The Beatles, Everywhere

Back in 2008, I crunched the numbers regarding the Beatles’ unprecedented dominance of the Billboard singles chart during the spring of 1964. What follows is part 1 of a two-part reboot. Small correction added.

It is the most stupendous, bodacious feat of dominance in the history of the record charts. On the Billboard Hot 100 dated February 8, 1964, the day before the Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, “I Want to Hold Your Hand” was spending its second week at #1, and “She Loves You” had blasted to #7 from #21. The storm that was Beatlemania would continue to rise with the coming of spring:

February 15: “I Want to Hold Your Hand” remains at #1; “She Loves You” rises to #3.
February 22: “I Want to Hold Your Hand” remains at #1; “She Loves You” rises to #2.
February 29: Same two in the same spots at the top; “Please Please Me” zooms to #6 from #29.
March 7: Status quo at the top, “Please Please Me” to #4.
March 14: The Beatles hold the top three spots: “Hand,” “Loves You,” “Please.”
March 21: “She Loves You” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand” switch positions; “Please Please Me” holds at #3; “Twist and Shout” makes an amazing leap to #7 from #55.
March 28: The top two are the same; “Twist and Shout” takes over #3, dropping “Please Please Me” to #4.

And so, things were falling into place. On April 4, 1964, “Can’t Buy Me Love” made the greatest leap in chart history up to that time, reaching #1 from #27 the previous week. The rest of the top five lined up this way: “Twist and Shout,” “She Loves You,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” and “Please Please Me.” That same week, seven other Beatles songs were on the Hot 100: “I Saw Her Standing There” at #31, “From Me to You” at #41, “Do You Want to Know a Secret” at #46, “All My Loving” at #58, “You Can’t Do That” at #65, “Roll Over Beethoven” at #68, and “Thank You Girl” at #79.

There was even a pair of Beatles-related novelties on the chart that week. “We Love You Beatles” by the Carefrees was based on the chant heard outside the New York hotel where the Beatles stayed in February, which was in turn based on a song heard in the 1960 musical Bye Bye Birdie. “A Letter to the Beatles” by the Four Preps, the last chart hit for the popular vocal group of the 50s, criticizes the Beatles for charging for fan-club memberships. Like the handful of other anti-Beatles records released in 1964, it’s the last bleat of people who know they’ve lost the battle and the war.

The 12 Beatles songs on the Hot 100 during that April week 50 years ago were released in the United States on four different labels. “Please Please Me,” “From Me to You” and “Do You Want to Know a Secret” were on Vee-Jay, which licensed them from EMI after EMI’s American subsidiary, Capitol, refused to release them. “Twist and Shout” was on Tollie, a Vee-Jay subsidiary. (Vee-Jay is said to have gone under in 1964 partly because it couldn’t keep up with the demand for Beatles records.) “She Loves You” was on Swan, a Philadelphia label in which Dick Clark was a silent partner. (He had been, but not in ’63; see below.) “All My Loving” and “Roll Over Beethoven” were on Capitol of Canada, the Canadian EMI subsidiary, which had not shared the Beatle resistance of its American counterpart. Only “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “Can’t Buy Me Love” were official Capitol releases, which came after the company saw the light.

More along this line follows in our next installment of this, next week.

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3 responses

  1. It’s been pointed out in other places that as impressive as this chart dominance was, it was possible only because Capitol kept punting on the group in 1963 and the labels that did pick up those songs got little traction from them. So by early 1964, when the sudden demand for Beatles songs exploded, all of those earlier recordings were instantly available, and thus, the incredible clogging of the charts. So the frustration the Beatles and their people felt over the lack of interest in the U.S. for most of 1963 ended up benefiting them hugely by early ’64.

  2. “Vee-Jay is said to have gone under in 1964 partly because it couldn’t keep up with the demand for Beatles records.”

    I don’t think so. Vee-Jay closed its doors in 1966, but it was the accounting practices and gambling habits of company president Ewart Abner that put the label in a precarious financial position during 1963. Fearing the consequences of still being under contract in the event of a possible label collapse, the Four Seasons sued and fled, EMI canceled Vee-Jay’s Frank Ifield and Beatles licensing agreements and the planned release of ‘Introducing The Beatles’ was put on hold, all before the end of the year. After Capitol opened the floodgates with “Hand,” Vee-Jay dusted off its Beatles catalog to generate some desperately-needed cash. Once Beatlemania firmly took hold, even Capitol couldn’t keep up with the demand at its own pressing plants (my “Hand” and “Yesterday” Capitol 45s are both Decca pressings.) Capitol’s solution: a third plant in Jacksonville, Illinois.

    Dick Clark’s ownership interests in Swan Records and Mallard Records (the Philly plant that pressed for Swan, Cameo-Parkway and other labels) had been divested by the end of 1960, as per ABC-TV’s insistence in the wake of the payola scandals.

    Those were great times to be a top-40 listener. I was aware of the Beatles buzz at school, but hadn’t made the connection yet. So I asked my older sisters about them:

    “Who are these Beatles I’m hearing about?”
    “You know the song, ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’?”
    “Yeah, I like that one.”
    “It’s by The Beatles”

    The light that came on that day has never dimmed.

    1. Interesting story in today’s Scranton Times-Tribune on the city’s role in the Beatles’ early-’64 American invasion:

      http://thetimes-tribune.com/news/before-nyc-the-beatles-hit-scranton-1.1631283

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