In 1964, the Beatles achieved an unprecedented level of success both in their home country of Britain and in the United States. They amassed crowds of adoring fans that followed them wherever they went, a phenomenon often referred to as “Beatlemania.” On February 9, 1964, an estimated 73 million people tuned in to see the Beatles perform live on The Ed Sullivan Show, a popular television program. This meant that 45% of homes with televisions in the U.S. were watching the Beatles, a record at that time.
Their appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, coupled with radio play and album promotion, spurred their meteoric rise in America. By April 4, 1964, the group held the first five spots on the Billboard Hot 100 list of popular songs, with “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “Twist and Shout,” “She Loves You,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “Please Please Me” crowding the top of the charts. No other act in history has achieved such a feat.
In 1965, their concert at New York’s Shea Stadium marked the first time that a large outdoor stadium had been used for such a purpose. The event attracted an audience of 55,000, the largest of any live concert that the Beatles performed. Beatles fans were so excited and determined to see the band that police sometimes resorted to using fire hoses to hold them back.
The Beatles provided one of the first opportunities for female teenagers in Britain to exhibit spending power and publicly express sexual desire, while the group’s image suggested a disregard for adults’ opinions and parents’ ideas of morality. In the description of author and musician Bob Stanley, the band’s domestic breakthrough represented a “final liberation” for the nation’s teenagers and, by coinciding with the end of National Service, the group “effectively signaled the end of World War II in Britain”.
By 1966, John Lennon controversially remarked that the group were “more popular than Jesus now”. Soon after, the Beatles’ travels were further entangled by mob revolt, violence, political backlash and threats of assassination, as well as more extreme displays of deity-like worship. They were so overwhelmed that they stopped touring and became a studio-only band. Although commentators speculated that the move would lead to a decline in popularity, their 1967 album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was critically acclaimed and revolutionized the music industry. By then, the Beatlemania phenomenon had largely subsided, though the group maintained a loyal following and commanded much cultural influence throughout the remainder of their career and in the decades since.
(Photo credit: AP Photo).