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49 Years Ago: The Beatles Land in America

The Beatles
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

In October 1963, the word “Beatlemania” was coined in Britain to describe the reactions of screaming young girls every time they heard the Beatles‘ music, either in performance or on the radio. On Feb. 7, 1964, the U.S. got its first proper taste of Beatlemania, as the group arrived in America for the first time.

As their star rose in the U.K., their singles were repeatedly rejected by EMI’s American subsidiary, Capitol Records, and instead issued on small, local labels Vee-Jay and Swan to little success. But by the end of 1963, after a few news reports focused on the Beatles’ success in England, Capitol relented and released ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand.’ The song began its rise up the charts, and while performing in Paris in mid-January 1964, Beatles received word that ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ had gone to No. 1 in America.

A few months prior, Ed Sullivan had arrived in London as the Beatles were returning home from a tour of Sweden and witnessed Beatlemania first-hand. Curious, he inquired about booking the band for his show. An arrangement was eventually reached, with the band appearing on three consecutive weeks, beginning Feb. 9.

Early in the morning of Feb. 7, the group left London on Pan Am flight 101 to conquer America, receiving a send-off at the airport from thousands of fans. That afternoon, they landed at John F. Kennedy Airport, which had been renamed in memory of the slain president six weeks earlier. Unaware of how they would be received in a land where other British acts had fallen flat, they were shocked to discover that an estimated 5,000 screaming fans were waiting for them.

A swarm of reporters and photographers crammed into Pan Am’s office for a press conference. The media, thinking that rock n’ roll singers were incapable of talking in complete sentences, asked a variety of condescending questions, mostly related to their hairstyle. But the Beatles, who were used to this treatment, fired back with wit and charmed those in attendance.

The scenes at the airport, and the rest of that first trip to America, was captured on film by Albert and David Maysles. Originally released in 1964, it was re-edited and released for home video in 1991 as ‘The Beatles: The First U.S. Visit.’

Next: Top 10 George Harrison Beatles Songs

Watch the Beatles’ Plane Landing in America

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Watch the Beatles’ First Press Conference in America

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