When Michigan Had the Beatles: 1964-1966
My introduction to The Beatles came in 1963, in a Life Magazine article. The blurb related the frenzy surrounding this long-haired group from Liverpool, England, showing pictures of screaming girls and a small picture of The Beatles. Nothing big, just a typical small Life article somewhere in the second half of the magazine. Little did the editors realize, soon they would be dedicating whole issues to this “flash-in-the-pan” rock band from overseas.
As 1963 rolled into 1964, mentions of The Beatles became more frequent in Life. When the group appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show” on February 9 that was NOT their first time seen on American TV…it was the fifth.
The first time was on NBC’s “Huntley-Brinkley Report” on November 18, 1963, showing a clip of The Beatles in concert. The second time was on November 22 when footage was shown on the CBS Morning News with Mike Wallace. The third time was on the CBS Evening News when Walter Cronkite presented the same clip. The fourth time was January 3, 1964 on the late-night “Jack Paar Show”; Jack showed a clip of The Beatles singing “She Loves You”, taken from a BBC broadcast. Finally, The Beatles most popular American TV appearance was their fifth one, when they appeared live on “The Ed Sullivan Show” on February 9. They appeared on Ed’s show for the following two Sunday nights.
From there, The Beatles steamrolled thru Michigan (and elsewhere) for the rest of the 60s. In school, that’s all the kids could talk about. The girls were making smoochy notes with the names of the band members and song titles. The boys were mostly making fun of the whole thing, claiming the Beatles were ‘taking away’ the girlfriends of schoolmates. Juvenile, yes, but that’s the way it was.
How did the Michigan town of Owosso help boost the Beatles' popularity throughout the entire United States? Find out here.
Back then, Ringo was the Beatle everyone knew. We couldn’t yet tell the difference between John, Paul, or George…but Ringo was a standout: short, funny-looking, big nose, weird name, and was the drummer. Although rock historians have not been kind to Ringo over the last number of decades, it was he who gave the Beatles the biggest push to American fame, simply because of who he was – the odd name and the funny looks.
Here in Michigan, local bands popped up with empty hopes of becoming the next ‘Beatles’. I was in such a band, playing bass guitar (I would’ve loved a Hofner like Paul’s). We soon found out it was not that easy to learn a Beatle song and play it live correctly. We attempted a few songs like “If I Needed Someone” but soon realized we couldn’t do ‘em justice, so we stuck to the easier songs from other American bands, like “Gloria”, “Dirty Water”, “Wipe Out”…..the whole garage band gamut.
When The Beatles started dressing in flashy bizarre clothes, so did we. Psychedelic stuff, far east duds, sequins, fringe, Indian tunics, Nehru jackets…..then they started dressing normal again, so we did too.
Then the whole “Paul Is Dead” thing began here in Michigan on Russ Gibb’s show on WKNR when a listener brought it to Gibb’s attention that ‘clues’ were being given on Beatle lp covers, in song lyrics, and backward masking.
In conclusion, The Beatles probably didn’t even give Michigan a second thought, even though they appeared in Detroit a few times from 1964-1966. However, John Lennon did when he came to Ann Arbor for the “Free John Sinclair” rally & concert in December 1971.
In the gallery below are some images of Beatle memorabilia that were in the collections of Michiganders for decades…
Beatles Michigan Memorabilia
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