Sixty years ago, The Beatles brought a musical revolution to America

On the anniversary of their arrival, suburban fans reminisce about the Fab Four’s enduring popularity

Ask pop music fans of a certain age where they were on Sunday, Feb. 9, 1964 and many will give the same answer: watching The Beatles on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”

Reportedly viewed by more than 70 million people, the band’s first live U.S. performance was a watershed moment in popular music.

It came two days — 60 years ago today — after thousands of screaming fans greeted the Fab Four as they arrived at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, making their first landing on American soil.

And after six decades, their fans’ admiration hasn’t dimmed.

“Everybody liked them. They were cute,” said Pat Luebbe Morton, who still recalls how their hair moved when John, Paul, George and Ringo shook their heads.

“When I was in high school, boys’ hair didn’t move,” laughed the Arlington Heights resident.

  Six decades after The Beatles arrived on American soil, Pat Luebbe Morton of Arlington Heights remains a dedicated fan. She describes her visit to the Liverpool Beatles Museum as a “religious experience.” Brian Hill/
  Pat Luebbe Morton of Arlington Heights still has her ticket stub from The Beatles’ Sept. 5, 1964 concert at Chicago’s International Amphitheatre. Brian Hill/
  Pat Luebbe Morton’s Beatles’ memorabilia includes a charm in the shape of a Beatles’ haircut. Brian Hill/
  Pat Luebbe Morton peaks through a single of “Yellow Submarine” as she shows off some of her The Beatles memorabilia in her Arlington Heights home. Brian Hill/

A pop culture phenomenon, The Beatles established a visceral connection with female and male fans alike, said author and pop culture historian Walter Podrazik.

“They felt fresh,” Podrazik said. “They were the fans’ own discovery.”

Adults may have thought The Beatles were a flash-in-the-pan, but they were a flame, said author and pop culture historian Walter Podrazik. He’s pictured here in the Mox. E Coworking space at the former Chicago office of Vee-Jay Records, the band's first U.S. label. Courtesy of Walter Podrazik

In a sense, The Beatles and their fans grew up together, said Podrazik. As for that milestone broadcast, parents might have been in the room, he said, but it was their kids who were watching the show.

Adults might have thought they’d be a flash-in-the-pan, but “they were one heckuva flash. They were a flame,” he added.

Relaxed, funny and comfortable in front of the camera, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr possessed extramusical qualities that enhanced their appeal, said Podrazik. Their charisma translated to the big screen, as evidenced by the success of their first film “A Hard Day’s Night” released less than six months after “The Ed Sullivan Show” appearance, he said.

“They had it all,” Podrazik said. “They wrote the music. They performed the music. They did covers … They were confident in their own identities.”

And they evolved, pushing themselves musically during their tenure together and as solo artists, he said.

“They did all this and they still had hits,” he said. “Their songs hit number one consistently, year after year.”

They remain beloved by fans like Beryl Cook, who says she practically wore out the stylus on her parents’ phonograph playing their songs.

“Everybody was caught up in Beatlemania,” said the Buffalo Grove resident, a self-confessed “Paul girl” who shared her passion for the band with a British pen pal she met through a fan magazine and corresponded with for many years.

Beryl Cook of Buffalo Grove, seen here with an image of the same Beatles pin she owned, says she nearly wore out the stylus on her parents' phonograph playing the Fab Four’s singles. Courtesy of Beryl Cook

“It was a crazy, exciting time,” said Cook, 71. “Every time they came out with a new album you had to have it because something innovative would be on it.”

Carol Braun, 73, recalls gathering with friends in her parents’ basement to watch the lads on a tiny, black-and-white television.

“We all went crazy kissing the TV,” said the Hoffman Estates resident, who lived near Midway Airport in 1964 and watched the band members exit the plane that brought them to Chicago for a concert.

  Carol Braun of Hoffman Estates, seen here with her extensive Beatles collection, saw the band arrive at Midway Airport in 1964 and attended their 1966 Comiskey Park concert. “You could barely hear the music, there were so many girls screaming,” she recalled. Brian Hill/

They never got close to the band, but she and her friends didn’t care.

“We saw them and it was exciting,” said Braun, who went to the band’s 1966 Comiskey Park concert.

  Carol Braun’s daughter created this image of John Lennon for her Beatles memorabilia collection. Braun’s license plate holder reads “Beatles now and forever.” Brian Hill/

Jackie Freeman became a fan after seeing the band’s “Ed Sullivan” appearance. She recalls arguing with her friends over who was better: The Beatles or Elvis Presley.

“For me it was no contest,” said the Naperville resident. “Elvis was not my thing.”

At the time, her father’s cousin worked for Decca Records, which had famously rejected the band. Freeman, who grew up in Pennsylvania, said he gave her a prerelease recording of their 1964 album “Meet the Beatles” in a plain white cover.

Freeman, 71, played the record “obsessively.” Unfortunately, after her ex-husband failed to pay the bill on a storage space, her belongings were sold, including the collector’s item.

“Too bad I don’t still have that album,” Freeman mused. “I’d be very wealthy now if I did.”

WLS radio helped introduce Paul Peterson to The Beatles. Growing up in Iowa, he listened to “She Loves You” and “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” on the AM powerhouse as a child.

Now 67 and living in Hoffman Estates, Peterson recalls his babysitters playing Beatles records and dancing around his parents’ living room.

“I remember being so excited about (the Ed Sullivan broadcast),” he said. “I remember standing in front of the television … and my dad saying ‘they’ll never last.’”

The Beatles perform on the CBS "Ed Sullivan Show" in New York on Feb. 9, 1964. The Associated Press

A few weeks after the broadcast, he and his brother asked to grow out their butch haircuts. His parents permitted bangs, he said.

  A few weeks after The Beatles’ “Ed Sullivan Show” appearance, Paul Peterson, lower left in the black-and-white photo, and his older brother Dave, asked permission to wear their hair long. Their parents, Evelyn and Pete, agreed to allow the boys to grow bangs. Joe Lewnard/
Years later, Beatles fans Paul and Dave Peterson, seen here with their dad, Pete, fully embraced the band members’ long hairstyles. Courtesy Paul Peterson

Several years ago, Morton and her husband visited the Liverpool Beatles Museum. The 75-year-old described it as “a religious experience.”

The Arlington Heights resident and her best friend were 16 when the saw the band at the International Amphitheatre in 1964. The crowd’s response was deafening.

“We were in the back and up high,” she said. “We found if we put our fingers in our ears it drowned out the high-pitched squeals.”

“I remember the day John died,” Morton said of Lennon’s Dec. 8, 1980 assassination outside the New York City apartment he shared with wife Yoko Ono and their young son. “I remember thinking to myself: He was a poet. Who shoots a poet?”

Terry Beyer, 72, also attended the 1964 Chicago concert. She and her friends didn’t see much from their balcony seats behind the stage.

“Occasionally one of them would turn around and smile and wave in our direction,” the South Elgin resident said.

Afterward, they made their way down to the stage where an Andy Frain usher gave each of them green jelly beans (John’s favorite) which fans had thrown on stage.

“Mine had been stepped on and since it was from the left side of the stage, I was convinced that John Lennon had stepped on it,” she said.

For years, Beyer kept that crushed jelly bean in a plastic ring box atop a cotton cushion, a simple reminder of a memorable night.

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