1964 will be remembered as the year that the Beatles cracked America and the British invasion officially began, but it started with a Christmas show and then the first ever concerts in France.
The year saw the band continue its gruelling touring schedule that would eventually burn them out by 1966 when they ended all touring, but during 1964 they made their first ever trips to Asia, Australia, Canada and the US, as the band really did start taking over the world.
There were also hugely successful and significant records released over the course of the year, leading to an achievement in the US that has not been repeated by any other artist in history.
Beatlemania was rising to heights no one could ever have imagined…
Merry Christmas Everyone
The year started with a residency at the Astoria Cinema in Finsbury Park, London. This was the Beatles Christmas show, something they repeated the following year. It was a continuation of the shows that started in December.
The band had several acts join them for the show, who all performed their own sets before the Beatles came on at the end of the show to do a 25 minute, 9 song set.
The track listing for the shows was – ‘Roll Over Beethoven’, ‘All My Loving’, ‘This Boy’, ‘I Wanna Be Your Man’, ‘She Loves You’, ‘Till There Was You’, ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’, ‘Money (That’s What I Want)’ and ‘Twist And Shout’.
The show ran from 24th December 1963 until 11th January 1964, with the band only taking 3 days off in that time, putting on two shows per days. The acts playing across the shows were – Barron Knights and Duke D’Mond, Tommy Quickly and The Fourmost, Billy J Kramer and The Dakotas Cilla Black, and Rolf Harris.
Viva Le France
January bought the first ever performance in France, the start of many firsts in 1964. The 3 week residency in Paris almost got off to a terrible start when Ringo couldn’t arrive with the rest of the band.
Paul, John and George, along with Brian Epstein, were all flying into Paris from London, but Ringo was flying from Liverpool and fog grounded all flights. Fortunately, he was able to get to London the following day and arrived in time for the warm up gig at Cinema Cyrano in Versailles.
That warm up gig was attended by a full house of 2,000, predominantly male fans and immediately indicated to the band that the French crowd would be different from what they had become used to, with far less screaming, so they could even hear their instruments properly.
After the warm up gig, the Beatles played 18 days at the Olympia Theatre in Paris, playing at least 2 sets a day, sometimes three. The bill itself included 9 different acts and whilst the Beatles closed every single one of the sets, they did share top billing on the show on some occasions with French artist Sylvie Vartan and the American Trini Lopez.
The Beatles set consisted of 8 tracks – ‘From Me To You’, ‘Roll Over Beethoven’, ‘She Loves You’, ‘This Boy’, ‘Boys’, ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’, ‘Twist And Shout’ and ‘Long Tall Sally’.
Whilst it was a grand venue, it was not equipped for modern amplifiers and the Beatles had to deal with blown fuses over the residency. The fans in attendance, particularly for the evening sets, were generally in evening dress and being an older audience, less enthusiastic in how they enjoyed the gig. As Ringo commented, the audience were wearing tuxedos like they were off to a film premiere.
There was also a lot of chaos on the first night with fans and press all trying to get access to the band, which meant for the remainder of the residency the band had to ban anyone being backstage at all, using armed guards to get them off stage at the end.
The British Invasion Begins
Whilst staying in Paris during their 3 week residency, the band received news that was both exciting and the signal that Beatlemania was beginning to take over in America – ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ had gone to number one in the billboard charts, jumping up from its entry at number 43.
Brian Epstein got a telegram from Capitol Records announcing the information and Paul talks about it taking the band a week to come down from the news. Capitol actually advertised this as the Beatles first American single but in fact, the band had released three previous singles with other labels.
One of the songs that had been released the previous year was ‘Please Please Me’ which failed to make an impact. Making the most of the popularity of the Beatles, it was re-released in late January and ended up reaching number three in the charts, only behind two other Beatles tracks!
At the end of the Paris tour, the band were flying to America within a few days to start their first tour stateside, so to arrive with the number one record was a massive boost for them. They were already booked for the Ed Sullivan show before this news, but it certainly helped build up the anticipation for the band’s arrival.
Adding to the growing momentum of the band, Capitol released their first Beatles album, ‘Meet The Beatles’, just three days after that first number one single. This wasn’t actually the first album, as a smaller label, Vee-Jay, had released ‘Introducing the Beatles’, 10 days earlier. ‘Meet The Beatles’ was a huge success, staying at the number one spot for eleven weeks across the first half of 1964.
The Beatles Have Landed
The invasion officially begins on 7th February as the Beatles land at JFK Airport in New York at the start of their history making tour that was going to start on the Ed Sullivan show just two days later. Despite having a couple of songs going well in the charts, the band were not prepared for the level of Beatlemania they were to encounter on landing.
