Reminiscing on ‘Beatlemania’

ESCANABA – Fifty years ago a new sensation was sweeping our country. From the East Coast, where this wildfire started, to the back woods of the U.P., it spread.

This craze changed the way we sounded, the way we looked and the way we danced. In 1964, girls were screaming, mothers were crying and teenage boys were trying to grow their hair.

Most of us remember “Beatlemania.” It doesn’t seem like it was fifty years ago that they touched down at JFK Airport in New York City for their first United States tour.

I was in kindergarten at the time but my Aunt Rita had cool music that she played on her Hi-Fi. Elvis, the Everly Brothers and then – the most shocking of all, the Beatles! – were some of the artists in her record collection.

Let’s just say my dad was not a fan of the gyrating Presley nor of the high-pitched Everlies, so when these loony Brits came out he surmised the world must be going mad.

The year 1964 was a turning point for my family, what with moving into a new house in August and having another baby, the sixth and final, in November. I may have not known it at the time, but the country had just gone through a period of extended mourning for our president and the wise-acre Beatles may have provided some relief.

When the Beatles played Ed Sullivan in February, my whole family tuned in. That’s what you did on Sunday nights. Their boisterous playing and the shrieking of all the kids in the audience must have startled some of the old fuddy-duddies for sure.

The Beatles launched a movement that spring, dominating the music charts and pop culture itself. It wasn’t long before they were moving into motion pictures. Girls adored them and guys emulated them.

My baby brother David, in fact, was nicknamed our “Beatle baby” because Mom let him grow his toddler locks to the newly fashionable style.

Whether it was Beatle boots or, later, Nehru collars, American kids and youth the world over were probably bugging their parents for similar duds. The old starched white shirts, ties and fedoras of the past were clearly on the way out.

In just four years, the Beatles appeared to go from lovable moptops to rebellious “hippies.” I remember my brother Jim’s first album with long-haired fellas on it (Creedence Clearwater Revival) and it made quite an impact.

My sister Lori grew up during the era of Seventies rock and disco, but she gravitated toward the Beatles and built an impressive LP collection by the time she was a young teenager. She could sing all the words from “P.S. I Love You” but didn’t really care much for the Doobie Brother-ish bands of the time.

Like most families, we all had our Beatle favorites. I favored the cool and intellectual George Harrison, Lori liked cutie-pie Paul McCartney, and Mike loved John Lennon’s wit and sarcasm. As for Ringo, that kind of skipped a generation to my nephew, Todd Rose. When he was little, he loved the song “Yellow Submarine,” and in later years his aunt Lori got him a Yellow Submarine lunchbox and coffee mug as gifts.

It’s fascinating how music has changed in the last 50 years. Just last night, my daughter Ellen was looking up song lyrics on YouTube. Imagine if we had had that in the “olden days!”

With all the nifty little devices today, it’s almost quaint to think how we would sometimes go to bed with the little transistor radio under our pillow to listen to the latest sounds. Scratchy old AM radio gave way to dynamic FM, and recording technologies zoomed through vinyl, tape, 8-track, compact discs and eventually the World Wide Web.

I still think about those exciting days of ’64 some time. I was the “big girl” of the family and moving up in the world. And life was definitely fun and interesting. Yeah, yeah, yeah!

Karen (Rose) Wils is a lifelong resident of north Escanaba. Her folksy columns are published weekly in Lifestyles. Contributing to this week’s column was Karen’s sister, Lori Rose.