The Beach Boys’ first album, “Surfin’ Safari” of October 1962, had a modest showing on the charts at No. 32.
In the early- and mid-1960s, a new kind of music from the West coast was being heard across the U.S. It featured the California surfing and beach scene. The music was happy, fun-loving, and filled with beautiful harmonies. It appealed to millions. And the one group that popularized that sound and rode it to enduring fame was the Beach Boys, a California group of three brothers – Brian, Dennis, and Carl Wilson – plus cousin Mike Love and friend Al Jardine.
In America, the Beach Boys would become one of the hottest and most successful groups of the 1960s, credited with inventing “California rock” and “sunshine pop” – and along with the Beatles in the mid-1960s – pushing the envelope on a new and imaginative front of pop music composition. What follows here is a brief history of the Beach Boys’ early career, and in a companion Part 2 story, a more focused look at six of their 1963-1967 songs, with MP3 versions.
Beach Boys from top left, clockwise: Mike Love, Brian Wilson, Carl Wilson, Dennis Wilson & Al Jardine.
The Beach Boys first started playing together as teenagers while attending Hawthorne High School in Hawthorne, California, a Los Angeles County town not far from Manhattan Beach and the Pacific Ocean. The Wilson boys had been encouraged by their parents to try music and sports during their school years. Brian Wilson, for one, had played varsity baseball at Hawthorne High. In 1959, after Brian had graduated, he and cousin Mike Love started some singing together, with their group later expanding to include the two other Wilson brothers and friend Al Jardine. At first, they sang at family gatherings and also played locally under various names, Kenny and The Cadets, Carl and Passions, and The Pendle- tones. But that soon changed as good fortune came their way.
The Beach Boys Selected 1960s Hit Songs
“Surfin’ Safari” Sept ’62, #14 “Surfin’ U.S.A.” Apr 63 – #3 “Surfer Girl” July 63 – #7 “Little Deuce Coupe” Sept 63 – #15 “True To Your School” Oct 63 – #6 “In My Room” Nov 63 – #23 “Little Saint Nick” Dec 63 – #3 “Fun, Fun, Fun” Feb 64 – # 5 “I Get Around” May 64 – #1 “Don’t Worry Baby” May 64 – #24 “When I Grow Up” Aug 64 – # 9 “Wendy” Sept 64 – #44 “Dance, Dance, Dance”
Oct 64 – #8 “Warmth of the Sun” Oct 64 – #8 (B-side) “Do You Wanna Dance”
Feb 65 – #12 “Help Me, Rhonda” Apr 65 -#1 “California Girls” July 65 – #3 “Barbara Ann” Dec 65 – #2 “Sloop John B”
Mar 66 – # 3 “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” July 66 – #8 “God Only Knows” July 66 – #39 “Good Vibrations” Oct 66 – #1
_______________ Date: Release or Top 40 debut
In December 1961, the first record they made, titled “Surfin,” had success locally, charting on Los Angeles radio station KFWB and later rising to No. 75 on the Billboard national chart. By then they were using “The Beach Boys” as their group name – a name chosen by their first record distributor, Candix. On December 31, 1961 they appeared on the bill at the Ritchie Valens Memorial Concert in Long Beach, California, one of their earliest public appearances. By June 1962 they had made a demo tape of songs including “Surfin Safari,” Surfer Girl,” and “409″ that later convinced Capitol Records’ Nick Venet to sign them to a recording contract. Other musicians and instrumentalists had picked up on the surf scene in the early 1960s before the Beach Boys had. But with the imaginative composing and songwriting of Brian Wilson, coupled with very smooth vocal harmonies and upbeat tempo, the Beach Boys would soon became set apart from the rest.
Beach Boy Troubles
The Beach Boys’ rise to fame in the 1960s, however, wasn’t without its difficulties, including trouble on the homefront with their father, Murry, who was also their first manager. Murry, it would be later learned, was physically and verbally abusive toward his sons. Brian, who became the gifted musician and songwriter for the group, would have his own emotional and behavioral problems, and would descend into alcohol, drugs, and depression just as the group peaked. Other Beach Boys would have their ups and downs as well, and along the way there would be some strife within the group over musical style and direction. Yet, despite these troubles, the group managed to become one of America’s most popular, successful, and well-liked of the 1960s and beyond, as they would continue performing, in various forms, through the 2000s. But during their peak years of the early- and mid-1960s, they, along with the Beatles, became a dominant group on the pop charts and, also like the Beatles, an influential force in music making and popular culture.
According to Billboard, in terms of single and album sales, the Beach Boys are among the top-selling American bands of all time. Worldwide they have sold an estimated 70 million records ( an estimate likely on the low side). Between 1961 and 1988, they turned out thirty-six Top 40 hits, more than any other U.S. rock band. They also produced 56 songs that charted in the Top 100. Four of their songs were No. 1 hit singles. Rolling Stone placed the Beach Boys at No.12 on the magazine’s 2004 listing of “The 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.” New compilations of Beach Boys’ music have appeared as recently as 2009. Currently on Amazon.com there are more than 100 offerings of various Beach Boys’ recordings.
As this illustration shows, the Beach Boys hit upon a productive formula of 1960s’ song-making that fell into three basic teen-appealing areas: cars, girls, and surf.
Surf, Cars & Girls
In the early 1960s, the Beach Boys hit upon a kind of magical if basic formula: turning out songs in three sure-fire, teen-appealing areas – cars, girls and surfing. The graphic at left illustrates these three thematic areas, showing where particular Beach Boys’ songs landed in that schema, some falling in two or more areas. The Beach Boys were teenagers themselves when they first started, and they fashioned their material from their own experiences with high school, cars, and teenage romance. And these were also the experiences of tens of millions of Baby Boomers — 78 million strong; all coming of age at the time. The Boomers would “grow up” with the Beach Boys’ music, become their primary audience and market in the 1960s and for decades thereafter. The Boomers, in fact, would prove to be reliable “repeat buyers” of Beach Boys’ music over the next 40 years as it was repackaged into tape, CD, and MP3 forms and also numerous compilation albums.
Although the only surfer among the Beach Boys was Dennis Wilson, who had first suggested they try some songs about surfing, they managed to successfully use that motif as part of their early group image. But what really distinguished the Beach Boys’ music was their distinctive sound, their gorgeous harmonies, and quite often, the creative vocal arrangements and instrumentation in their songs. Brian Wilson, in particular, would become the creative force behind much of the group’s music, serving as songwriter, arranger, and producer. Brian also co-wrote songs with Mike Love and others and initially shared lead singing duties during the first few years.
