DEAR JERRY: I finally got to see “Backbeat,” a film about the Beatles in the years before they became known beyond Hamburg and Liverpool.
It is especially hard to realize that it took two years before Americans knew what was going on in Europe.
Or was there perhaps some publicity here in 1962 and '63 that has been forgotten?
Ric Fairchild, Brooklyn, N.Y.
DEAR RIC: Buckle up, our time machine is going to revisit some key dates and events leading up to Beatlemania:
October 5, 1962: Their first record as the Beatles, “Love Me Do” and “P.S. I Love You” (Parlophone 4949), is issued in the UK. Though the single topped the “Mersey Beat” survey, that is a regional publication, one heavily influenced by the Liverpool scene, as stated by their masthead: “The North's Own Entertainments (sic) Paper.”
It would, however, be another six months before the popularity of the Beatles throughout Britain would catch up with their accomplishments on the Merseyside.
This is evidenced by the success, and lack of it, of their debut record.
Reaching No. 1 on Mersey Beat didn't help “Love Me Do” much on the national level. It entered the NME (New Musical Express) Top 30 at No. 27, on October 27th, only to drop completely off the chart after just one week.
November 24, 1962: The Great Britain portion of Cash Box's International Section carries this tiny blurb, yet one of historical significance: “A&R manager George Martin sees a bright future of The Beatles a new vocal instrumental group making their debut on the Parlophone label with their own composition “Love Me Do.”
Since Cash Box does not quote Martin as the source of this comment, it may have been gleaned from an October press release. (Thanks to Cash Box archivist Randy Price for providing this page.)
Regardless, this single sentence stands as the first mention of “The Beatles” in any U.S. publication 14 months before America heard “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”
Coincidentally, the topic directly below on this page is a mention of Mr. Acker Bilk's recent trip to America, and his new U.S. release, “Limelight.” As you will see, Bilk and the Beatles are destined to cross paths again soon.
January 11, 1963: “Please Please Me” and “Ask Me Why,” the second Beatles single (Parlophone 4983), is issued, to very favorable reviews.
January 13, 1963: Two days later, the boys made the 100 mile journey from Liverpool to Birmingham, for their first of 12 appearances on ABC-TV's “Thank Your Lucky Stars.” Of course they sang the newly-released “Please Please Me.”
The show was filmed on Sunday, before a live audience, then broadcast the following Saturday (Feb. 19).
The Beatles were just one act on the schedule, and a group with only one briefly-charted single to their credit (“Love Me Do”), and the still unknown follow-up (“Please Please Me”).
Headlining the show, and the one act on the bill with an international smash and million-seller on the resume, was clarinetist Acker Bilk. One year earlier, his “Stranger on the Shore” reached No. 1 in the U.S., UK, and several other countries.
Highlighting the evening was a presentation to Bilk of three trophy-like awards, based on Billboard's 1962 European dee jay poll.
Thankfully, someone snapped a photo of Mr. Acker Bilk on stage, flanked by Billboard's European Director, Art Rosett; local dee jay, Sam Costa; and TYLS host, Brian Matthew.
Also gathered around, admiring Bilk's awards, are seven other guests on the show: Mike Berry; Brook Brothers; Frankie Vaughan; Chris Barber; Alma Cogan; and “John Lennon of the Beatles.”
The photo made its way to Billboard in New York, and ran in the Feb. 2nd issue, prominently placed at the top of page four, but only with a caption identifying each person. There is neither a story nor any accompanying text.
Other than a U.S. reader's interest being piqued by Bilk's success in a poll of British dee jays, it is likely very few here paid much attention to a small gathering in Birmingham of folks whose names they did not recognize.
At the time, no one could have imagined the degree of importance of this uncredited photo.
It is the first photograph of any of the Beatles found in a stateside publication.
Their next mention is in the Feb. 16th issue, among the latest music tidbits from Britain, part of the weekly International News Reports: “In a deal with EMI, Vee-Jay will release records made by the Beatles (Parlophone), a promising British vocal-instrumental group that has yet to make a large chart impact here [in the UK].”
Beginning two weeks later, the Beatles regularly appeared in the Hits of the World section, but without photos or commentary. Just titles and artists on the weekly charts from selected countries.
In conclusion, applying 21st century know-how to 50-year-old events can be misleading. In 1962, no one in those seamy Merseyside and Hamburg clubs even had hand-held audio recorders, much less Flip Video capability, and most importantly, the internet.
Still, I can't help but wonder how the Beatles would have fared as contestants on Britain's Got Talent.
IZ ZAT SO? Well documented is how Vee-Jay misspelled the group's name on the first Beatles record issued in the U.S.
First pressings of “Please Please Me” and “Ask Me Why” (VJ 498) credit THE BEATTLES, on both the promotional and commercial labels.
What is not quite so well known is this was not simply a typo. They also used two Ts on their press releases, new release reports, and even in professionally prepared display ads placed in the trades.
If the company knew this record would, in 2012, fetch from $2,000 to $6,000, they would have set a few boxes aside.