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The 50th anniversary of The Beatles' American Invasion

AP Photo
(From left) Ringo Starr, George Harrison, Ed Sullivan, John Lennon and Paul McCartney at a rehearsal for The Beatles' first performance on Sullivan's show, which occurred 50 years ago on Feb. 9.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Beatles once declared they would not tour in America until they had a No. 1 song there. This was a joke, and no one, including The Beatles themselves, took it seriously.

But, lo and behold, thanks to word of mouth by U.S. teenagers, "I Want To Hold Your Hand" hit No. 1 one in America on Jan. 17, 1964.

The Beatles landed in the United States on Feb. 7, 1964. None of them expected the reception they got, which included 5,000 screaming fans showing up at the airport, and 73.7 million viewers -- approximately 38 percent of the U.S. population at the time -- tuning in to watch them on "The Ed Sullivan Show" two days later.

John and Paul

The history of The Beatles, however, began long before their record-breaking career from 1963-1970. The event that really started the band came on July 6, 1957, the day John Lennon met Paul McCartney in their hometown of Liverpool, England.

John was the 16-year-old front man of The Quarrymen, and 15-year-old Paul had come to the band's concert, hoping to meet girls. Paul was impressed by the way that John stood on the stage, played The Del-Vikings' "Come Go With Me" and made up his own lyrics.

After the show, John heard Paul play "Twenty Flight Rock" by Eddie Cochran. John was impressed by how well Paul played the guitar and that he knew all the lyrics.

John knew if he asked Paul to be in his band, he might not be the best member anymore. He decided, however, to improve his band overall, and a few weeks later, asked a friend to ask Paul to join the band. The two, who shared a love of rock and roll music, art and literature, began writing songs together, starting what many consider the best songwriting duo of all-time.

Adding new members

In early 1958, Paul asked John if his friend, George Harrison, could join the band. Initially, the 17-year-old John said he didn't want a 14-year-old in his band, but he changed his mind when he heard George play.

In 1959, the group almost broke up due to lack of public interest. Drummer Colin Hanton quit, making it harder for the band to get gigs.

At the end of 1959, John's best friend from art school, Stuart Sutcliffe, was paid 65 pounds for a painting. John convinced Stu to buy a bass guitar with the money, as Paul was not playing bass at this point.

Stu joined the group, then known as the Silver Beetles, despite the fact that he couldn't play bass. The band was offered a job to play a nine-day tour of Scotland, backing pop singer Johnny Gentle, which did not go well.

Johnny crashed their car, sending a flying guitar into the head of their drummer, Tommy Moore. He was concussed and taken to the hospital, but John and the manager of the club they played in that night literally dragged him onto the stage. While worse for the wear, the group gained valuable experience.

German residency

Next came Hamburg, Germany. The Beatles and their new drummer, Pete Best, went to the Reeperbahn, the city's rough area, for four-and-a-half months. It was here they met another Liverpool drummer, Ringo Starr.

They played in a former strip club, often for eight hours straight. They relied on stimulant pills to stay awake. They continued to gain a fan base and experience.

However, in 1960, George was deported when the German police found out he was only 17. Paul and Pete were deported for lighting a fire in their hotel room. John, who surprisingly stayed out of trouble with the police, returned to Liverpool alone.

Stu fell in love with photographer Astrid Kirchherr and stayed behind. He died of a brain hemorrhage in 1962 at age 21, with Astrid by his side.

Becoming The Beatles

Brian Epstein, who managed a local music store, became The Beatles' manager in 1961. He convinced them to clean up their act, switching their leather for suits. This, he told them, would make them more popular with parents.

In 1962, their first record audition, with Decca Records, did not go well; they were told guitar groups were on the way out. Next, they auditioned with EMI, who liked the group and signed them but did not think Pete fit in and asked the band to replace him.

The Beatles called their old friend Ringo and asked him to join the group. Now with their iconic lineup in place, The Beatles recorded their first single, "Love Me Do." It peaked at No. 17 on the charts, probably due to the large number of records Epstein's store bought.

Beatlemania and beyond

Over the next year, Beatlemania hit Britain. "Please Please Me" in 1963 is widely considered the band's first No. 1 hit. It was followed by three more. The Beatles played numerous shows, and their popularity grew. At the end of 1963, Beatlemania slowly began spreading to America.

The Beatles had a long, successful career until their breakup in 1970, and all the members had solo careers after. John and George have died, but Paul and Ringo continue to make music; they even played together at the Grammy Awards on Jan. 26, performing "Queenie Eye," from Paul's latest album, "New." 

In November, "The Beatles' Live at the BBC: Volume Two" was released to critical acclaim. Fifty years may have passed since Beatlemania came to America, but The Beatles remain as relevant and popular as ever.


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