The Beach Boys’ “Surfin’ USA” album, with its title track, was the big breakout for the group in 1963, selling more than a millions copies and hitting No. 2 on the ‘Billboard’ albums chart.
Following their first local hit with “Surfin” in 1961-62, came broader national exposure with songs such as “Surfin’ Safari” in 1962, followed by “Surfin’ U.S.A.” and “Surfer Girl,” both in 1963. Other hits that year included songs with car, high school, and adolescent themes such as “Little Deuce Coupe,” “In My Room,” and “Be True To Your School.” Along with these early singles were several albums. Surfin’ Safari came in October 1962 and had a modest showing at No. 32. Surfin’ USA came next in March 1963, and along with the single of that name, was something of a breakout for the group, with both single and album rising to No. 2 on the U. S. Billboard charts. Surfin USA even outsold a number of the group’s singles at the time, which were then typically the more popular product. Surfin USA remained on the Billboard album chart for 78 weeks. Brian Wilson’s songwriting and vocal arrangements were found throughout this album, helped along with double tracking technology in the studio. The song credits for the title track, “Surfin USA,” are shared by Brian Wilson and Chuck Berry since the basic tune, though not the lyrics, was based on Berry’s 1958 hit, “Sweet Little Sixteen.” This album also includes five Beach Boys instrumentals.
Beach Boys shown in early 1960s photo with famous Capitol Records building in Hollywood behind them. They were the first rock group to sign with Capitol in 1962.
The Beach Boys’ third album, Surfer Girl was released in September 1963, featuring the title track by the same name, which was the first song that Brian Wilson ever wrote, originally penned in 1961 when he was 19. The Surfer Girl album was a million seller, and along with its title track “Surfer Girl,” both hit No. 7 on their respective charts. The album had a run of 56 weeks on Billboard. However, years later, music critics such as Richie Unterberger of the All Music Guide, would note that Capitol Records pushed the Beach Boys for too much material in too short a time, with the result that some of their albums, like Surfer Girl, did not have the quality songs they might have had. “Consequently,” says Unterberger, “most of their pre-1965 albums contain a high degree of filler, and thus stack up poorly next to those of such contemporaries as the Beatles, who were able to maintain high standards on almost all of their tracks.” That would change in some later albums, however.
Beach Boys’ Oct 1963 album “Little Deuce Coupe” focused on one of their themes, hot rod cars & car culture – rising to No. 4 on the ‘Billboard’ charts.
Quickly on the heels of Surfer Girl came an album of mostly car songs titled Little Deuce Coupe, released in October 1963. This album was motivated in part by Capitol Records putting out a compilation album of car songs from a variety of artists that had included one Beach Boys song. To protect their turf in this arena, Brian Wilson then hurried production of the Little Deuce Coupe album as their “hot rod” collection, with a mix of old and new Beach Boys songs. One of their car songs, “409″ – which refers to a an especially “hot” engine size of that day – was an earlier modest hit, released on the B-side of “Surfin Safari,” landing at No. 72 on the Billboard 100. The album Little Deuce Coupe became a No. 4 hit on the Billboard charts and would eventually also sell one million copies. By the end of 1963, three of the Beach Boys’ LPs had risen into the Top Ten and the group was touring regularly.
Beach Boys performing at the October 1964 TAMI concert, from left: Al Jardine, Mike Love, Carl Wilson, and Brian Wilson. Not shown Dennis Wilson on drums.
In 1964 came more Beach Boys hits, such as: “Fun, Fun, Fun,” “Don’t Worry, Baby,” When I Grow Up,” and “Dance, Dance, Dance.” The group’s first No. 1 hit, “I Get Around,” came in June 1964. By the end of 1964, two years into their career, the Beach Boys had placed twelve hit songs in the Top 40. They also continued turning out albums. Shut Down Volume 2 came out in March 1964, followed by All Summer Long in July, which rose to No. 4 on the albums chart. On April 18th, 1964, the Beach Boys made their first appearance on the nationally-televised American Bandstand show with Dick Clark. They also began touring outside the U.S. in 1964, traveling to Australia in January and later, Europe and U.K. in September. The “British invasion” of the American pop music charts, led by the Beatles, was well underway by this time. But the Beach Boys abroad on their first tours in 1964 were well received, and their music would soon appear on record charts in those countries and the world over.
“Sunshine Pop Mythology” Early 1960s
“…California – in 1963, it was the one place west of the Mississippi where everyone wanted to be. Rich and fast, cars, women, one suburban plot for everyone, a sea of happy humanity sandwiched between frosty mountains and toasty beaches, all an easy drive from the freeway. But was it that simple and bright? Behind the pursuit of fun, you might hear a hint of tedium, or a realization that each passing day blemished the pristine Youth this culture coveted. Brian Wilson understood this perfectly and, characteristically, made it attractive and not a little heroic, as in ‘I Get Around,’ in which he expresses sheer frustration: ‘I’m gettin’ bugged drivin’ up and down the same old strip.’ His business was the revitalization of myths he wished were true and knew were false. The hollowness, properly dressed up as adolescent yearning, could itself be marketed in ‘teen feel’ pop songs.”
- Jim Miller, “The Beach Boys,” The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock n Roll, 1992, p 194.
Back in the States by late September 1964, the Beach Boys made their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, performing live versions of “I Get Around” and “Wendy” on the September 27th show. In late October 1964, they were one of the featured acts at “The TAMI Show” concert in Santa Monica, California (Teenage Awards Music Inter- national). The TAMI Show was a filmed concert event and it included other notable acts such as James Brown, Chuck Berry, the Rolling Stones, and the Supremes. In November 1964, The Beach Boys Concert album was released, comprised of 13 live music tracks from earlier performances they had given in 1963 and 1964 at the Civic Memorial Auditorium in Sacramento. This album – billed as their first “live” album — rose to No. 1 in the first week of December 1964 and remained there for the rest of the month. It was their first No. 1 album. Also released by then was The Beach Boys’ Christmas Album with a dozen Christmas songs. The Beach Boys had a previous Top Ten Christmas hit in 1963 with “The Little Saint Nick,” which also appeared on this album. The Beach Boys’ Christmas music would continue to do well in subsequent years. In any case, by the end of 1964, they had five albums on the pop charts simultaneously.
Brian Wilson in studio.
