What the Beatles Meant to America

Just a few months after JFK's assassination, British pop music sensation the Beatles brought comfort and fun back to America

Photographers surround the Beatles before their first live television appearance on CBS' Studio 50 lot for "The Ed Sullivan Show" in New York City on Feb. 9, 1964.
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Were the Beatles surfing the zeitgeist of the times or ahead of it? Probably both. Psychedelia had opened up the parameters of rock music, both in America and England. “The Beatles used orchestras and sitars and backwards tapes,” says Robbins, “as opposed to somebody like Jefferson Airplane or early California psychedelic groups that were more jam, free-form oriented. They used the studio so well. ‘Sgt. Pepper’ is still the ultimate concept album.”

“I think part of the reason they lasted so long was just good luck with the whole timing,” says Hawkes, “the ‘60s crazy-wacky energy. But I think mainly because musically they just advanced so much. With each new album they put out they upped the bar and advanced pop music with each release. Other bands had to catch up with them. Plus the fact that really the songs – and the studio performances – were so good, they’ve been the standard to hold up everything else to.”

Tiwary says manager Epstein thought the Beatles “were the Beethoven of the ‘60s and believed people would talk about them hundreds of years later. We’re only at 50 now, but I suspect it’ll be the same.”

More on the Beatles:

  • The Beatles First Hit Record Turns 50
  • In 1964, Many Dismissed the Beatles as a Fad
  • From the Archives: We Love Them, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah


  • Updated 1/24/14: The sales figures mentioned in this story were provided by RIAA, Apple Records, and EMI.