With the 50th Anniversary of the JFK Assassination this week (Friday, November 22 no less), various music sources have commented how the tragedy propelled the Beatles into the spotlight. While some of that makes sense, it wasn’t exactly goodbye John on Friday and hello Beatles on Saturday.
By November of 1963, the Fab Four had basically conquered England. Ringo had joined in August of '62, “Love Me Do” was recorded that September, “Please Please Me” was released in January ’63, “From Me to You” in April, and “She Loves You” followed in September. Irony of ironies, the second album (we’re still talking England mind you) With the Beatles was released Nov 22, 1963. “I Want to Hold Your Hand” comes out one week later.
But one week after the assassination, America was in a deep, grieving funk. Phil Spector, who had spent weeks on a different kind of Christmas album that was also released on 11/22, saw his joyous project kind of sit there chartwise. Christmas 1963 = No Fun in America.
If Spector was having problems with his swinging Christmas LP, the English pop charts were even further down on the public consciousness list. The bleakest winter of the 60's had set in.
Capitol released “I Want to Hold Your Hand” in America the day after Christmas, and by mid-January it had begun to snowball. The mourning period seemed to lift as Brian Epstein brought his wise cracking, ciggie-puffing lads to America. They appeared on Ed Sullivan in February of ’64, and the invasion was on.
So yes, America was in dire need of some serious joy. The Beatles did come along at a perfect time, but what they brought would have happened with or without the American tragedy. The atmosphere was ripe for fun, no question. But more than JFK’s murder, the stagnant music business in general was in need of an overhaul. Bobby Vinton was #1 on the American charts that January, followed by Frankie Avalon, Bobby Rydell, Steve Lawrence and a handful of others headed for the Vegas hall of fame.
Music needed to change, America needed to move on, and the fact that the Beatles always had perfect timing is something we more than realize 50 years on.