Brian Wilson, meanwhile, exhausted from his studio work and touring, suffered a nervous breakdown on a trip to Texas in late December. At this point, he decided to quit touring with the band, except for TV appearances, and focus more on the Beach Boys’ studio productions. On the road, meanwhile, there were stand-ins for Brian, including for a time, Glen Campbell and later, Bruce Johnston. But Brian’s studio work helped yield more Beach Boys hits in 1965. “Do You Wanna Dance” came out in February 1965; “Help Me, Rhonda” was a Beach Boys’ No. 1 hit in April; “California Girls,” which Brian Wilson and Mike Love wrote together, hit No. 3 in July; and “Barbara Ann” rose to No. 2 in December. The Beach Boys by this time had put16 singles in the Top 40.
One of 3 albums the Beach Boys put out in 1965 – “Summer Days (and Summer Nights)”.
Three new albums were produced that year as well: The Beach Boys Today! in March; Summer Days (and Summer Nights!) in June; and Beach Boys’ Party! in November. Of these three, The Beach Boys Today! marked a progression in the group’s music, using more complicated arrange- ments on some tracks – including strings, horns, piano, keyboards, and more percussion. This album rose to No. 4 and sold more than a million copies. Summer Days (and Summer Nights!) was also a success, becoming their ninth consecutive gold-certified album, rising to No. 2 on the Billboard albums chart. Brian Wilson, however, was just warming up, musically. His next venture would be an album that would influence and challenge the Beatles; an album named Pet Sounds. More on this in a moment. First, a little closer look at Brian Wilson.
“Brian’s Song” 1960s
A very young Brian Wilson, foreground, with equally young David Marks behind him, in the studio, early ‘60s.
Brian Wilson found his musical muse very early in childhood. Murry, his father, who had tried his own hand at song writing with little success, noticed that Brian could hum entire tunes from memory even before he could walk. Brian reportedly wrote his first song at age five. Although born deaf in his right ear, Brian taught himself to play the piano by watching his father play, observing the patterns and chord progressions. As a child, he could also play songs from memory after hearing them only once, this discovered by a music teacher who had given young Brian accordion lessons.
Home life for Brian and his brothers was difficult, especially with their father, as the boys suffered physical and emotional abuse. Brian, in adolescence, used his music as an escape, playing the piano at times to drown out the bickering and fighting at home. Although he played some sports in high school, he withdrew into music, also used it to avoid social situations. But with music, Brian’s brain was wired for sound, “thinking in three part harmony,” as he once put it. As a boy, he was inspired the first time he heard the Four Freshmen singing on the radio. Their harmony “struck a chord” with Brian which he sought to emulate.
Young Brian Wilson at mic, early 1960s, with Mike Love, in recording studio.
Brian Wilson’s songwriting and studio production for the Beach Boys soon became phenomenal. During the six years from 1962-68, he produced 14 albums and wrote over 120 songs. In so doing he kept the Beach Boys in keen competition with the recording giants of that day, such as Phil Spector and the Beatles. In all, Wilson produced about half of the Beach Boys’ single hits, three of which were No. 1 best sellers. He also wrote music with Jan Berry of “Jan & Dean” fame, and also sang background and sometimes lead vocals on Jan & Dean’s songs. In fact, the big No. 1 Jan & Dean hit of late July 1963 – “Surf City” – was originally Brian’s idea, and he co-wrote the song with Jan Berry. And at Jan’s invitation, Brian also sang lead vocals with him on the song – a development which did not please Brian’s father or Capitol records at the time, as Jan & Dean were viewed as the competition, and Brian, working for another label. But Brian and Jan were just friends in music and they worked well together.
Brian Wilson, 2nd from right, performing with the Beach Boys at unidentified venue, likely in the 1963-65 period.
Wilson was a genius at studio production. Explains Time magazine music writer, Richard Corliss: “Brian was a triple whiz: at pop composition, vocal arrangement and record production. He elevated harmony to sophisticated choral work. …[H]e made his magic on a primitive eight-track recorder. …Wilson devoted just one track to the band and the other seven to vocals; …he doubled each vocal part to thicken the stew of sound. Brian, the self-taught studio maven, was his own George Martin [famous Beatles producer] – a wizard at weaving eccentric instruments and his pal’s voices into a majestic aural tapestry.”
Brian Wilson, however, had his demons, which emerged at a most untimely juncture, precisely during the Beach Boys’ best years. By the mid-1960s he struggled with alcohol and drugs alongside the pressure of turning out the Beach Boys’ music. Early in 1965, he became involved with drugs and also had associated bouts of depression. Still he turned out the hits, some of which were written during, or in the aftermath of, drug experiences. In 1988, the Rock ’n Roll Hall of Fame called Wilson “one of the few undis- puted geniuses” in pop music. By 1968 he became addicted to cocaine. Years went by with Wilson’s condition undiagnosed, as even friends passed it off as merely “Brian’s odd behavior.” Wilson subsequently went through a period of about 20 years of ups and down with his drug problems, rehabilitations, and periodic lapses. In 1988, after the Beach Boys were inducted into the Rock ’n Roll Hall of Fame, he began a fuller recovery and also a solo recording career which he has continued though the 2000s. At the Beach Boys’ induction into the Rock ’n Roll Hall of Fame in 1988, Brian was singled out in the induction notice as “one of the few undisputed geniuses in popular music.” Wilson, said the Hall, “possessed an uncanny gift for harmonic invention and complex vocal and instrumental arrangements.” An offering of some of his creations with the Beach Boys can be heard in the six musical samples that appear in Part II of this article.
Despite the San Diego Zoo’s animals, “Pet Sounds” refers to Brian Wilson’s favorite or “pet” sounds in the album and also the initials of his studio idol, Phil Spector.
“Sooner or later Brian Wilson had to grow up,” writes Tom Moon in his book, 1,000 Recording to Hear Before You Die. “Summer might last forever, but at some point slinging surf music was gonna get old.” And Pet Sounds was Wilson’s and the Beach Boys’ graduation of sorts, to a new level of musicality. Although still sunshine pop in part, it is that genre, but “through darker lenses,” as Tom Moon describes it, and “by people old enough to remember when life really was carefree. Its characters have adult knowledge of the world’s cruelties – they’ve been burned in love and are contending with what it means to be responsible.”
Pet Sounds was released in May 1966 and it included notable singles such as, “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” “God Only Knows,” and “The Sloop John B,” among others. However, U.S. audiences turned up their noses to this album at first, in part because it was not the old sunshine pop that many knew and loved, and in part because many just didn’t get it. In fact, even among the Beach Boys themselves, there were some pretty fierce differences over the making of this album and moving away from their previous formula. Capitol executives, in fact, wanted to shelve the album and only reluctantly agreed to its release, providing little promotion. When it then rose only to No. 10 on the U.S. album charts, Capitol – despite the success of some of its songs like “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” – produced and released a compilation album in July 1966, Best of the Beach Boys. Brian Wilson viewed Capitol’s act as sabotage. Pet Sounds, in fact, had actually done better in the U.K. when it was released there six weeks after the U.S. release, rising to No. 2 and getting rave reviews.
