Artist Profile – The Beatles
(How the band broke in America)
Last Monday, I wrote about the need for art in moments like today, which inspired me to look into how artists have been able to emerge during times of pain and conflict. This led me to How The Beatles Went Viral In 64, written by Steve Greenberg. Based on the book and further research, I put together a step by step guide about how The Beatles conquered America, following the assassination of JFK. Obviously, this is an abbreviated version, but you’ll get the idea!
Step 1. Establish Credibility
– On October 31st, 1963, The Beatles flew into London airport after completing a tour of Sweden. They were met by over 1,000 screaming fans. By complete chance, Ed Sullivan himself happened to be at the airport
during this very moment. After learning that the deafening commotion was a result of a new band called The Beatles, Sullivan considered booking the group, but only as a novelty act; he did not take the mop-haired “kids” seriously. On Nov 4th, this would all change. The Beatles performed for The Royal Family
at the Queen’s Royal Variety Performance, an annual televised charity gala. The Queen’s mother was quoted as saying The Beatles are “…so young, fresh and vital”. That was the Tweet they needed! Sullivan’s European talent scout, Peter Pritchard
, who was at the event, called Sullivan and convinced him that if they were good enough for The Queen, they were good enough for the Show. Sullivan agreed. The band was booked.
Step 2. Be For The Moment
– On November 22nd, 1963, JFK was assassinated and feelings of hope that had been building in America, were lost. After reporting on the tragedy for weeks, CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite decided that America was ready for a change
of pace and needed something fun to lift spirits. He decided to resurrect a four minute segment on The Beatles, originally aired right before the assassination. This second airing would become critical in the Beatles explosion.
Step 3. Engage The Fan(s)
– Never underestimate the power of the individual! 15-year-old Marsha Albert
, who watched the Cronkite broadcast, was so moved by what she saw that she wrote a letter to local DJ Carroll James of WWDC in Washington D.C., asking “Why can’t we have music like that here in America?” James, wanting to grant the listeners request, pulled a couple favors and was able to secure a copy of “I Want To Hold Your Hand” from overseas. With just one play, the station was immediately inundated with requests for the song; James would end up sending a tape of the recording to a station in Chicago, who sent it to another station in St. Louis. The song continued to gain massive traction everywhere it went, all because of a fifteen year old’s letter. The fuse was lit.
Step 4. Creat Mass Content
– If you don’t know, The Beatles were signed to EMI’s Parlophone label. Frequently, songs on EMI in Europe would be released on Capitol
in America (EMI’s sister label). However, Capitol did not see the appeal and refused to release The Beatles first two singles in America: “Please Please Me” and “From Me To You”. This forced EMI to find another home for these songs, which ultimately were released on Vee-Jay Records
. Unfortunately, Vee-Jay screwed up royalty payments, forcing EMI to find another home for The Beatles 3rd American release, “She Loves You”. They settled with Swan Records. Neither label was able to get any real traction for their releases, but when “I Want To Hold Your Hand” exploded over the airwaves, Capitol was finally ready to get on board. They decided to release the physical version of “I Want To Hold Your Hand” almost a month early to meet the consumer demand. By the time, Capitol did release the track, there were already 3 other songs in the market that were now being heard on radio as well. Had Capitol gotten onboard from the beginning, this likely would not have been the case. The multiple songs being played on the radio created even more buzz for the band, leading to their upcoming performance on The Ed Sullivan Show, which would change everything. It also allowed the fans to fall in love with the band, not just a single.
In conclusion, don’t be afraid to release content, turn your fans into champions, find what gives you credibility, but perhaps most relevant to today, search for the art that connects to our times; someone or something will rise from this chaos. Let it be you!