch-villain. Nevertheless, we played with our Barbies, GI Joes, Matchbox cars, Chatty Cathy dolls, and Slinkys, twirled our Hula Hoops, and rode our bicycles (sans helmets) around our neighborhoods, until the street lights came on. We tuned in for the Donna Reed Show, Father Knows Best, The Andy Griffith Show, The Adventures (?!) of Ozzie and Harriet, Dragnet and, of course, American Bandstand. There were only three networks:  ABC, CBS and NBC, with our local affiliates.

The music of the time had the Beach Boys, Elvis, the Four Seasons, those upbeat Motown groups (think of the Supremes, Martha and the Vandellas, Chiffons, Temptations, Miracles, Four Tops, Little Anthony and the Imperials, Marvelettes), Ronettes and Corvettes (whoops, that was a car). Peter, Paul & Mary, and Bob Dylan sang of social issues in their folk-rock style. There were soloists and duos: Bobby Darin, Paul Anka, Bobby Rydell, Johnny Rivers, Shelley Fabray, Steve & Eydie, Nino Tempo and April Stevens, and more. Rock and Roll was alive and well in the United States.

And then…

Over in England, “across the pond,” a musical revolution was emerging. Out of the working-class cities of Birmingham, Manchester, and especially around Liverpool, a new sound, called “Merseybeat (named for the river that ran through these industrialized areas), was being heard in the clubs and coffeehouses. A derivative style of “skiffle,” popular in the 1950s, Merseybeat was a blend of folk, blues and jazz, with some rock and roll, set to 4/4 beats. From these beginnings came John, Paul, George and Ringo, with a band name that initially brought puzzled expressions. Beatles? Isn’t that a misspelling for something insect related?  Nevertheless, with Brian Epstein as their manager, the group gained fame and rapturous fans as they toured in Europe, especially in Germany, as well as their mother country.  Someone in England dubbed the phenomenon as “Beatlemania.” Word of their popularity spread across the pond, and radio stations responded to the demand to play “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” with its flip side of “I Saw Her Standing There.” Record stores struggled to keep up with the demand.

In those days, it was regarded as the pinnacle of success to be booked for an appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” a one-hour variety program that aired every Sunday night at 8 p.m. Sullivan, in addition to hosting, was a savvy businessman who saw the opportunity to bring these “youngsters from Liverpool” to the United States to make their American premiere on his show, which aired live on February 9, 1964. Negotiations included three appearances on the show (two live, one taped), to the tune of $2,400, plus travel expenses. 

There were over 5,000 screaming fans to greet the Beatles when they arrived at the newly renamed John F. Kennedy Airport in New York on February 7. News coverage, along with police and security details, was plentiful, as the fans crowded the streets outside the Plaza Hotel, where they were staying, and seasoned newscasters viewed the bedlam with combined skepticism, amazement, smiles and a bit of harrumphing. CBS’s Walter Cronkite is reportedly the one who declared this as the “British Invasion.”

Here on the homefront, there was plenty of excitement and anticipation. Having an older sister, just shy of 16, put me in the know of popular music, fashion and what was trending. Moreover, our mother was equally excited over these four fellows with the charming British accents and disarming smiles. Although we didn’t yet have the single of “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” she bought “She Loves You,” (flip side “I’ll Get You”) on the Swan label (before the Beatles signed on with Capitol), paying a whopping 78 cents. She presented it to us on February 7, with a note declaring, “Surprise on ‘Beatles Day’!  They have arrived in N.Y.!” Clearly we were blessed with a very with-it mother.

“She Loves You” record with the note from Laura’s mother, February 7, 1964.