Brian Wilson, circa 1965-66 on the cover of Charles Granata’s 2003 book on the making of “Pet Sounds.”
In any case, there later proved to be lots of good and lasting music in Pet Sounds, regarded by critics in later years as a pop masterpiece and perhaps Brian Wilson’s finest work. Still, initially – compared to previous Beach Boy’s successes – Pet Sounds was something of flop commercially. It wouldn’t be until the year 2000 that the album would sell one million copies. Yet in 1966 there was a lot going on with the music that was Pet Sounds. It was also one of the first “concept albums” — where all the songs more or less hung together musically and/or thematically – and so, was leading the transition in the business, along with the Beatles, away from singles as the primary pop format. Pet Sounds tells a story of romance in part, beginning idealistically in its first track with ”Wouldn’t It Be Nice” and ending with some disillusionment in its last track,”Caroline, No”.
“Certainly Pet Sounds is a melancholy work,” observes Peter Ames Carlin, a music critic who has written on the Beach Boys. “But the beauty of the songs, coupled with the sheer invention of [Brian Wilson's] production, is rapturous. The album echoes with that distinctly utopian feeling that anything is possible…”
Pet Sounds would be lauded in later years by the critics for its innovative use of folk, blues and jazz blended with those perfect Beach Boy harmonies. But beyond that, Pet Sounds showcased Brian Wilson as studio wizard who, like his idol Phil Spector, became a pioneer of using the studio “as an instrument” (see also at this website, for example, “Be My Baby“). With various studio techniques such as multiple tracking, Wilson made layers of vocal and instrumental music, doubling them in some cases, and also in other instances, combining them with echo and reverberation. On one level of listening the resulting music may have seemed simple and straightforward. Yet on closer inspection, Brian Wilson’s arrangements were revealed to be some of most musically adventurous and complex then in pop music. Paul McCartney and Beatles’ producer George Martin both acknowledged that Pet Sounds was the inspiration for Sgt. Pep- per’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Wilson had lots of help in making this album – from lyricists such as Tom Asher, expert studio musicians such as the famed “Wrecking Crew,” and engineers like Larry Levine. Still, Pet Sounds came to be seen as Brian Wilson’s masterwork, regarded by insiders as a significant piece studio experimentation. And not least, Pet Sounds was also a competitive prod to the Beatles.
In fact, Brian Wilson had been inspired to do Pet Sounds because of the Beatles’ Rubber Soul album, which had been released in December 1965. Said Wilson of hearing that album: “Rubber Soul was a collection of songs…that somehow went together like no album ever made before, and I was very impressed…[and] challenged to do a great album.” The Beatles, in turn, were goaded by Pet Sounds to produce Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Paul McCartney and Beatles’ producer George Martin both acknowledged that Pet Sounds was the inspiration for Sgt. Pepper’s. In 2003, Pet Sounds was ranked No. 2 by Rolling Stone magazine in its list of “The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time,”second only to Sgt. Pepper’s. The album has also be given similar lofty praise by several other surveys and music magazines, including MoJo, The Times newspaper of London, New Musical Express (NME -UK), some calling it “the greatest album in history.” Although the album cover shows animals at the San Diego Zoo, the title, “Pet Sounds” is said to derive from other factors, among them, Brian’s wish to pay tribute to Phil Spector by naming the album using his initials, and also for “Pet Sounds” meaning those sounds on the album that were Brian’s favorite or “pet” sounds.
Cameron Crowe on Pet Sounds 2003
“I was thirteen, and I wanted to buy a Jackson 5 cassette. The knowing geek behind the counter shook his head and advised me to get Pet Sounds instead. Desperate for his cool-guy validation, I bought it. It sounded weird, introverted, not that melodic. And what about that cover? Odd-looking guys dressed like Elizabethan-period accountants feeding animals at the zoo? I thought the album sucked and I stashed it in a drawer. Within a year, Linda Alvarado (not her real name) savagely broke my heart. For some fateful reason, I gave Pet Sounds another chance. Suddenly, music was more than just confection. Those strange guys feeding animals at the zoo understood; even the music sounded like I felt. …Suddenly, music was more than just confec- tion. Those strange guys feeding animals at the zoo understood… [T]he music sounded like I felt… When you find songs so personal that they feel like someone’s been reading your diary, you tend to study the album credits to find out who the hell wrote this stuff. And that leads you to the heartbreaking genius of Brian Wilson. Pet Sounds is the high-water mark of songwriting and production so meticulously rendered that you ache hearing these songs; they’re filled with secret cries for help disguised in baroque and candy-coated harmonies, the sound of Brian Wilson’s universe coming together and falling apart. The album was a flop in its day, unappreciated in a world addicted to Wilson’s Beach Boys hits. Just three years ago , it finally went platinum. For me, Pet Sounds is a souvenir, a masterwork, an underdog story and a record that takes you gently by the lapels and says, “Here’s what it feels like to be alive.”
Cameron Crowe, Writer/Director, “My Number One: Pet Sounds,” in Rolling Stone, “500 Greatest Albums of All Time,” December 2003, p. 104.
Cover sleeve for the Beach Boys’ single, “Good Vibrations,” a million-seller that hit No.1, December 1966.
But there was even more to Pet Sounds that did not meet the eye when it was first released. For Brian Wilson had another song he was preparing for Pet Sounds that he held back from the album – a song entitled “Good Vibrations;” a song he felt wasn’t quite good enough at the time. But once Wilson saw that Pet Sounds was not getting such a good reception on the U.S. Billboard album charts, he went back to work on “Good Vibrations.” In fact, he spent several months working on it, at a cost of some $50,000, which then was a huge amount of money for a single – then Wilson’s goal for the song. He used over 90 hours of tape and dozens of musicians in four different recording studios to create the 3:35 minute song. “Good Vibrations” was part early venture into psychedelia and part very complicated music, using instruments from cellos to the high-pitched electro-theremin, an instrument whose whirling sound can be heard in the background of the song throughout its recording. Richard Corliss, Time magazine music writer observes of the song:
“…[T]he patchwork fabric of modes, moods and melodies in “Good Vibrations” is immediately disconcerting, but that’s part of the listening thrill: not knowing, for once in a pop song, where the heck it’s headed. The flower-power verse bleeds into the doo-wop excitations before modulating into the giddy chorus of countertenor voices (“Good, good, GOOD”) that escalate almost to infinity, as if a seraph were having an orgasm. Now the scheme is repeated; but just as we think we’re on to Wilson’s plan, he steals our compass by introducing another rapturous fragment with harpsichord backing (“I don’t know where but she sends me there”) and yet another, in a slower tempo (“Gotta keep those lovin’ good vibrations a-happenin’ with her”), that appears to fade out. Then the jolt of a harmonic “Ahhh” and, one last time, we’re back in the chorus…”
Beach Boys at Capitol Records with president Alan Livingston showing off two gold records, 1964-65.
