By the end of 1963, the Beatles had probably gone as far as they had dared to dream in establishing the widest possible audience for their music in Britain. When America beckoned, at the dawn of 1964, they were ready and primed to embrace stardom on an unseen scale. Capitol scheduled I Want To Hold Your Hand for US release on 26 December 1963, backed by a $30,000 national marketing campaign - $250,000 in today’s money.
Five million fliers and windscreen stickers proclaiming “The Beatles Are Coming!” above a Capitol logo adorned with a Beatle wig, were pasted anywhere they might be seen. Point-of-sale displays were placed in record stores. A four-page Capitol promo pamphlet sent to the trade focused on the Beatles as a cultural phenomenon, placing inordinate emphasis on their haircuts.
If anything sold the Beatles to America, even before their music had been widely heard, it was their hair, an identifying motif that became the talk of the nation. Capitol spent $30,000 publicising a haircut!, but their investment paid off, when on 4 April, Billboard’s Hot 100 showed the Beatles at #1 (with She Loves You), 2, 3, 4, 5, 31, 41, 46, 58, 65, 68 and 79, setting the seal on a full-blown cultural phenomenon.
The one area of exploitation over which the Beatles exercised no control was the novelty or tribute record and here the American record industry had a field day. Over 200 of these Beatles-inspired concoctions appeared in 1964 alone, including a sizeable proportion pertaining to their haircuts, and just as many by females expressing undying devotion to one or all of the Beatles. Every conceivable angle was explored: there were narrations, kiddie records – even the Chipmunks got in on the act - and even a few half-hearted anti-Beatles 45s, though few stations were prepared to risk playing these for fear of alienating their listeners!
Here for the first time on a legitimate CD are 24 of the best including later oddities such as Sissy Spacek’s hippy dippy John, You Went Too Far this Time (recorded in 1968 when she was working the Greenwich Village folk scene as Rainbo) and the spooky Ballad Of Paul by the Mystery Tour, an attempt to dissemble the trail of supposed ‘clues’ surrounding the rumours of Paul’s apparent ‘death’ which gripped America in late 1969. Harry Nilsson’s imaginative You Can’t Do That – a single he recorded in 1967 - incorporates snatches of fifteen other Beatles songs in the multi-tracked backing vocals. But it is the madness of 1964 that is mostly on display here. Murray Kellum’s hick country take on I Dreamed I Was A Beatle Last Night boasts the immortal lines – “There I stood on the big bandstand with my hair hangin’ down in my face, while 27 acres of twistin’ little shakers’ were screamin’ all over the place”. The doo wop-ish My Beatle Haircut by the Twiliters addresses the notion of a black dude adopting a floppy Beatle mop in the name of fashion, much to the dismay of friends and relatives. Rarities include the Bootles’ I’ll Let You Hold My Hand, a crafty pastiche of the Beatles’ sound as it appeared to American ears still reeling from the initial onslaught, and the Carefrees’ anthemic We Love You Beatles appearing on CD for the first time, straight from the master. Capitol Records were forced to withdraw A Letter To The Beatles, a breaking hit by the Four Preps, at the insistance of Brian Epstein. One listen and you’ll know why.
The monumental mega-booklet, with eye catching period-style cover art by Phil Smee - is full to bursting with dozens of rare pictures, ads and label shots woven within a 13,000 word note combining the rise of Beatlemania with the tales behind each of the 24 records.
We still love you Beatles!
By Rob Finnis