Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


Long Live Beatlemania

The following text is excerpted from chapter 8 of The Beatles in Context (ed. by Kenneth Womack), ‘Beatlemania,’ by Melissa Davis.

Beatlemania: biːt (ə) lˈmeɪnɪə/
From Gr (noun) mania (ma’-ni-a)mānēə meaning madness or frenzy. Extreme enthusiasm for the Beatles pop group, as manifested in the frenzied behaviour of their fans in the 1960s. Synonyms: madness, derangement, dementia, lunacy, delirium, frenzy, hysteria, wildness.[1]

A huge crowd (estimates vary between 2,000 and 5,000) welcomed the Beatles at John F. Kennedy International Airport when the Beatles arrived on February 7, 1964, with crowds gathering on the sidewalks below their window at the Plaza Hotel. Reporter Larry Kane likened the sound of thousands of Beatle fans screaming to jet engines, which at the time ranged between 90 and 100 decibels; when the JFK crowd welcomed the group, the recording device was reported to have registered 112 decibels.[26]

An estimated “300,000 people lined the streets of Adelaide, the biggest Beatles crowd anywhere, any time,” according to Peter Cox, the curator of “The Beatles in Australia” exhibition at the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences.[27] “There was such a crush outside the hotel that Sunday afternoon that navy and army cadets were summoned to help the 300 police keep order.”[28]

The scenes repeated in cities and countries around the world were all the same; a letter from George Harrison to his parents in June 1964 describes the mayhem:

Dear Mum and Dad,
The shows have been going great with everybody going potty and everywhere we go we have about 20 police on motorbikes escorting us. We have had two Cadillacs every place, but tonight when we finished the show and ran out, the cars weren’t there and had gone to another door so we went back inside until we could get out. All the kids came out of the show and saw the two cars around the side and stormed them, and jumped all over them, and the drivers had to get out, and both cars were completely wrecked and the roofs were right down on the seats inside. Some girl fell through the skylight from the roof of a building and 45 more were put in hospital. In the end, we escaped in an ambulance. Don’t worry because no one can get near us for all the police and security.[29]

More than fifty years later, interest, if not hysteria, continues, although audience reaction to sold-out Paul McCartney concerts around the world and across three generations are still loud, albeit without fainting. His appearance on James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke in June 2018 drew so many viewers, CBS showed an expanded version in prime time. David Bianculli of National Public Radio wrote, “Fifty-four years after appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show, Paul McCartney is still making exciting, unforgettable television.”

Ringo Starr’s All Star Reviews are popular, as are numberless tribute bands and the long-running Cirque du Soleil production, LOVE, in Las Vegas.

Remastered and expanded issues of their albums Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts’ Club Band and The Beatles (The White Album) are eagerly preordered in the millions. Books, including this one, are published even after it could be presumed that everything there is to be said about the Beatles and Beatlemania has already been printed.

In criticizing the mania and the fans, Paul Johnson wrote, “The teenager comes not to hear but to participate in a ritual.” Lynskey agrees, but offers a better definition of Beatlemania – the fans’ screams were a “celebration of themselves, their freedom, their youth, their power. Screaming didn’t drown out the performance: it was a performance.”[77]

Perhaps it is best to give the final word to someone who experienced Beatlemania “in the eye of the hurricane.” When asked how he would define Beatlemania, John Lennon said, “I couldn’t define it. A lot of people have tried, I’m not going to try. Leave it to the psychologists and let them get it wrong.”[78]

[1] “Beatlemania,” Lexico, https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/beatlemania.

[26] “The Beatles Arrive in America (Queens, New York, February 7, 1964)”, YouTube, www.youtube.com/watch?v=aeswlOJEdQg.
[27] Peter Cox, The Beatles in Australia Essay, April 5, 2018, https://maas.museum/the-beatles-in-australia-essay/.
[28] Alan Howe, “The Beatles in Australia, 50 Years On: How Four Days Changed Melbourne,” Sunday Herald Sun, May 24, 2014, www.heraldsun.com.au/news/victoria/the-beatles-in-australia-50-yearson-how-four-days-changed-melbourne/news-story/5de26eafc62b02396670d7aaf9615f59.

[29] George Harrison: Living in the Material World, Film film by dir. by Martin Scorsese, Grove Street Pictures, 2011.

[77] Lynskey, “Beatlemania.”
[78] “Beatles Los Angeles Press Conference 1966,” YouTube, www.youtube.com/watch?v=O8MgItRRaTo&t=6s.

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