Although this “good vibrations’ sound was not quite old Beach Boys, and it wasn’t exactly danceable or singable, it nevertheless rose on the music charts. Released in October 1966, it quickly became a hit, selling over 400,000 copies in four days. By December 1966, it was the No.1 hit in America and also reached that mark in the U.K. and Australia. It also sold over one million copies.
Musically, Pet Sounds and “Good Vibrations” marked a peak for the Beach Boys sound. These recordings also marked an ending of the more traditional Beach Boys era. By December 1966, Brian Wilson was exhausted and depressed. But in late 1966 and early 1967, he had set out on a next project; a next step in expanding his musical exploration in the mold of “Good Vibrations.” Musically, Pet Sounds and ‘Good Vibrations’ marked an ending of the more traditional Beach Boys era. This was a project for an album he called “Smile.” But here Brian came up against some pretty stiff resistance from Mike Love, in particular, and he seemed to back off and then retreat into drugs and depression. Missing album deadlines, Brian went into seclusion and then in and out of mental difficulty for years. From then on, although there would be flashes of the old Beach Boys’ success in the 1970s and 1980s – a few hits songs, more compi- lation albums from Capitol, and halting emergences of Brian Wilson’s participation and talents – the Beach Boys were never quite the same again. Infighting and lawsuits in later years would also mar their legacy. Still, for much of the public, the Beach Boys lived in memory, encased in their 1960s golden sound. In actual form too, the group would continue, though reconstituted from time to time, with Mike Love as leader, touring successfully well into the 2000s.
Capitol’s 1981 “Beach Boys Medley” single, side A, with a four-minute mix of their greatest 1960s hit. German label shown.
In the 1970s, although the Beach Boys attracted new listeners and fans on tour, their biggest success seemed to come from their 1960s music. Capitol Records went to the Beach Boys vault in mid-decade and issued a repackaged hits collection titled Endless Summer in June 1974. That album rode a wave of oldies nostalgia at the time, helped along by the 1973 film and soundtrack American Graffiti and the TV show Happy Days. The Beach Boys’ Endless Summer album in this setting did very well, rising to No. 1 on the music charts in 1974, and remaining on the charts for three years, selling more than 500,000 copies. There were also two “Brian’s back” albums in the 1970s, including 15 Big Ones of 1976. But Brian by then had really retreated from the dominant role he once had in the group and also had continuing personal problems to manage. By the late 1970s and early 1980s, some of the original Beach Boys were also experimenting with solo recording. In 1981, Capitol Records turned out another 1960s compilation as a single, “The Beach Boys Medley,”comprised of a 4:08 minute medley of eight of their songs on the A side and the full version of “God Only Knows” on the B side. “Beach Boys Medley” rose to No.12. There would also be an occasional Beach Boys’ hit song or a cover version. Late 1981 saw “Come Go With Me,” a 1956-57 Del-Vikings song, become a Beach Boys’ Top 20 hit. Interior Secretary James Watt inadvertently gave the Beach Boys a touring and career boost by calling them “the wrong element.” But tragedy came to the group in December 1983, and hit hard, as Dennis Wilson drowned in a diving accident off Marina Del Ray, California. He was 39.
On subsequent summer tours in the mid-1980s, the remaining Beach Boys, with some additional new members, could still play to huge audiences, many fans still enjoying the Beach Boys sound regardless of group composition. At Fourth of July concerts in 1984 and 1985, the Beach Boys played to huge crowds in Washington and Philadelphia – 750,000 in Washington in 1984 and one million in Philadelphia in 1985, and back to DC again that same evening in 1985 to perform for another 750,000 on the National Mall. ( The Beach Boys’ stock had been raised considerably in the mid-1980s after a political faux pax by U.S. Secretary of the Interior James Watt called them “the wrong element”and banned them from playing on the Mall — which by the next year had been reversed by none other than fans Nancy and Ronald Reagan). By 1988, the reconstituted Beach Boys had their first No.1 hit in 22 years with the song “Kokomo” which was written for the movie Cocktail starring Tom Cruise – a song written by John Phillips, Scott McKenzie, Mike Love, and Terry Melcher.
Capitol’s Gold Mine Beach Boys Compilation Albums
1975 Spirit of America
1976 20 Golden Greats
1982 Sunshine Dream
1983 Very Best of The Beach Boys
1986 Made in U.S.A.
1989 Still Cruisin
1990 Summer Dreams
1993 Good Vibrations: 30 Years
1995 The Best of The Beach Boys
1997 The Pet Sounds Sessions
1998 Endless Harmony Soundtrack
1998 Ultimate Christmas
1999 Greatest Hits Vol 1
1999 Greatest Hits Vol 2
2001 Hawthorne, CA: Birthplace
2002 Classics – by Brian Wilson
2003 Sounds of Summer: Very Best
2004 Sights & Sounds: CD/DVD
2006 Pet Sounds – 40th Deluxe
2007 The Warmth of the Sun
2008 U.S. Singles Box, 1962-1965
2009 Summer Love Songs
___________________________ Most of these are compilation albums with1960s music; U.S./U,K.; partial list.
Through the 1990s, the Beach Boys continued to tour in America as a nostalgia act. Brian Wilson, meanwhile, appeared in a 1995 TV documentary that ran on the Disney Channel, I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times, in which he performed with his then adult daughters, Wendy and Carnie. But just as the band appeared to be pulling together for a new studio album in February 1998, Carl Wilson, a life-long smoker, died of lung cancer after a long battle with the disease. He was 51 years old. By then, Brian Wilson and Al Jardine, though still legally members of the Beach Boys organization, each pursued solo careers with new bands. Through the late 1990s, in fact, there were three different Beach Boys-connected tours – Brian Wilson had a solo tour; Mike Love lead the more or less “official” Beach Boys group, and Al Jardine had the “Beach Boys Family”group, later re-named the Endless Summer Band. ABC television in February 2000, aired a docudrama miniseries, The Beach Boys: An American Family, which gave many a view of the Beach Boys’s family life they hadn’t known before. Capitol Records was still mining the old Beach Boys music vault, and in 2000, began a reissue campaign focused on the group’s out-of-print 1970s’ LPs. In early 2004, Brian Wilson, to rave reviews in London, released the long-delayed SMiLE album – the aborted follow up to Pet Sounds which he had started but abandoned in the late 1960s. Brian continued recording, writing, and performing into the 2000s.
