Thursday, February 26, 2009

Two Million Sellers

by Billy Shepherd and Johnny Dean

In December of 1963, the Beatles seemed to be cornering the market in Hit Parade successes . . . they had more hits in the same week than anybody had ever had before. So the headlines screamed out the triumph . . . and the fans screamed out the approval.

Let's just examine the charts carefully. Number one in the singles chart was "I Want To Hold Your Hand", a million-seller virtually as soon as it came out . . . it sailed in to top position from nowhere. Record shops could barely cope with the demand. It pushed down, to second place, another million-seller--and that happened to be "She Loves You", by the Beatles, of course. The whole situation was unprecedented. Million-sellers are very much rarer than people believe. To have two by the same group at the top of the charts just shook the living daylights out of the pop industry.

But lo and behold there were also three Beatle EP's in the Top Fifty--three extended plays selling just as fast as average singles. For the record, they were "Twist And Shout", "The Beatles No. 1", "The Beatles Hits", which were all actually in the top twenty. Then you glance at the Christmas-time '63 LP department and find the boys had number one and two spots with "With The Beatles" and "Please Please Me".

The boys didn't start on a big scale in the American Top Ten; so, just for a touch of nostalgia, let's list the names that figured there: Dale and Grace, Tommy Roe, Jimmy Gilmer and the Fireballs, the Impressions, Singing Nun, Lesley Gore, Nino Tempo and April Stevens, the Village Stompers and Los Indios Tabajaros. Mostly Americans; mostly not doing so well now. The odd one out: Elvis Presley, and his "Bossa Nova Baby".

So December started in on a wave of Beatle hysteria. Backstage at the shows which led up to the boys' Christmas show in London, a sell-out success of course, the talk was mostly about the fantastic loyalty and hysteria being shown by the fans. At Bradford, for instance, there was thick fog and heavy rain, yet there was a queue outside of 2,000 fans who'd waited up to twelve hours in pneumonia-catching conditions.

This worried Paul particularly. He said "Supposing one of these days one of those fans should get hurt or something. We'd probably feel terribly guilty, though it wouldn't be our fault." But it was John who felt that sometimes the police interfered too much with the fans and made the hysteria worse. Maybe his point was taken because 6,000 Beatlemaniacs at Leicester were comparatively well-behaved--and there was no heavy-handed police activity.

Thing was, though, there was a chance of some of the Beatles themselves getting hurt. For this icy December two years back saw a development of the "chuck gifts on stage" business . . . the boys working through a hail of jelly-babies and soft toys and not-so-soft toys. Paul caught one sweet neatly and accidentally on his left eyeball and was able to vouch for the fact that it hurt. In fact, they had to start making on-stage appeals to fans not to get too violent in making presentations of souvenirs.

We went to Southend to see the boys and met for the first time their new publicist, Brian Sommerville. An ex-Navy officer, he planned his first "dates" with the boys with all the skill of a naval manoeuvre. We stood back-stage in the dressing-room as four very tired Beatles worked through chicken and chips, hustled in from a nearby cafe. On two of the trays were special notes from the waitresses . . . Ringo didn't read his out aloud, but he obviously got a good giggle out of it.

The collarless jackets which had been so long a part of their uniform were on the way out. George said they wanted to devise something brand-new, but hadn't got the faintest idea what sort of new gimmick. The hair was still growing but the boys were getting fed up with answering the same old quetsions about that particular subject. They could be very cutting with any journalist who asked the same old stuff . . . stuff which could have been checked with any newspaper files.

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