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Zaleski: After Beatles, nothing was the same

I’m not sure when the term “Beatlemania” became part of the language, but it was an apt description of what exploded onto the American scene in February 50 years ago. I remember the time as if it were yesterday.

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I was a senior in high school. We were emerging (never to fully emerge) from the shock and melancholy of the Kennedy assassination, which had happened just months before. My friends and I were eagerly and nervously awaiting notice we’d been accepted to colleges of our choice. Our music was The Beach Boys, The Everly Brothers, The Supremes, Bobby Rydell, Mary Wells and Connecticut’s own Gene Pitney.

The Beatles, arriving in New York for a Sunday night appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show” (50 years ago today), swept it all away. We’d heard of the Brits from Liverpool, but only incidentally. Their songs were played infrequently, if at all, on AM pop radio.

It all changed after Sullivan, and with such speed and universality that there has never been anything like it since.

Today’s teenagers are immersed in music-access technology that is highly personal. It does not embrace the broad commonality and the communal aspect of listening to popular music; that was the way of the 1960s. Where I grew up in central Connecticut, we listened to two AM pop stations because there were only two: WDRC out of Hartford and WPOP broadcasting out of a tiny brick building on the outskirts of my town. That was it. That was where we tuned car radios.

Within days after the Beatles’ initial splash, the stations were playing only their songs 24/7. It was amazing because the portfolio was small; the same few tunes were played over and over. It was delightful. We loved it. We sang along in our cars, cruising the streets of our old industrial town, and then gathering late in the lot of the Farm Shop for burgers and malts.

Their early music was upbeat and joyful: “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “Love Me Do,” “Do You Want To Know a Secret,” “She Loves You.” Yeah, yeah, yeah. We loved them.

February of ’64 was warm and wet. I remember the damp of the fog wetting our faces through open car windows. I remember singing along with the songs — the sounds wafting into the mist. I remember bright young friends who — much older today — likely are indulging in nostalgia trips of their own.

In a short time, Beatles music would turn dark and drug-addled (but somehow still magnificent). The nation marched into the futility of the Vietnam War, the violence of civil rights sit-ins and the contradictions of anti-war student protests. All conspired to erase the lightness and innocence of “She Loves You,” et al. The “peace and love” movement of the late ’60s and early ’70s was in effect a cruel sham, an impossible hope.

But those few months of early Beatlemania in ’64 and ’65 — wow. Kids, cars and music. The music, the wonderful new music. It was never any better. Never will be.

Zaleski is the opinion editor of The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. Email him at