Yet it remained that the old days and the old Beach Boys’ sound was what emerged periodically in the post-1960s period for renewed recognition. In mid-June 2006, the surviving Beach Boys members — Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston, and David Marks — set aside their differences and reunited at the Capitol Records building in Hollywood. The special occasion was a celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Pet Sounds album.
Capitol Records mined the Beach Boys’ 1960s vault endlessly. Still, this “Very Best of...” offering in 2003 sold 2 million copies by June 2006.
Also celebrated at the Capitol Records gathering was the double-platinum, two-million-copies-sold certification of another Capitol “greatest hits” compilation, Sounds of Summer: The Very Best of the Beach Boys. That album, which had been released in June 2003, shot up to No. 16 on Billboard, staying on that chart for 104 weeks. At the Capitol Records ceremony, Brian Wilson accepted the awards for his late brothers Carl and Dennis. And Brian, separately, was feted in Washington, D.C. in 2007 for his musical achievements, receiving Kennedy Center honors.
The Beach Boys story, though, on one level, is a sad tale. For it replays one of those human dramas in which brilliance and talent rise to an accomplished even joyous level for a short, intense period of time, then for reasons of human frailty and the whims of gods and markets, can never quite be repeated again. The Beach Boys certainly had their shining moment, lasting a good five years, 1962-1966. They made beautiful music then that filled the world with a brighter sound; a brightness and optimism that can still be heard today. For a sampling of their 1960s’ music, and their gorgeous harmonies, go to “Early Beach Boys, Pt. 2: Six Songs,” a short story which includes six full songs and more detail about each song’s history and popular reception.
For other stories at this website on the history of popular music please visit the Annals of Music category page. For a listing and brief description of additional stories in the 1960s decade, visit the 1961-1970 Period Archive. Thanks for visiting – and please consider supporting this website. Thank you. – Jack Doyle
The Ronettes at the top of their game, circa 1964-65, from left: Nedra Talley and sisters, Estelle & Ronnie Bennett.
One of the defining rock ‘n roll songs of the 1960s – a song notable for its role in advancing a new sound that changed pop music – is the Ronettes’ 1963 blockbuster, “Be My Baby.” It was sung by three young girls from New York’s Spanish Harlem who came be known as the Ronettes – sisters Estelle and Ronnie Bennett, and their cousin, Nedra Talley. More on the ladies in a moment.
In 2006, the U.S. Library of Congress chose the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby” to be added to the National Recording Registry. The song is also ranked at No. 22 on Rolling Stone’s list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time” published in 2004. Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys – no slouch when it came to composing ground-breaking 1960s’ music of his own – has called “Be My Baby” one of the greatest pop records ever made and is his “all-time favorite song.” Wilson was in his car when he first heard the tune on the radio, and being the composer and arranger that he was, stopped the car to give the song a closer listen. “I had to pull off the road,” he said. “I couldn’t believe it. The choruses blew me away…” Wilson, in fact, wrote a famous Beach Boys song, “Don’t Worry Baby,” initially as a follow-up intended for the Ronettes, but it was turned down for that purpose.
Music Player “Be My Baby” – 1963
“Be My Baby,” in any case, was a musical production tour de force circa 1963, and it became part of a game-changing new sound then sweeping through pop music. The song, in addition to the Ronettes’ vocals, had some storied talent in its making. It was co-written by one of those well-regarded 1960s’ writing teams who worked at New York city’s famed Brill Building music center – Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry. Another co-author of the song was studio wunderkind Phil Spector, who most notably produced the song’s lush instrumentation. Spector had also signed the Ronettes to his Philles record label earlier that year. More on Spector in a moment.
"Be My Baby", 45 rpm version, on Philles record label, 1963.
Released as a single in August 1963, the song gradually rose on the U.S. music charts, hitting No.2 on the Billboard pop chart by October, and also No. 4 on the U.S. R & B chart, and No. 4 in the U.K. “Be My Baby” sold millions of copies, both in the 1960s and since then, having been used in the opening segments of films such as Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets of 1973 and Dirty Dancing of 1987. In 2009-10, a cover version of the song was being used in a Cialis TV drug ad, but that version of “Be My Baby” should not be confused with the original, which for many 1960s’ listeners, there can be no substitute.
“Be My Baby” is also part of the American soundtrack that marks a time in U.S. history when the nation was both optimistic and a bit more innocent than it is today; a time right before the murder of a young and promising president, John F. Kennedy, who was shot dead in Dallas, Texas, November 22, 1963.
But “Be My Baby” is also a story about the people who made the music; a story about the lives and careers of those involved with the Ronettes during the 1963-66 period and beyond. A few intense and difficult relationships followed, along with the demise of the Ronettes’ group, ill health for one member, a prominent divorce for another, and a protracted legal battle over royalties and licensing rights. What follows here is some of that history and group biography. First, the good times.
The Ronettes as young Bronx school girls, from left – Nedra Talley, Ronnie & Estelle Bennett, circa 1961-62.
Ronnie Bennett and her sister Estelle, along with cousin Nedra Talley, began singing together as teenagers in Washington Heights, New York. They were all influenced at an early age by family members, many of whom were involved with or aspired to music and/or show business. Ronnie, who would become the group’s lead singer, remembers getting the music bug at a very early age: “My mom had seven brothers, and six sisters, and they all had, you know, show business… And they were playing Sam Cooke, and I’m like four years old [and saying], ‘I wanna do that’. So my uncles made me a spotlight from the Maxwell House coffee [can]. The first audience was my family: my girl cousins, boy cousins and my mom’s brothers and sisters. When I heard that applause, I got chills and I knew that was what I wanted to do…”
Early Ronettes shown here in a promotion with New York disc jockey, Murray the K, 1960s.
