January/February 2004



It Was Forty Years Ago Today...

I remember the end of 1963 - that grim Winter in the immediate wake of the JFK assassination. I was a kid then, but I remember . . . You'd see someone at school break into tears for no reason, and no one would have to ask why. Everyone knew, everyone understood. Life had lost meaning for a lot of kids.

Now, across the Atlantic there was this rock band who'd become huge in their own country, but were completely unknown in America. All their singles had bombed here, including their latest, which Dick Clark had played on "American Bandstand" in August, asking the assembled teenagers for their opinions. The assembled teenagers laughed the poor record off the turntable. It sounded weird, you couldn't really dance to it, it wasn't as cool as the Beach Boys, etc. That record also bombed in America.

Now, within days of Kennedy's assassination this group released a new single. Their label's U.S. arm (Capitol) had refused to release their previous singles (they'd come out on three different small labels here). However, even Capitol was now impressed with the group's overseas success, and decided to release this new single some time in January . . . No one yet realized just how much things had changed. Sometime in early December, a disk jockey on the East Coast got hold of an import copy of the single, and started spinning it.

To cut a long column short, the reaction was predictably immense, and completely unexpected. Calls start pouring in, and poor Capitol had to keep the presses rolling nonstop to rush release the domestic version of the single - and during the Christmas season, yet!

The rest is too well known to more than touch on - there was a void left by Kennedy's assassination, and the Beatles filled it. The same screams that used to greet the fallen President were now aimed across the Atlantic. JFK's death had left an unknown, unfulfilled yearning in millions of American kids, and is certainly a major factor in the Beatle's sudden rise to the top of the American charts. They became the biggest pop phenomenon ever, everybody grew long hair, and for quite some time the charts were dominated by bands from England, as the desire for something different, something not American, created a teenaged buying frenzy for anything and everything English - a frenzy soon known as the "British Invasion."

And Mom always made us get crew cuts . . .