Mass Media In A Free Society
30 June, 2011
“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”
In a small British club somewhere in the midst of 1957, the planets aligned bringing Paul McCartney together with the not-so-successful band leader, John Lennon. This alignment, later joining forces with guitarist George Harrison and drummer Ringo Starr, led to the formation of a group guilty of being the “No. 1 best-selling artist/group of all time,” The Beatles. (3) The Beatles were a part of many records set at that time and were involved in some of history’s greatest and most astounding moments which included: the most watched episode of the already-popular Ed Sullivan Show; Beatlemania; the “mop-top” hair cut obsession; a world record of the highest profit taken from a single concert for that time (in Kansas City, no less!); the largest audience drawn for the popular BBC program, Ready Steady Go!; a record grossing $1.3 million movie produced by a band within its first week; the first single with included lyrics in an album; more than 1,300 cover versions of published songs by other artists within two years of their explosive popularity; setting off the psychedelic drug period fueling others to experiment; being considered gods and asked to heal many crippled and blind; creating of one of the first and most massive (for the time period) music publishing companies; and finally, making an example of the fuel the media can be, setting flame to mass obsession.
The year 1961 held a fiasco that became a defining moment in Beatle history. The group, at that time including only John, Paul, George, drummer Pete Best, and backup guitarist Stuart Sutcliffe (for Paul since his parents were strongly against his attendance), began their first German tour only to end it in disaster. “Paul and Pete were arrested…because they nailed a condom to a wall and set fire to it. George was arrested and deported because he was underage to work in nightclubs. John and Stuart were broke, and the police wouldn’t give them permits to work.” (1) The disaster in Germany led to the band’s separation that lasted over a month. With John’s smooth-talk to each member separately, patching up the past debacle, the band obtained their first job with their official new name, “The Beatles.” As they played in various nightclubs in Liverpool, they soon realized that the disastrous Germany tour was, in fact, “one of the reasons for their success in Liverpool.” (1) The posters to advertise their gigs falsely “proclaimed that they were ‘fresh from a triumphant tour in Germany’ and the local townsfolk were impressed that they had an international reputation.”(1) These posters not only led many to attend the performances, but also eventually intrigued their future manager Brian Epstein to view and lead them through their career until his death in 1967.
In 1963 the group released four No. 1 hits: “Please Please Me,” “From Me to You,” “She Loves You,” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” and it “was the year they changed the world.” (1) A wave of mania begin to take its foothold in Great Britain and the term “Beatlemania” was appropriately coined by an announcer during their performance to explain the phenomena. Everyone who knew these Fab Four at their start (Ringo now replaced Pete Best and a deceased Stu Sutcliffe was taken suddenly by a brain tumor), became stunned at the impact they began to have on the British way of life. “No matter what The Beatles did, it became a matter of national importance. They let their hair grow long – and millions of schoolboys imitated them – and were sent home. They wore collarless jackets and the London clothing shops couldn’t keep them in stock. They were talked about on television, in motion pictures and even in Parliament,” declares The Beatles Magazine. As publicity increased in the same year, George commented on the group’s popularity, “We do like the fans and enjoy reading the publicity about us, but sometimes you don’t realize that it’s about yourself. You see your pictures and read articles…but you don’t actually think, ‘Oh, that’s me. There I am in the paper’…It’s just as though it’s a different person.”
One of their most impressive, most remembered, and most life-changing moments came in 1964 when an already largely-famous Ed Sullivan noticed the throng of fans awaiting The Beatles’ arrival at a London airport and was reported asking, “What the hell are The Beatles?” After being informed of their enormous popularity, the band was booked for their first US debut on the acclaimed Ed Sullivan Show. “More than 73 million viewers watched The Beatles’ live appearance that night.” (1) Years later, George was recorded saying, “I’ve heard that when we were on there were no reported crimes, or very few. When The Beatles were on Ed Sullivan, even the criminals took a rest!” This American debut was partially responsible for their international success. “We knew America would make us or break us as world stars,” announced their manager Brian Epstein. “In fact, she made us!”
As the band grew in popularity, many media channels were responsible for the mass awareness of this group’s greatness. As The Beatles were preparing for their American arrival, the top DJ in New York City, “Murray the K” was promoting their arrival and conducted numerous, widely-heard live interviews with them in their new US surroundings, even dubbing himself “The Fifth Beatle.” The Beatles became even their own media channel as a result of being completely naïve about their newfound fame. As they travelled by train to Washington D.C. in 1964, they invited the press to travel with them in their own private car. “Instead of ‘nice, polite Liverpool boys,’ they shouted back at the press when they didn’t like the questions. It was the first time they had to deal up close and personal with the American press – and they turned it into a humorous tongue-in-cheek experience.” (1) Soon, the concert in D.C. became not just limited to those in attendance. The filmed performance played in theaters across the country only one month later, creating just as much excitement and “mania” on screen as on stage. Even fans became channels advertising for the band’s success. After their concert in Kansas City, giving them the world record at the time for the highest grossing single concert, “clever entrepreneurs bought the pillowcases The Beatles used while staying at a local hotel…They were then cut into one-inch squares and sold to ‘Beatlemaniacs’ at a handsome profit.” (1) As the group returned back to their roots of Liverpool, a heroes’ welcome including a parade and reception became a large advertisement for them thrown only moments before the premiere of their first movie, A Hard Day’s Night.