Ronnie, Estelle and Nedra began singing together as they listened to all kinds of music at home — from Frankie Lymon and Little Anthony and the Imperials, to Rosemary Clooney. Their grandmother would put the three of them in a room and encourage them to harmonize. In 1959, their mother, Beatrice, entered them in talent show at the Apollo Theater which they won as “The Darling Sisters.” Ronnie was then 16, Estelle 17, and Nedra 13. Not long thereafter they started appearing at local hops and charity shows. By 1961 they were being featured in a dancing and singing act a New York’s Peppermint Lounge during the “twist” dance-craze. They also performed with Clay Cole’s “Twist-A-Rama” shows and toured with Joey Dee and the Starlighters, whose song “Peppermint Twist” was then popular. New York city’s famous disc jockey of that era, “Murray the K,” had also discovered them, and had them appear in his “rock ‘n roll revues” held at the Brooklyn Fox Theater.
The Ronettes, early 1960s, from left: Ronnie Bennett, Nedra Talley, and Estelle Bennett.
The girls soon developed their own style and their own distinctive look. To begin with, all three were of mixed-race decent; all young beauties. Ronnie and Estelle were the children of a white father and a mother of African-American and Cherokee descent. Nedra Talley was black, Indian and Puerto Rican. They also developed their own dress style, part for their dance and performing lounge act, and part personal statement. They each had “big hair” as it was called – tall, black beehive hairdos – and they used a Cleopatra-style dark eye makeup. Their dresses and skirts were tight with slits up the sides, a near Oriental look. They projected, in part, a “bad girl” look, fashioned from the girls they saw on the street, though they themselves were kept off the street. But at school sometimes, they were bullied for their mixed-race looks. By 1961-62, they had cut a few unsuccessful records with the Colpix record label, then known as “Ronnie and the Relatives” before changing to “The Ronettes.” Around this time, a hot popular song titled, “He’s a Rebel,” by another girl group named The Crystals, was at the top of the charts. That song was produced by a 19 year-old recording studio whiz named Phil Spector who also owned a new record label named Philles.
Phil Spector in L.A.’s Gold Star studio control room; Larry Levine at controls of 12-channel mixer, early 1960s. Ray Avery/Redferns.
Phil Spector, who once sang and played guitar with a late-1950s’ group called the Teddy Bears (had the No. 1 hit in 1958, “To Know Him is To Love Him”), found his true calling as a record producer, a talent that would make him a millionaire by the time he was 21. Spector had caught the Ronettes’ singing act when they appeared at one of the Brooklyn Fox Theater shows. He liked what he saw and heard in that show and filed it away. He had noticed that even though these girls had no songs on the radio or popular records for sale in the stores, they still generated enthusiastic applause. Later, Estelle Bennett got the idea of calling Spector, thinking that maybe the guy who fashioned a No. 1 hit for the Crystals could do the same for the Ronettes. Calling from home after she and Ronnie had been talking in their bedroom, Estelle got through to Spector himself and he agreed to meet with them. Spector had remembered their act from the Brooklyn Fox. He became especially taken with Ronnie Bennett’s voice, and she later recalled that he had been searching for a certain kind of sound:
“When he first heard my voice, I remember he came to one audition to see if I sounded as great as he thought I did, and he saw us at this little club… [W]hen he came to a rehearsal, and I sang one of Frankie Lymon’s songs, he knocked the bench over from the piano and said, ‘That’s the voice I’ve been looking for.’… I’ll never forget that. And that’s just before they went in and wrote ‘Be My Baby.’”
The Ronettes at work in the studio, early 1960s, from left: Ronnie, Estelle and Nedra.
At first, Phil Spector wanted to sign only Ronnie Bennett. Beatrice Bennett, however, insisted it was a package deal – all three or none at all. So in early 1963, the Ronettes became part of Phil Spector’s Philles Records, signing their contract in March that year. When they started to work with Spector, the girls first served as background singers for others acts, including: Darlene Love with Bob B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans, Little Eva, Del Shannon, Bobby Rydell, Joey Dee, and others. But soon the Ronettes got some of Phil Spector’s undivided attention.
Wall of Sound
The Ronettes with Phil Spector in L.A. recording studio, 1963.
In the summer of 1963, Spector and the Ronettes would begin work on “Be My Baby” and other songs. Spector’s Philles label had already been recording on the West Coast at the Gold Star studios in Los Angeles by this time. Spector was then in the process of crafting a distinctive sound which had already been used on some earlier recordings. This sound would become notable in all of his work – both in his “girl-group”songs and later work he did with artists such as the Righteous Brothers and Tina Turner. The sound – sometimes described as the “Spector sound” – was unmistakable. It was big and full with lots of brass and drums; a sound that would seem to surge from the speakers. It became known as “the wall of sound;” a sound that had not been heard in popular recording to that point.
The Ronettes -- Estelle, Ronnie & Nedra -- with Phil Spector in L.A. recording studio, 1963.
Spector combined multiple pianos, guitars, saxaphones, and horns with studio mixing and over-dubbing. The typical line-up of musicians and instruments in an early 1960s’ Spector session, according to one account, included “a drummer, two bass players, three or four keyboard players, four guitarists, three or four reeds, two trumpets, two trombones and any number of people who could help out on per- cussion.” Spector’s instrumentation filled all the space in a song without killing the vocals, while incorporating a good driving beat. The result of this orchestration and studio wizardry often had a clear demarcation in the song, producing an almost “wall-of-music”-like effect. Spector once described his productions as “Wagnerian” and also called them “little symphonies for the kids.” New York Times writer Glenn Collins, years later, would acknowledge Spector’s successful technique, describing it as “overdubbing squadrons of guitars, pianos and percussion instruments in a wave of hormone- thrilling noise.” And indeed it was. Ask any aging baby boomer who grew up in that period. Rock music, in any case, would never be the same after Spector; it would no longer be the thin-sounding guitar and drum-based music of the 1950s. Spector changed things, and his technique lifted the quality of rock and roll, making it more complex and more musical.
Phil Spector and Ronnie Bennett working on Ronettes music in L.A. recording studio, 1963.
Spector had a talented group of musicians working with him in the studio – though they were not necessarily well known at the time. These musicians included, for example, Hal Blaine on drums, Leon Russell on piano, Glen Campbell on guitar, and a half-dozen others, all highly regarded. On some productions, Spector would also use any number of background singers, including Salvatore Bono and Cherilyn Sarkisian, before they became famous as the “Sonny & Cher” duo. Spector’s first work with the Ronettes resulted in a song titled, “Why Don’t They Let Us Fall in Love.” But this song was put on the shelf for a time while they tried to come up with something Spector felt was more marketable.
The Ronettes with Phil Spector in L.A. studio, 1963.