Five thousand fans, mainly girls, were packed into the airport arrivals building awaiting the bands’ arrival. Some of this is put down to a publicity stunt, not organised by the band, where free t-shirts were offered to those turning up. But the big reason was all the big radio stations were promoting the flights’ arrival, telling fans exactly what flight they would be arriving on.
Mid-flight the pilot was warned of the impending chaos and the band was informed, at which point they began to realise they were a lot bigger in the US than they had realised!
Rehearsals for the Ed Sullivan were not smooth, as one member of the band was absent! George was unable to join them on a walk around Central Park in the morning and then could not go to rehearsals because he had a temperature of 104.
Doctors had said he would have to miss the recording of the show, but George insisted he got pumped with medicine hourly so he was ok to make it. It was his sister, a native in Illinois, that helped with this – as the doctor at the hotel said, she was possibly the only female in all of New York that would not be hysterical around this patient.
Finally, on 9th February 1964, the Beatles made arguably the most famous TV appearance by a musical act and certainly a history making moment for the band, as they appeared for the first time on the Ed Sullivan Show.
Whilst no official numbers exist, estimates say that around seventy three million watched that show in over twenty three million homes, one of the largest viewing audiences in US history.
Interestingly, earlier in the day, before the live debut, the band recorded a set that was going to be broadcast on 23rd February, which was officially their third Ed Sullivan Appearance, performed in front of a different audience from the one that would be there in the evening.
On the night, whilst broadcasting to such a large TV audience, there were only 728 people present in Studio 50 for the show that went out between 8-9 pm, with other guests including Georgia Brown & Oliver Kidds, Frank Gorshin and Tessie O’Shea.
They opened the most important night of their careers so far with ‘All My Loving’. They rounded off the first half with ‘Till There Was You’, and ‘She Loves You’, before coming back at the end to finish with ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ and ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’.
After the show was complete the band were taken to the Playboy club by DJ Murray The K, before ending the night dancing at the Peppermint Lounge until four in the morning. The following day was a whirlwind of press and TV interviews before the band (less George due to illness) went out clubbing in New York.
Maiden Live US Concerts
Two days after the Ed Sullivan Show appearance, the Beatles did their first live concert on US soil at the Washington Coliseum in front of a packed crowd of just over 8,000, having travelled to Washington that morning by train due to snow storms stopping flights.
As a nice touch, the band did an interview in Washington with WWDC, who were the first radio station to play a Beatles track in America.
In the concert itself, the band were playing in the round, so at different points in the evening things were moved around so that they could be seen by all sides. They were supported in Washington by Jay & The Americans, The Righteous Brothers and Tommy Roe.
For their first ever US concert, they played a 12 song set – Roll Over Beethoven’, ‘From Me To You’, ‘I Saw Her Standing There’, ‘This Boy’, ‘All My Loving’, ‘I Wanna Be Your Man’, ‘Please Please Me’, ‘Till There Was You’, ‘She Loves You’, ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’, ‘Twist And Shout’ and ‘Long Tall Sally’.
The night didn’t end as well as some on the US tour. The band attended a party at the British Assembly and at one point a guest actually cut off a lock of Ringo’s hair, at which point the band understandably informed Brian Epstein they were leaving.
The following night the band played their second and third live concerts of the tour, back in New York at the famous Carnegie Hall, which were the last of this tour. They played back to back shows in the evening to packed houses. The band themselves didn’t enjoy the concert hugely, particularly the backstage area, where little protection was afforded them and they were pawed at by guests.
The band rounded out their US tour with a second live appearance on the Ed Sullivan show, this time coming from Miami. Despite the amazing success of their first appearance, the Beatles were not headliners for this show, that honour went to Mitzi Gaynor. Another seventy million Americans tuned in to watch the show. The bill included the boxers Sonny Listen and Joe Louis.
They did have one last appearance on the Ed Sullivan show a week later, but this was the pre-recorded show they performed on the afternoon of their first show.
For now, the Beatles were returning home to the UK after a couple of rest days in Miami, which included visiting the training camp of Cassius Clay (later known as Muhammad Ali), who was preparing for his fight with Sonny Listen.
A World Tour
Before they stopped touring (after 1966), the Beatles were famous for the number of concerts they performed but this tour in 1964 was the only official world tour they ever embark on and it did not start well.
The morning before the band would open the tour in Copenhagen, Denmark, Ringo collapsed and had to be hospitalised with tonsillitis and pharyngitis. The Beatles were about to start their first and only world tour without their drummer, so enter session drummer Jimmie Nicol.
