'Meet The Beatles' at 50: America’s introduction to the Fab Four

By Daniel S Levine,

Today, Beatles fans have more access to the British albums, hearing how producer George Martin and the group wanted their music released, with songs in particular orders and singles kept off most LPs. However, back in 1964, the situation was very different. As the world marks 50 years of Beatlemania in America, it’s important to look at just how John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and George Harrison were introduced here.

Although “Please Please Me” and “Love Me Do” had been released on small labels here through complicated deals in late 1963, EMI’s American label, Capitol Records, famously held off on releasing the Fab Four’s music right away. They kept their position firm until “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” Capitol picked “I Saw Her Standing There” for the B-side of the American single and released it in January 1964.

The single made its Billboard Hot 100 debut on Jan. 18 at No. 45 and jumped to No. 3 the next week. By Feb. 1 - just days before that important performance on the Ed Sullivan Show - the song hit No. 1. It was the first of the group’s 20 Hot 100 No. 1’s.

Obviously, that meant an album needed to be released. Just two days after “I Want To Hold your Hand”’s Hot 100 debut, Meet The Beatles! hit store shelves. Unlike in the U.K., the Beatles didn’t have any say about their American releases. Some may deride the American albums, which included songs released as singles, for that fact, but Capitol was not stupid. If you listen to some of those albums, the executives knew how to sequence records.

Meet The Beatles! did not use tracks from Please Please Me. By the time the Beatles arrived in America, their sound had significantly changed, so those year-old songs would have been a poor introduction to the band. Still, “I Saw Her Standing There” was included, since it was the B-side of the best-selling single in America at the time.

So, Meet The Beatles! sounds more like With The Beatles, the group’s second U.K. album. The cover actually used the same stark image of the group that graced the With cover. The only other really interesting move Capitol made was including the track “This Boy,” the U.K. B-Side to “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” Of course, the idea of including the much slower song is to show off the group’s versatility, and it worked.

The only cover song included is “Till There Was You,” a song McCartney still performs to this day. The popular Music Man number was likely included to bring in some of the older crowd. Capitol was interested in bringing in as large an audience as possible and since 73 million tuned in to see them on Ed Sullivan, it clearly worked.

Meet The Beatles! isn’t just an artifact, it’s a look at how Americans were really introduced to The Beatles. The group went viral before that term existed and it’s important to remember that The Beatles already dominated the airwaves before Ed Sullivan. That’s all thanks to this album and “I Want To Hold Your Hand.”

Starr and McCartney will appear at the Grammys on Sunday and are taping a special tribute show that will air on Feb. 9. That’s the exact 50th anniversary of the Ed Sullivan performance.

image: Amazon



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