Two days later, we gathered that Sunday night in front of our big cabinet RCA television, with the not-so-big black-and-white screen, and tuned in with a record-breaking 73 million other Americans (about 60 percent of the entire population) to watch the show. Out of 50,000 requests for tickets, only 728 folks won the lottery to have seats in the theater, most of them girls. Screaming, enraptured, hysterical girls. Ed Sullivan played to their frantic anticipation, bringing the Beatles out early in the show for the first of two sets, as they sang “All My Loving,” “Till There Was You,” and “She Loves You.” During the second song, close ups of each of the four provided captions of their names: Paul, George, Ringo and John, although John’s included the extra line, “Sorry girls. He’s married.”

Watching at home, it was difficult to hear them above all the screaming, but we knew the songs anyway, and it was pure fun and delight, as we sat on the floor directly in front of the TV to take it all in. Left-handed Paul, playing bass guitar; George, in the middle, on lead guitar; and John, taking his solid stance, on the right, playing rhythm guitar. Behind them was Ringo on drums, clearly having a good time, and occasionally shaking his mop of hair, as they all did, punctuating the songs.   

The second set, later in the show, included two more songs: “I Saw Her Standing There,” and, of course, “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” bringing the audience excitement to an even higher fever pitch. At the close of the set, as they did previously, they bowed together and then went over to shake hands with the host. History had been made.  

For the trivia lovers: Other acts that night were Georgia Brown and the cast of “Oliver!” (Davy Jones, later of The Monkees, was among them), singer Tessie O’Shea, impressionist Frank Gorshin (The Riddler on TV’s “Batman”), the comedy team McCall & Brill, magician Fred Kaps, and the acrobatic group Well & the Four Fays. While most of them did not go on to superstardom, their claim to fame was that they were part of this show that fateful night.

“Meet the Beatles” LP. A family friend wrote the names of the Fab Four on the original plastic cover. Discount Price Special: $2.98.

Over the next weeks and months, Beatlemania took over, as more of the band’s records were released and climbed up the Billboard charts. In addition to their singles, “Meet the Beatles,” the LP, was released around that time on the Capitol label. WPRO and WICE, the local AM stations, filled the airwaves with the Beatles, and we listened on the radio at home, in the car, and on our little battery-operated transistor radios. And yes: Our mother continued to buy all their records, plus those of the many other British-Invasion groups that followed, appearing at Beacon or Ladd’s Records shop, with list in hand.  

Sometime over that winter, I was out in the snowy backyard and wrote with a stick, in large letters: G.P.J.R. My mother, viewing the letters from an upstairs window, later asked me, “Who is G.P., Jr.?” I explained that the letters stood for the first names of the Beatles, listed in order of who I liked the best. So George Harrison was my favorite, and my mother and sister concurred.

News and Magazine clippings – February 1964.

Six decades later, I still smile at the memory of that night, and the three of us, joining in with America to welcome the British Invasion. There was something fresh and fun about this Fab Four, with their quick wit, joyous abandon, and their music that had us twisting and shouting, and just wanting to hold hands, or to dance. The boys started growing their hair long, to their parents’ chagrin. Sales of Beatles’ merchandise, magazines and everything English skyrocketed.  Even “jelly babies” – jelly beans, – a Fab Four favorite, saw increased sales. It was a lighthearted and innocent reprieve from the grief of the previous November’s national tragedy, and the worries of the world.   

While today’s youth might dismiss such nostalgia, so last-century, with a bored “yeah, yeah, yeah,” we of a certain age are grateful for those whimsical times past, when we saw them – we heard them – standing there, and we sang along:

“Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!”

Laura Sullivan (no relation to Ed) lives in East Greenwich.

Cover of Post Magazine, March 21, 1964.

Beatles commemorative booklet from WPRO radio, “Beatle Mania Central,” and George pins.

Ads from Gladding’s and Cherry & Webb for Beatle Sweat Shirts and “Beatle-Neck” T-Shirts. Price: $4.98.


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February 8, 2024 8:32 pm

What a wonderful article! It never gets old to read about that day when the Beatles “conquered” America! Thank you!

Mark Thompson
Mark Thompson
February 9, 2024 9:28 am

Delightful! Never forget buying my first single, a Beatles 45, at Woolworth’s in E.G.

