It was fifty years ago: The Beatles arrive in America

It was fifty years ago: The Beatles arrive in America

On February 7, 1964, the Beatles arrived to the welcome of thousands of screaming fans at JFK Airport in New York. — Library of Congress

Fifty years ago — on Friday, February 7, 1964 — The Beatles arrived at JFK airport in New York. The Times asked several Islanders to share their most vivid Beatles memories — from that first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show two days after their welcome at the airport —  to the movies and concerts and the songs that made us think or see, or hear, the world differently. We got so many responses, we will be running them in a series over the next week. Got a good Beatles story? Remember where you were when they were on TV, or when you saw A Hard Day’s Night, or when you first heard Hey Jude? Have a personal run-in with John, Paul, George, or Ringo? And tell us: What’s your favorite Beatles song? Your favorite Beatle? Comment below, or writes us at onIsland@mvtimes.com.

Tom Dresser

When I was growing up my parents felt television was not worthwhile, so we didn’t have one.  Until all the kids were grown up and out of the house!

Tom Dresser in 1964.
Tom Dresser in 1964.

I was a junior in high school when Beatlemania swept England and I have a vivid memory of an argument with a girl named Debbie who idolized the Dave Clark Five.  I claimed the Beatles were the best, that they had better songs than all the other groups.  Talk drifted to the upcoming appearance of the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show. I had to see them.

Somehow I finagled the chance to babysit for the child of a friend of my parents, knowing he would be in bed by the time the show came on. I still remember my anxious anticipation, getting him into his crib, praying he’d fall asleep and thinking about the Beatles, and me about to sit in front of the television.

Well, it happened. The little boy did go to sleep and I turned on the TV.  Out came Ed Sullivan and with that extended arm and tilt of his head, he announced the Beatles. There they were on stage — John, Paul, George and Ringo. I still get chills when I think of the exuberance of the audience, cheering, screaming, clapping to ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ and ‘She Loves You.’

It was a most memorable moment, one I have treasured for years. And yes, when I got home I confessed to my parents I had offered to babysit just so I could have the chance to watch the Beatles on TV. My parents were amused, knowing I was not an eager babysitter. I think that’s when they realized that the Beatles meant that much to me.  And Beatles music still lives on in my heart today.

Favorite Beatles song? In My Life.

Thomas Dresser, Oak Bluffs, is the author of the book about the Beatles, “It Was 40 Years Ago Today,.” It can be purchased at tomdresser.com.

Nancy Wood

The Bates girls (Nancy Wood's daughters) in the summer of 1964: Sandra, Jennifer, Susan, Sally, Jill and Janet. At that time the family lived in New Jersey and summered in Menemsha.  From  '68 to '72, they lived year-round in Edgartown;  Jennifer and Sandra graduated from high school here.
The Bates girls (Nancy Wood’s daughters) in the summer of 1964: Sandra, Jennifer, Susan, Sally, Jill and Janet. At that time the family lived in New Jersey and summered in Menemsha.  From  ’68 to ’72, they lived year-round in Edgartown; Jennifer and Sandra graduated from high school here.

The night the Beatles were on the Ed Sullivan show was a thrilling one for my six daughters, age fourteen on down. You could say they were bewitched.  I thought those boys looked pretty cute, too, with their matching suits and boyish, innocent looks. The long hair was startling, but it didn’t take long to get used to. They called it an invasion when the Beatles came, and I guess it was. Their songs were fun, made you want to dance, and even my little ones knew most of the words. Beatle music was being played in and out and around our house constantly. The following Halloween I made Beatle costumes for three of my younger daughers — little brown suits, black wigs, and toy guitars. Here is a memory from my daughter Jennifer:

I remember sitting on the floor with my sisters, as we always did on Sunday night, waiting for the Ed Sullivan Show. By then my school friends and I had already picked out our favorite Beatle. Most of the girls liked Paul, so rather than go with the pack I picked George. Besides, he had those crooked teeth and looked more humble than the others. I think the first single I had was “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” My neighbor and I would play it on my little portable record player and dance and shake our heads and try to sing the harmonies. We felt really cool.

And from my other daughter, Sandra (Bates) Varno:

Watching that show I remember feeling something for the first time — something I know I never shared with my family, but was a hot topic at sleepovers. We used to trade Beatles cards the way boys did baseball cards — but much more enthusiastically. You would learn the names of all their parents and siblings, what working class meant, and how they used to be Rockers and now were Mod.

Which Beatle you liked could make or break a friendship. I took a little friendly abuse over George. I practiced copying George’s signature so many times, that I still do my cursive consonants the way he did as a teen. I had a big poster of George on the back of my door. I would stare at it longingly until one of my little sisters drew boogers under the nose.   We might sing most of the songs around the house and have some fun harmonizing, but I remember crooning out All My Loving and other romantic numbers only in the dark back of the basement where I wouldn’t get heard and teased.

I spent over half of the next summer in bed in a dark room with a complicated case of measles. The only thing that got me through was CKLW- the radio station playing only Beatles.

Favorite songs? Girl; All My Lovin; For No One; Things we Said Today; Baby’s in Black, for starters.

Nancy Wood, Vineyard Haven, is a writer who has recently finished a novel about girls coming to the Island to work at the Tashmoo Inn in 1946.