As the the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ maiden voyage to the States fast approaches on Sunday, it’s clear that the industry of books, recordings, concerts and curio shows saluting the Fab Four is as strong as ever.
“The Night That Changed America: A Grammy Salute to the Beatles,” taped at the Los Angeles Convention Center, will air Sunday on CBS — 50 years to the date that John, Paul, George and Ringo touched down at JFK International Airport — following Paul McCartney’s and Ringo Starr’s appearance on the Grammys on Jan. 26.
In terms of first-hand recollections, Ringo Starr might not have recalled that first visit to the States like it was yesterday, but the experience still resonates for someone’s who’s lived in Los Angeles, among other cities, since 1976. “Anybody’s memory isn’t that vivid after 50 years but emotionally I remember it so well,” said Starr, whose All-Starr Band will again hit the road in North America beginning June 6 in Ontario. “When we landed, it was incredible because it was like coming home. And the kids were all there, like they were in England and Europe; the screaming was already happening. We had a No. 1 (hit, ‘Please, Please Me’). I mean we couldn’t have planned it. You arrive with a No. 1, have a great time, be in the country of your dreams, and that night go out to the clubs in New York.”
Director David Lynch, whose David Lynch Foundation recently honored Starr at a fundrasing concert at L.A.’s El Rey Theatre on Jan. 20, attended the Beatles’ concert in Washington, D.C. during that first visit, which he described as not so much a musical event as “a screaming event.”
“You could hardly hear them,” he recalled. “They were in a boxing ring, and it was wall-to-wall screams as long as they were there. When they left the stage they went up this steep stairway lined with police, but I saw a guy leap over the police and come back up with a chunk of hair from one of the Beatles. It’s a frenzy they created.”
Over the past year, such recordings as “The U.S. Albums,” 13-CD set of the American versions of the Beatles LPs; the iTunes released “Bootleg Recordings 1963; and “On Air – Live at the BBC Volume 2” have cashed in on the Beatles’ continuing popularity with theirs and subsequent generations.
In the book world, “Tune In: The Beatles: All These Years” (Crown Archetype), the first of a monumental three-volume biography by foremost Beatles scholar Mark Lewisohn, was published in October to great acclaim. Also published that month: “The Beatles: The BBC Archives: 1962-1970” (Harper Design) by Kevin Howlett. And “The Beatles Are Here!” (Algonquin), a series of essays by writers, musicians and fans from author Penelope Rowlands, hit the racks Feb. 4, among many other commemorative works.
And over this weekend, the latest edition of the Fest for Beatles Fans (Feb. 7-9) will take place in New York City at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, marking the 40th year of the annual love-in. The event touts concert performances, a “Battle of the Beatle Bands” contests in a mock Cavern Club being created at the hotel, and numerous panel discussions with the artists, celebrities, authors and Beatles historians. Special guests will include Donovan, Peter Asher, Chad & Jeremy.
Robert Santelli, executive director of the Grammy Museum — where the Ringo: Peace and Love exhibit, which opened in June and has been extended until April 27 — says his life changed on that day 50 years ago when the British Invasion officially hit the States.
“There were 73 million of us glued to the TV set in February of 1964,” Santelli told Variety. “I watched the Beatles on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ and the next day, just like I’m sure hundreds of thousands of other kids, I decided I wanted to play guitar. And maybe it was that Tuesday or Wednesday when my mother brought me down to the local instrument store and there was a line of people. Drums, guitars… it was like ‘What had happened?’ I think it took the instrument-making companies by total surprise. But if you interview, as I do often, baby boomer musicians — most of them in their late 50s and certainly into their 60s — will say ‘that day changed my life.’”
As to whether there’s more material in the Beatles vaults to create a fourth volume of the tremendously successful “Beatles Anthology” series, the last double CD of which was released in 1996, Steve Barnett, chair and CEO of the Capitol Music Group, is cagey.
“No I don’t think that’s right to reveal,” he said. “I think you’ve got to curate this wisely,” adding that the recent box set of American releases “so perfectly tells that story and determines what’s going happen next year or the year after. I can’t tell you what that’s going to be now, but obviously there will be something.”
Chris Carter, longtime host of “Breakfast With the Beatles” on KLOS-FM, believes we’ve heard “95%, if not a little more, of what’s been out there.”
“There’s no holy grail,” Carter added. “Other than the few we’re all looking for, there’s nothing really out there that we haven’t at this point heard. The way to always go about it is to go album by album. There’s only so much stuff they did for ‘Rubber Soul.’”
Added Lewisohn: “There are plenty of people out there who’d like to have everything and they will go ‘wow’ over things the general public might not go ‘wow’ over. The best of what was there was released on the three double ‘Anthology’ CDs. There is still plenty of stuff left, but the best of it has been issued.”