Against the wishes of the band (George has been quoted as saying they were bullied into an agreement by Brian Epstein and George Martin), they began the tour on time and in fact for the first 5 concerts, the band included Jimmie Nicol on drums.
After Denmark, the tour continued in Europe, with the band playing 2 shows in Holland, before lying to perform in Asia for the very first time.
Hong Kong was the place for this first concert, at the Princess Theatre in the Kowloon region. They played two session on the day, neither selling out due to the promoter putting prices up so high, to the equivalent of a weeks wage in the region.
Then in June of 1964, Beatlemania made it to Australia. Across two and a half weeks, the band performed 16 days in Australia and New Zealand, in eight different venues. Jimmie Nicol played the first two shows on this leg of the tour, until Ringo was finally reunited with the band in Melbourne, although that nearly didn’t happen.
Ringo had forgotten his passport and it took a lot of persuasion to allow him on the plane. His passport was found and was flown out to join up with him in San Francisco before he got connecting flights in Honolulu and Fiji on route to Melbourne.
The Australian part of this tour was a big success for the band, although they were personally less happy with New Zealand, where the police presence was not good (they refused to escort them at the beginning) and the sound equipment was not up to the standard needed for a rock and roll band.
The next part of the world tour was back in the UK, where the band would spend most of late July and early August playing concerts in seaside towns every Sunday, breaking for a few days in Sweden at the Johanneshovs Isstadion, Stockholm at the end of July.
Back In The USA
In August the band returned to North America, for a much larger tour, taking in both America and Canada and performing at 25 different venues over one month stretching from 19th August to 20th September, starting at the Cow Palace in San Francisco. In many ways, due to the short nature of their previous visit to the US, this was the bands first full US tour.
The reaction they received in San Francisco was typical of the tour in general – nineteen girls needed first aid at the show, it was a sell out and the concert was full an hour before it was due to start. In many cities, the band used an ambulance to get away from the venues after the concert due to the limousines being damaged. Beatlemania was in full effect.
The support acts for the whole US tour were The Bill Black Combo, The Exciters, The Righteous Brothers and Jackie DeShannon. The Beatles themselves generally performed a 29-minute set to close each show.
The group played their first Canadian concert in Vancouver quite early in the tour, before returning in a few weeks to play Toronto and Montreal. As with the US legs of the tour, the band would normally be driven to the airport within an hour of finishing the concert and flying straight to their next city, which was a gruelling schedule for them.
The bands favourite gig of the tour was probably the Hollywood Bowl, a slightly smaller venue but very famous. George Martin recorded the concert and planned to release it, but felt the quality was not good enough. It does appear in the album ‘The Beatles At The Hollywood Bowl’, which is combined footage from three different sets they played over a couple of years.
On the rare days off they got, the band met some famous faces, some they liked, others not so much. They were delighted to spend time at Burt Lancaster’s house, but then in the evening they were invited to the club ‘Whiskey A Go Go’ by Jayne Mansfield and found the experience painful and left pretty early after being bombarded by photographers.
Another meeting was more important in the bands long term history, a visit and first introduction to Bob Dylan, which also led to the bands’ first experience of Marijuana. It was Dylan that first suggested they try the drug and actually rolled the joints. Cannabis was to become an integral part of the Beatles life during the remainder of the 60s, as well as documented experiences with LSD.
Their final show of the US tour was another one the band remember fondly, as it was back in New York, a place they liked as a band and it was also one they didn’t charge for, being a charity gig in aid of United Cerebral Palsy of New York City and Retarded Infants Services.
The band finally returned to the UK in late September and began the major UK tour of 1964 in Bradford on 9th October. Across October and November, the band played at 27 different venues, doing 2 sets to new audiences each time, covering all parts of the UK, although they only played one venue each in Wales and Northern Ireland, plus three in Scotland.
Towards the end of the tour, the band played the Empire Theatre in Liverpool, having not played live in the city for nearly a year at this point. John was able to visit the parents of Stuart Sutcliffe after the show and was given an abstract painting by the former Beatle.
The year ended as it began, with the start of another Christmas show residency, this time at the Hammersmith Odeon in London, starting on 24th December.
Time For a Movie
Throughout March and April, after returning from their historic tour of the US, the Beatles began filming their first full-length film, ‘A Hard Day’s Night’. The film takes the audience through 36 hours in the life of the band as they prepare for a fictional television performance.
The story follows the band as they board a train and meet Paul’s granddad, who then proceeds to cause problems throughout the lead up to the tv performance, alongside the band generally wanting to play around and their management needing to get them in line.