By 1965, the popularity that had been once enhanced by the media began to take a negative toll on their lives. The group’s hectic touring schedule combined with massive, out-of-control crowds contributed to many frustrations. “We got worse as musicians, playing the same old junk every day,” complained George. “The incessant screaming of fans, the tiring routine of planes and hotel rooms and the death threats began to take their toll. The band was living in a fishbowl, constantly having to deal with the demands of their fans.” (1) “On our last tour,” said John, “people kept bringing blind, crippled, deformed children into our dressing room. This boy’s mother would say, ‘Go on, kiss him, maybe you’ll bring back his sight.’ We’re not cruel. But when a mother shrieks, ‘Just touch him and maybe he’ll walk again,’ we want to run, cry and empty our pockets.” In San Francisco, The Beatles drew fans that “went completely wild” (1) that had John commenting on the crowd’s frenzy. “At the beginning I was nervous. We knew they wouldn’t hear anything and the guitars were knocked out of tune by our own people running in and saving us [from fans jumping on stage].” Even as the band landed in Houston for a concert, fans broke through barricades, risking their lives to surround the plane as it was making its landing down the runway. “Eventually, The Beatles and Brian Epstein (manager) had to be removed from the plane with a forklift.”(1) Even as The Beatles attempted to continue normalcy in the limelight, media continued to capitalize on any change. George and A Hard Day’s Night hairdresser Patti Boyd dated and married. John was distraught over being separated from his wife Cynthia and son Julian. As 1964 became 1965, Ringo married girlfriend Maureen, leaving many teen girls with only one available Beatle to fantasize about. Regarding the negative fan reaction to Ringo’s marriage, George commented, “I don’t think The Beatles’ image could stand another marriage.”
In 1966, The Beatles made a few feeble attempts to use the media to reach their fans with their individual opinions and beliefs, as anything announced by the four were quoted and publicized to the masses. Paul and John became vocal about their experimentation with mind-altering drugs with Paul singing, “I Feel Fine” about his use of LSD and that he had no regrets about being a “Day Tripper.” Although denounced by the Reverend Billy Graham and others, this helped to “fuel the new psychedelic music of the period.” (1) Paul encouraged others to follow his example, “LSD opened my eyes,” he said. “We only use one-tenth of our brain. Just think of what we could accomplish if we could tap that hidden part. It would mean a whole new world if the politicians would take LSD. There wouldn’t be any more waste or poverty or famine.” Another similar attempt at using the media was conducted by John. A London newspaper published an interview in which John was quoted saying, “Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink…I’m right and will be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now.” Although the remarks caused barely a stir in England, American Christians became enraged making John “Public Enemy No. 1.” Angry fans began burning records, nailing albums to burning crosses, and even publishing newspapers claiming that the group should be “fumigated.” (1)
Although 1967 began the downward descent of the group’s musical popularity and was the start of their music publishing company titled Apple Corps., many were still commending the four on the goodness they contributed to listeners and the greatness of which they deserve to be remembered for. One remark, for example, was made by former British Prime Minister Harold Wilson, “I saw The Beatles as having a transforming effect on the minds of youth, mostly for the good. It kept a lot of kids off the streets. They introduced many, many young people to music, which in itself was a good thing. That’s why they deserved such recognition.” This opinion was even supported through a radio interview from 1964 with Ringo, “when I was sixteen I used to walk along the road with the rest of the lads, and we’d have all our trade coats on. You know, we’d had a few knocks with other rival gangs, sort of thing. But then I got the drums…took an interest in it. Then we stopped…hanging around corners every night.” (2)
In 1969, The Beatles made their “Rooftop Farewell” as their last concert together as a group, playing the 42-minute show atop their five-story Apple Records building. Before the authorities acted on the noise complaint of surrounding businesses, John made the last comment on behalf of the legendary band, “I’d like to thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves, and I hope we passed the audition.”
Through exploring the brief chronology I’ve provided of their existence as a group, you can see how media played such a major role in the emergence of The Beatles as world stars. The information I’ve emphasized only scratches the surface. I strongly encourage you to visit beatlesinterviews.org, where a vast amount of radio interviews are available for public listening and many notable interviews are available for reading as sorted by year. These dialogues will enable you to further grasp the media’s impact on the group and will provide insight to each member’s opinion on the media that, at their realization, made them very much what they are, a legend. In conclusion, The Beatles may have created and been a part of music and television’s greatest and most astounding moments in history, but most impressively, they created an example of the effects mass media can have on society and the subjects put under the microscope – in other words, how media makes the two “Come Together.”
- The Beatles: 40th Anniversary Collector’s Edition 8.1 (2004): 1-153. Print.
- Beatles Ultimate Experience: Beatles Interviews Database, Beatles Press Conferences, Beatles Photos. 1977. Web. 30 June 2011. <http://www.beatlesinterviews.org>.
- “RIAA – Recording Industry Association of America Top 15 Best-Selling Artists of All Time.”Beatles Ultimate Experience: Beatles Interviews Database, Beatles Press Conferences, Beatles Photos. Recording Industry Association of America, 2011. Web. 30 June 2011. <http://beatlesinterviews.org>.