Meet the Critics

What the critics wrote about the Beatles in 1964 (compiled by Cary Schneider, L.A. Times)

I did a similar roundup here a few months back – Beatles Invade American Newspapers, Feb 1964 – but my interest was less in what people were saying about the Beatles at the time (not that that’s at all uninteresting) than in what else was going on (headline- and ad-wise, I mean) around the swirl of Beatlemania: Oswald, Castro, marijuana, Cambodia, Gitmo, Guantanamo, colour TV, etc. How and where did the Beatles fit into the collage of American life ca. Feb ’64?

7 thoughts on “Meet the Critics

  1. Great stuff, thanks! I first heard the Beatles via their Sullivan Show debut, but think I was somewhat primed to like them by a preview, now recalled while reading the best of this lot: kinda kidding the kids and the Dads too, getting the zings in, but keeping in mind that this was ten years after the shock of Presley etc, and the byline-deprived, carefully edited preview (in Time, I think) did not try to shut out the rising tide of Boomerette consumers.

  2. Always nice to see William F. Buckley make a tut-tutting-snob fool of himself, in any forum. The interesting thing to me, in the LA Times’ selection of primordial US-journalist responses to the Beatles, is that Science Newsletter, not exactly a bastion of the humanities, was the only periodical to even begin to understand what the Beatles were about.

    Scott, I like your earlier selection of Beatles-in-the-larger-context-of-1964 articles even better. In the very first example, possibly from a Wisconsin newspaper, the Beatles story is surrounded by two headlines that might say even more about where the ’60s had been and were going to go: “Marijuana Found; Man, 29, Charged” and “Oswald Abnormal After Soviet Visit”. Speaking of the latter manifestation, the conventional wisdom for too long now has been that we teens went fab for the exuberant Beatles as a way to bounce back from our depression over JFK’s recent assassination, and I’ve been racking my brain trying to recall if that was my response. My family had taken Kennedy’s killing really hard, not just because he was the President, but also because my parents were faithful Democrats, and he was Our Guy. When the Beatles arrived on Ed Sullivan, I was just 17, you know what I mean, and I think I welcomed them more as a way rock’n’roll could become increasingly cosmopolitan and rescue itself from the Elvisian doldrums I’d heretofore found in the genre. Maybe, but either way I was certainly more excited about pop music than ever before, from the moment the Beatles graced our shores.

  3. Richard, I can’t say I was there (well sort of — I was still in the womb in Feb ’64) but as a buyer into many a Beatle myth, I actually give some credence to the JFK/Beatlemania theory in that it certainly didn’t hurt that so much of America was bummed out. What I’m kind of curious about (and I guess you’re sort of asking the same question?) is whether this idea was verbalized at the time — or was it an idea someone came up with a few years later? Nowadays, there’d be no shortage of over-explanations about such a thing, and JFK’s assassination would be one of dozens of theories floating around about the rise of Beatlemania, but I’m assuming things weren’t commented on in such a way in ’64? Did someone on a news program, or in a newspaper column, first suggest this? And when?

  4. I was a third-grader at the time and vividly recall both the JFK assassination and the coming of the Beatles, but I don’t remember anyone making any kind of explicit connection between them. On the other hand, the JFK death had certain “sacred” qualities and talking about it in certain ways was taboo for many years, as also happened in similar fashion after 9/11. So it makes sense that the Beatles represented a way out of the “national trauma” (such as it was — it seemed that way to me as a kid, but kids are impressionable … as an adult, by comparison, I experienced 9/11 as a shock, but not a trauma) (or let’s say my trauma happened nine months earlier with Bush v. Gore), and it also makes sense that nobody talked about a connection for years or decades. But I have to say I did not experience or see any explicit connection myself. JFK was a big deal and so were the Beatles. As a 9-year-old, they happened in separate epochs.

  5. Scott, I think both you and Jeff are getting at what I brought up in my earlier post. I don’t deny that there may have been individual Americans who welcomed the coming of the Beatles as a balm to apply to their depression over JFK’s assassination, nor do I think that such a response was somehow inappropriate. My concern is that I don’t believe that US teens *in general* embraced the Beatles on the rebound from losing JFK. This is a latter-day concept that somebody (I don’t know when nor who) came up with, and by now it’s become a facile platitude continually repeated by people who likely either weren’t there or weren’t paying attention, during the real-time 1964.

    Jeff is on to something above when he mentions the “sacred” aura surrounding our loss of JFK. In early 1964, there was really NO connection between (adult) politics and the (then-terminally-teen) rock’n’roll branch of pop music, in most Americans’ minds; the symbiosis between the two cultures is something that began to be recognized and promoted just a few years later, but they were still two very separate worlds when the Beatles arrived. So, as I suggested earlier, this witness saw and embraced the Beatles as finally making r’n’r as intellectually hip as the beat writers he admired already were. Simple as that. As for a political rebound from JFK’s death, I was still too young to vote, but I hoped his New Frontier legacy would carry on, and that we (my parents, of course) would help keep Barry Goldwater out of the White House. In the fall of ’64, my car sported an “LBJ for the USA” sticker, while I listened to the Beatles’ songs on its radio, but those were still two very distinct universes, as far as I was concerned.

  6. This may be a slight digression from the topic, but on the other hand, we legendary Boomsters may still be struggling to recover from our loss of JFK, 50 years later, and I’ve just tonight achieved a kind of Rosetta-Stone key to my understanding of The Sixties. After dinner, I tuned into Turner Classic Movies and watched Francis Ford Coppola’s “You’re a Big Boy Now” (1966), for the first time ever. Somehow I’d never gotten to it before, even though I often saw remaindered copies of its soundtrack album (featuring the Lovin’ Spoonful) in the bargain bins I haunted in the early ’70s. “You’re a Big Boy Now”, starring Elizabeth Hartman, Peter Kastner, and Karen Black (all now RIP, unfortunately) is the Real Deal on what it felt like to be a young guy trying to sort it all out in the mid-’60s, sez me. It has an authentic emerging-countercultural vibe, unlike the vastly-overrated & leering-suburbanite “The Graduate” of a whole year later. According to wikipedia, “You’re a Big Boy Now” premiered on December 9, 1966, the very day after I turned 20!!! Yes! Almost exactly!

  7. Yeah, I don’t remember connecting JFK and The Beatles (smells like Time, and/or Rolling Stone), but maybe they had some of the same clever young white guy, cheeky monkey charm (JFK could toss the occasional press conference quip off his tailored cuff, ditto Bea’les, much more often)(although he was better in private, supposedly: during Cuban Missile Crisis, with our nation’s leaders gathered, he hung up the phone, turned to Barry Goldwater and said, “So you want this fucking job?”)
    Soon enough, he seemed more like a middle-aged white guy with more and more of baggage, but the Beatles’ back pages turned up pretty quickly too: John’s mother, killed by a GI who jumped the curb, although the GI bit may have come later; likewise, that he was mostly raised by his aunt and had fairly recently found out that Julia was living in the same city, right? I’d forgotten, ’til The Grammys Salute The Beatles this week, that Paul’s mother died when he was a teen, by which time Ringo had already done time in a TB sanatorium!
    Plus that whole grey post-WWII UK thing (still got bombs going off occasionally). So maybe, by the late-ish 60s anyway, somebody came up with the connection along those lines?

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