As Forgotten Hits is looking back
-- as we all are -- at the Beatles' arrival in America 50 years ago, I think
it's interesting to see what the mainstream media, and others, considered their
most important trait: not their music, but their hair.
The Hartford (Conn.) Courant, where
I was a writer and editor from 1968 to 1995, certainly exemplified this in news
stories, letters, and editorials from early 1964.
From an Associated Press story of
February 8: "Britain's way out Beatles, equipped with rag mop hairdos and
guitars, invaded the colonies Friday. ... The Beatles collectively are sort of a
sheep-dog version of Elvis Presley."
Letter-writers to the newspaper
complained about "your front page picture of Ed Sullivan and his gallery of four
other freaks ... to inspire thousands pickle-headed female morons to slobber
over these refugees from barber shops and normal habitats."
The Courant itself opined: "They
apparently are likeable, harmless young men with ordinary singing voices, who
use the gimmick of haystack hairdos to attract attention. ... the bushy-haired
boys whose sex is not immediately apparent."
The idea that long hair equaled
femininity was mirrored in the 1965 song by the Barbarians (#55 on the Billboard
Hot 100) which argued, "With your long blond hair / You look like a girl ...
You're either a girl / Or you come from Liverpool." (By 1967, the Barbarians
refused to play this song in concert. I am attaching a photo I took in spring
1967 of Victor "Moulty" Moulton of the group; note the long hair).
It was quite a while before America
settled down to recognize that the most important thing about the Beatles was
not the length of their hair.
Without question, The Beatles' hair received every bit as much coverage as their music in the early days ... it was the butt of virtually EVERY comedian's joke ... and the focal point in every major newspaper and magazine. It was just something we had never seen before ... The Beatles had NO idea how great an impact this would have on world fashion the first time they combed it down in Moe Howard fashion! (lol) In hindsight this probably wasn't even a preconceived marketing ploy ... but boy, it sure worked! (Kids were even buying Beatles wigs!!! Check out this picture of FH Reader Mike Mertes, wearing his and strumming his brand new axe! lol)
Even the radio guys got in on the act. Most famously, here in Chicago, the WLS Jocks were all pictured on the Silver Dollar Survey with their Beatle hair-cuts ... hysterical because back then a couple of these guys were already losing their hair!
But, as I'm putting together our new Saturday Surveys feature, I found that our station wasn't the only one! Here's the K-Men in THEIR Beatle gear, too!
I've told this story several times over the years
... by the timing is probably most appropriate now.
Unlike apparently MANY teen (and pre-teens) in
January of 1964, I had absolutely NO clue who The Beatles were until they
appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show on February 9th. (I was only ten years old at
the time and hadn't even really discovered listening to the radio yet ...
although this, too would change, six months down the line.)
Anyway, Sunday Night we all sat down to watch The
Ed Sullivan Show together as a family (like families all over America did) ...
and we couldn't stop laughing at the way the girls in the audience screamed
while The Beatles sang. I didn't really know any of their songs yet ... but
thought they were pretty good.
The one who first caught my eye was George
Harrison ... several times during their performance, our family discussed how
much George looked like my Dad's Army Buddy Bud Baer ... except for the long
hair and all. In fact, when The Beatles appeared again the following week ...
and then again the week after that, we all kept laughing and teasing my dad
about his buddy Bud Baer being on TV. (We had been on camping trips together so
we knew Bud pretty well. When he stopped by to visit he couldn't believe that
we had been making fun of him for looking like one of those long-haired weirdos
The Beatles made such an impression on me that I
didn't even remember their name the next day ... but boy, EVERY girl in school
sure did ... that's ALL they were talking about. Even in fifth grade, the girls
were going ga-ga for The Beatles!
The Monday night after their first Sullivan
appearance my dad took all three of us boys for haircuts. (Yes, barber shops
were open on Mondays back in 1964!) The barber ... who had been giving the
Kotal boys crew-cuts for YEARS, kept kidding around about giving us Beatle
hair-cuts ... (I was game!) ... again, everywhere you turned that Monday, The
Fab Four were the central topic of discussion. I even clearly remember him
telling my dad how if these haircuts ever caught on, he'd soon be out of
Virtually ALL of the newspapers and magazines
focused on their hair rather than their music ... it was unlike anything we had
ever seen before ... and within the next couple of weeks boys who had enough to
do so were soon combing their hair forward into what WE called the "Moe Howard
look", rather than The Beatles Cut.
Before their third appearance I was hooked ... I
had already bought "I Want To Hold Your Hand" / "I Saw Her Standing There" and
"She Loves You" / "I'll Get You" ... and played them constantly. When my mom
took me shopping to buy their first album I remember being really confused ...
"Meet The Beatles" and "Introducing The Beatles" were displayed side by side in
the album racks, prominently displayed where you couldn't miss them in the
store. When I asked about them, the store clerk told me that "Meet The Beatles"
was the one I wanted ... "that other one has a bunch of old stuff on it that was
recorded before they were famous." (Yeah, right!) Little did anyone know that
soon those "Introducing The Beatles" tracks like "Please Please Me", "Love Me
Do", "P.S. I Love You", "Do You Want To Know A Secret" and "Twist And Shout"
would soon be racing up the charts right along side their "new stuff" on the
"Meet The Beatles" LP.
It seemed like only a matter of weeks before
EVERY record on display had some sort of Beatles take-off displayed on its cover
... "The Beatle Buddies" were a bunch of girls dressed in turtlenecks and posed
just like The Fabs on their "Meet The Beatles" album cover, with half their
faces covered in a shadow. Beatle rip-off albums were everywhere, too ...
"Jolly What! The Beatles and Frank Ifield On Stage" (implying a LIVE album
when, in fact, you just got three or four recycled tracks from the "Introducing
The Beatles" album ... an album that was recycled itself in several different
configurations including one packaged with a Four Seasons Greatest Hits album,
Vee Jay Records' other big predominant recording act. (I finally gave in when
the "Songs, Pictures And Stories" LP was released with the gatefold cover. Even
though it was the exact same track line-up I had ignored up till then, I just
HAD to have this album.)
I remember walking home from school with three
girls from my class (Cindy, Sue and Beth ... wow, we were ten years old and I
STILL remember this) because they knew the words to EVERY Beatles song by heart
and would sing the entire "Meet The Beatles" album to me on the way home from
school. (Clearly, I just couldn't get enough ... I needed to hear this music
during every free, available moment!)
As the year wore on, so did my Beatles record
collection ... 45's mostly, especially if they had picture sleeves, which nearly
ALL of The Beatles' singles did. I remember having GREAT debates about which
side of the record was the better song ... because nearly every single Beatles
record was also a two-sided hit ... and my allegiance changed regularly between
the A-Side and B-Side, simply because BOTH sides were so great!
As I said earlier in the week, I find it hard to
believe that I can recall SO many details from 50 years ago with the absolute
clarity that I can ... nobody EVER believed this music would last ... and yet it
has in some fashion inspired every bit of music to come since, just as The
Beatles themselves were inspired by the early days of American Rock And
I've said it 10,000 times and I'll say it 10,000
more ... this music is TIMELESS ... NO other music has EVER had the incredible
lasting impact that this music has had. We are SO fortunate to have lived
through this experience first hand ... and I am SO pleased to be able to share
these memories today with those who may have missed it the first time around.
There has NEVER been a more exciting time in music ... it deserves to be heard
and it deserves to live on. And this year the entire world is doing exactly