Tuesday, 15 February 2011

7th February 1964: The Beatles break America. And badly.

Some anniversaries are unforgettable, indeed the 6th of February to a Manchester United supporter of a certain age would always be a date as memorable as one’s own birthday, but fused with those dismal images of the stricken Elizabethan airliner and the accompanying pictorial roll call of the victims. The 9/11 disaster, without the Americanised mnemonic would be probably be recalled as another iconic image, rather than a particular day, that signified abysmal loss.

An anniversary whose date won’t mean much, but whose picture certainly will, involves another aircraft. This time it’s a Boeing 707 that, as far as we know, goes on to fly many more trouble-free miles as a transatlantic clipper. Just over forty-seven years ago Flight 101 lands at New York and on board are a British rock and roll band. They are photographed descending those Pan-Am steps whose blue confident logo was irretrievably and fatally stamped on the hellish images from Lockerbie in 1988. To a wage-earning musician in America in those days, from lounge jazz trios, doo-wop groups to bourbon-laced crooners, it was a day that would profoundly affect their collective futures.
America, the home of jazz and rock and roll, had managed, by its sheer wealth of material, talent and entrepreneurial chutzpah, to turn entertainment into an industry.

Literally owning the copyright on post-war popular culture, they had successfully exported the experience of a rich, limitless, American life. A style of living that had such potency for the young inhabitants of drab, bombed-out Britain.
America had spawned Rock 'n' Roll; they had given us Elvis, Buddy Holly, Little Richard, Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis. We had, er, Lonnie ‘Putting On The Agony’ Donegan, Joe Brown, Adam Faith and, of course dear Cliff…

How secure those American performers must have felt. Singing their real American Rock 'n' Roll in their real American voices. Would anyone have bought a Marty (Kim’s Dad) Wilde record in Manhattan? It’s doubtful that his face was ever shown on American television or his music ever played. Why would it be? Those Brits; how sweet, they must have thought.
How sweet indeed, until 7th February in 1964, when 3,000 fans greet the American Clipper Flight 101 from London delivering The Beatles to America.
To anybody who was a young teenager the image is unforgettable – John in his leather cap, the band bemused, embarrassed, even – but the date is a statistic that means little compared to the incredible figures that chart their fortunes after clearing Immigration.
They had broken the gates of the citadel, and within a week had changed Rock 'n' Roll for all time.


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