Joyce Williams
Joyce Williams
February 9, 2024 2:58 pm

I remember that night so vividly. Your article took me back to that time and it was nice to feel the excitement of seeing them. Great article.

February 9, 2024 3:07 pm

What a thorough history Laura has given us! I plan to share it with my ‘kids.’

Donald Tunnicliff Rice
Donald Tunnicliff Rice
February 10, 2024 9:29 am

Loved the Gladdings and Cherry & Webb ads.

February 11, 2024 4:53 am

What a wonderful retelling of an historic moment. The world changed that night!

February 11, 2024 1:36 pm

Ms. Laura
Forgive me ya kinda hit a vastly diminishing set of brain cells.

  1. If it comes around again on PBS “Produced by George Martin” an excellent must watch. I highly recommend it. An individual who was making about 80 Quid a month writing jingles for cartoons/commercials. He would go on to produce that Merseybeat for others and much to Lennon’s dismay at times be considered the 5th Beatle. He would score many songs for The Beatles. At first he didn’t think them all that talented.
  2. Quite unique to see Ladd’s Record’s mentioned. That store had about every 45 under the Sun. Any album I scored was generally at Joe Biz’s place on Main Street.
  3. I never saw the Beatles but my last concert was The Moody Blues at the Civic Center. Tickets about $15.00 in the 1990’s. My third and final time of seeing them. My mother “Vic” as I called her thought The Beatles were sent by satan.
  4. I’m not sure how many remember or went to URI, paid $14.- $15 to see in order Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, Papa John Creach, BB King and Jake Geils. All for under $20 which included a knife fight nearly at the end.
  5. My first concert was The Yardbirds at Rocky Point where one could walk on the Midway (free) Jeff Beck & Jimmy Page if I recall. They played on the outdoor stage by a somewhat newly erected skyline.
  6. Since then I’ve been to numerous concerts from the East to the West, North to South. One I remember at Loews possibly 1974. Whit may have been there or come with us, Kenny Guilfoyl, Too-Stone Maddastone, my bro, bout 8 of us. The opening act(s) were Tombstone, Queen and the headliner was Mott the Hoople. Today people know Queen but not the band from England, Mott the Hoople. Back then of course it was the other way around. On the Strip out in LA I would see Black Oak Arkansas, Blue Oyster Cult, Steely Dan and the Doobie Brothers for under $20. But missed Woodstock as I was not one of the 3,000,000+ I seemed to have encountered that went to Woodstock. But did see many of those groups at other venues.
  7. Heading up to Providence, places (maybe seeming like palaces as the time) like the Majestic (now Trinity), The Strand, Lupos, all on Washington Street, then Loews (now PPAC), Civic Center occasionally The Boston Garden. Then of course Buster Bonoff’s Warwick Musical Tent which originally was erected every year. (Caveat, mainly these all local places)
  8. My cousin Joe Mattiace during the 1950’s early 60’s owned and operated a place called The Rail Road Inn on the corner of Duke & London. Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Everly Brothers, Jerry Lee Lewis and others of that caliber. One cousin still has the Jerry Lee ticket, it’s labeled – Jerry Lee Lewis $3.50, complementary 2 free drinks.
  9. In the summer of 2021 my family sold property we inherited located on Exchange Street. I was somewhat instrumental in the sale. Gratuities were not expected but accepted. One family member bought my youngest 2 children tickets ($250 each) to see Paul McCartney at Fenway. The smile on their face was worth the price of admission plus the $150 for parking.
  10. Now as far as my younger children acknowledging music of that period, their Spotify Lists do consist of Dean, Frank (Italian thing) through today. My youngest son graduated from URI in December just accepted a position with Live Nation, the Mansfield Venue. So we’re kind excited for him as his office door has access to the stage where as Great Woods I would see Ringo & his All Star Band.
  11. So as the song goes “there are places I remember…”


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