The film was both a critical and commercial success that has been given several awards and recognitions over the years. It won two academy awards, including best screenplay for Alun Owen. In 2004 Time magazine listed it in the top 100 all-time great films, whilst the British Film Institute put it 88th in its list of great British films of the 20th century.
The premiere of the movie was held at the London Palladium on 6th July, with Princess Margaret in attendance.
One side note from the filming, George Harrison met actress Patricia Boyd on the set and was immediately attracted to her. Whilst she was initially resistant to his advances because she also had a boyfriend, George won her over and eventually married her in 18 months.
Other Live Performances
The Beatles performance on the TV show Sunday Night at The London Palladium in early January highlighted how things had changed from the previous year. They first did the show in October 1963 but by January of 1964, the fee they commanded had gone up fourfold and the attention and audience for the show was on a different level.
On 26th April, the band performed as headliners at the NME annual poll-winners concert, at Empire Pool in Wembley, to 10,000 fans. They received awards on the night from Roger Moore. It was the bands’ first performance for 15 weeks, which was an unusually long gap for the band at that time.
It was the first of four gigs that the band performed in the UK in the spring of 1964 before they embarked on the 1964 world tour.
After Wembley, the band would perform concerts in Edinburgh, Glasgow and then back to London on 31st May for a show at the Prince of Wales Theatre. They would return to the UK and do many more concerts later in the year, at the conclusion of the world tour.
Later in the year the band performed at the big charity event, The Night Of A Hundred Stars, in aid of the Combined Theatrical Charities Appeal Council. The bill included stars like Laurence Olivier and Judy Garland, with the band appearing in a sketch and doing a brief musical performance.
Despite the constant touring, the band managed to record and release two new albums in the UK in 1964, their third and fourth studio albums – ‘ Hard Days Night’ and ‘Beatles For Sales’.
Both were big successes for the band, although at the time the bands’ focus was really on singles, it was only with ‘Rubber Soul’ that they really started to focus on the quality of the whole album.
The most significant element of the albums in 1964 comes from them being the first solely composed by the Lennon/McCartney combination. In the US, many more albums were also released, as record labels were catching up on the Beatles back catalogue and releasing older material.
The Beatles were relentless in releasing new material throughout the year and some would go on to become historically significant for the band and music in general, from the iconic ‘A Hard Days Night’ through to the haunting ‘I’ll Be Back’. It also includes Paul’s first truly great song, ‘I’ll Follow The Sun’, as well as one of their favourite ever cover records, ‘Long Tall Sally’.
At the end of January, the Beatles created the first ever German version of their songs, translating ‘She Loves You’ and ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ into ‘Sie Liebt Dich’ and ‘Komm, Gib Mir Deine Hand’.
The band were not entirely happy at having to do this, in fact, the original recording had to be rescheduled after the band didn’t turn up, leading to an irate George Martin coming to the hotel and the band apologising profusely to him.
The Beatles became the first pop group to ever be immortalised in wax at Madame Tussauds. The waxworks were borrowed in 1967 by Peter Blake and Jann Haworth so they could be used on the cover of ‘St Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band’. Throughout the ‘60s the museum reworked the figures to keep them up to date with the Beatles ever changing look.
The wax heads of three of the band were rediscovered in 2005 after years in the wilderness and were auctioned for £81,500.
The Beatles made their first ever performance on Top of the Pops this year. Due to their popularity, they were given permission to pre-record a couple of songs, including their single ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ and didn’t perform live on the show for the first time until 1966.
In this year, John Lennon’s first book was published, titled ‘In His Own Write’. The book contained 31 stories as well as various drawings by Lennon. The book was a commercial success in both the UK and the US and was turned into a play in 1968.
The other major event for a member of the Beatles occurred on 1st April 1964, when John Lennon was called to the offices of NEMS by Brian Epstein, where his father, Alf Lennon, had turned up. John had not seen his estranged father for 17 years. The meeting did not go well, in fact, after 20 minutes the meeting was over, with John insisting that his father leave.
An Unprecedented Achievement
At the beginning of April 1964, The Beatles achieved a milestone in the Billboard Top 100 that has never come close to being repeated by any other artist, they held the top five positions in the charts at the same time. The five tracks are – ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’; ‘Twist And Shout’; ‘She Loves You’; ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ and ‘Please Please Me’.
Within a couple of weeks, the Beatles achieved another record, having 14 songs in the Billboard charts at one time, a record that was not repeated until 2015 when the artist Drake did the same, although only by releasing all the songs from his album at once.
The Beatles achievement, based only on record sales (downloads were obviously not around in 1964) and being individual singles, has never been repeated.