On the heals of selling a million copies of “I Want to Hold Your Hand” the Beatles flew from Heathrow Airport to JFK on February 7, 1964 to officially begin the “British Invasion” of American pop-culture. Three thousand adoring fans greeted their arrival. Two days later, they appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show, pulling in the largest television audience ever recorded (at that time) with 73 million viewers.
Reporters panned their brash sound and critics spoke derogatorily about their long hair, as if it were a threat to their way of life (they may have had a point there). Despite this, the “fab four,” as they were dubbed, drew mobs at their first U.S. concert gig at the Washington Coliseum one day later.
By April, twelve of their songs made the Billboard “Hot 100,” five of them held the top five slots. Everywhere they appeared young women would weep and scream and swoon and (as bizarre as it sounds), chase them. Seriously. They would chase them – and if they caught them – they would try to rip off pieces of their clothing. It was called, “Beatlemania.”
I was eight at the time. And I was a Junior Beatle.
Now being a Junior Beatle was not some sort of traditional fan club sort of thing – where you send in your name to get a membership card and a signed photograph – it was a product of our own invention. Four of us in the fourth grade: Donny O’Hagen, Rich Nalven, Michael Harrington and I, each channeled one of the fab four and performed every recess under the trees just outside the Todd School Gymnasium.
I was John, Donny: Paul (only because he was left-handed), Rich: Ringo and Michael: George. We each took our positions in exactly the same order as the real Beatles had appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show and sang the hell out of “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “Twist and Shout,” “I Saw Her Standing There,” and “Do You Want to Know a Secret?”
None of us could play an instrument, but most of us could sing. So, we air-guitared our way through every riff. We shook our heads, our butts and sang the harmonies with all the requisite “Ooooo’s” and the screams and “yeah, yeah, yeahs.”
And like the Beatles, we were surrounded by girls. At eight, I wasn’t sure this was such a good thing, but every recess we had a ready made-audience of 15 or so of my female classmates who would squeal their way through the entire set and chase us (I’m not making this up) all the way around Todd Field trying to kiss us and tear apart our clothes until we agreed to sing another song. (If only I had used this lesson later on in life when it mattered!)
It didn’t end well. My mom and the school administration didn’t like all that girl/boy stuff contaminating the fourth grade so they made us stop. But for a brief and shining moment, we were Junior Beatles. And it was glorious. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.