By July 1963 the studio work began on “Be My Baby.” Spector wanted to make the recording a showcase for Ronnie Bennett’s voice, but he also developed some stunning musical accompaniment in production, using a variety of instruments. The drum beat is particularly prominent at the opening, and is key throughout, but there are also castanets and maracas mixed in, giving the song an exotic and calypso effect. Strings are included near the end, and in fact, “Be My Baby” was one of the first times Phil Spector used a full orchestra string treatment at the Gold Star studio. And of course, also notable on “Be My Baby” were Ronnie Bennett’s vocals, and her “woh-oh-ohs” that became trademark for this song, and in variation, for other songs that followed. One later listener of Phil Spector’s productions, and an awe-struck discoverer of Ronnie Bennet’s voice, was Michael Enright, who later became a Time magazine correspondent, offering this description of Ronnie Bennett’s voice:
“…Ronnie had a weird natural vibrato – almost a tremolo, really – that modulated her little-girl timbre into something that penetrated the Wall of Sound like a nail gun. It is an uncanny instrument. Sitting on a ragged couch in my railroad flat, I could hear her through all the arguments on the street, the car alarms, the sirens. She floated above the sound of New York while also being a part of it – …stomping her foot on the sidewalk and insisting on being heard.”
Ronnie Bennett, 1967 photo.
Not least among the influences in the making of “Be My Baby,” however, was the chemistry then going on between Spector and Ronnie Bennett. Spector, then already married, had fallen for Ronnie Bennett’s voice from the start, but he soon fell for the whole person as well. “Their courtship provided the raw material and the emotional spark behind many of the Ronettes’ recordings,” according to music writer David Hinckley. Ronnie herself would later say the same thing; that their personal relationship inspired Phil in his writing and arrangement of the Ronettes’ early songs, and especially “Be My Baby.”
In the studio, however, Phil Spector was a hard-charging, no-nonsense producer, putting his singers and musicians through the wringer at times. One report has it that he made the musicians on “Be My Baby” do many dozens of takes before he was satisfied with the result. “According to legend,” says one account, “42 run-throughs took place over the course of four hours before Spector gave [studio engineer Larry] Levine the go-ahead to roll tape on ‘Be My Baby’…,” adding however, that this was “fairly conventional for a man who used the studio as an instrument in itself.” Ronnie Bennett and Spector had spent several weeks in New York rehearsing the song prior to Ronnie’s flying out to L.A.’s Gold Star studio. She was the solo Ronette in the “Be My Baby” vocals session. “Be My Baby” would become a worldwide hit… It would sell more than two million copies in 1963 alone. It then took about three days to record her performance to Spector’s satisfaction. “We didn’t have to work hard to get Ronnie’s performance,” explained studio engineer Larry Levine to writer Richard Buskin in a 2007 Sound on Sound magazine article, “but we had to work hard to satisfy Phil. He’d spend an inordinate amount of time working on each section and playing it back before moving on to the next one, and that was very hard for the singers.” Levine would also add: “I always commiserated [with the singers] because Phil didn’t pay too much attention to them. He treated them as if they were another instrument. I mean, they weren’t ill-treated, they were just ignored.” However, the hard studio work on “Be My Baby” paid off. The July 1963 edition of Billboard music magazine reviewing the song called the Ronettes a top singing group “who handle this dramatic material with flair,” adding that the song’s backing “has a stunning, rolling rock sound that’s bound to make the disc score with the kids.” Indeed it did. “Be My Baby” became a worldwide hit, reaching No. 2 on the U.S. pop chart and No.4 on the R&B chart by mid-October 1963, and No. 4 on the U.K. charts the following month. It would sell over two million copies in 1963 alone. The Ronettes were on their way and were soon being sought out in hot demand to sing and make personal appearances.
Caravan of Stars
Program booklet, Dick Clark’s "Caravan of Stars," 1963.
That November the Ronettes briefly joined Dick Clark of American Bandstand and his “Caravan of Stars” traveling show. Clark was well known as the host of the nationally televised American Bandstand dance show by then, which he had begun hosting regionally from Philadelphia in 1956. But he also began in 1959, a traveling road show of early rock ‘n roll that went to various regions of the country. The music stars of the day piled into a bus with Clark as they moved from one venue to the next. This was in the days before the big rock concerts and stadium productions, and the performers did make much money – maybe $500-$600 a week, or $1,200 to a headliner. Ronnie Bennett would later recall the Ronettes’ travels with Clark on the bus:
“…What people don’t know is that when Dick Clark wasn’t doing American Bandstand, he was on a little dinky bus along with all the other acts, whether it was Little Eva or Frankie Avalon or Bobby Rydell, and it was so much fun. I love Dick Clark – when we went on our first tour with Dick Clark’s Caravan of Stars, he only had a little bunk in the front to lay down in, and he would give me or the other two Ronettes the bunk, and he would let us lay down and he would stand next to the bus driver or with his wife. He didn’t demand anything just because he was the great Dick Clark. You could tell that he wanted everybody to make it. He was a man, and he was rich and he had his own TV show every Saturday – but to actually see this man on a bus, with all the groups, and not letting any of the groups go into hotels when they would give the black groups a hard time. I remember going inside diners and getting hamburgers for a lot of the black guys – I never thought about black or white until I traveled on the Dick Clark tours, and I saw people afraid to go into a restaurant because of the color of their skin and what might happen to them if they did.”
Phil Spector’s 1963 Christmas album, featuring his various artists in songs that have become seasonal favorites.
In November 1963, the Ronettes recorded an album of Christmas music in New York with Phil Spector – A Christmas Gift for You. This album featured songs by the Ronettes, Darlene Love, the Crystals, and Bobby Sox & the Blue Jeans – each group shown on the album cover emerging from Christmas gift boxes. In one of those classic moments of bad timing, the album happend to be released at the time of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, which dampened its reception given the grieving national mood. However, in subsequent years, and to this day, several of the Spector-produced and Ronettes-styled rock-n-roll Christmas songs from this album – including, “Sleigh Ride”, “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” and “Frosty the Snowman” – have become Christmas classics and popular seasonal favorites.
The Ronettes' "Baby, I Love You," 1964.
“Baby, I Love You”
By 1964, Phil Spector was now managing the Ronettes as well as producing their songs and selling their records. “Baby, I Love You” — the Ronettes’ second single and the follow-up to “Be My Baby” – had been recorded in late 1963. Also written by Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich, and Phil Spector, it featured Ronnie and a contingent of musicians including Leon Russell on piano with backing vocals from Darlene Love, Cher, and others.
Music Player “Baby, I Love You”-1964
Some music critics categorize this song as “industrial strength” wall-of-sound, though still masterful, with Ronnie’s voice floating above the thick instrumentation. Spector used extensive over-dubbing on this recording until he had the equivalent of 20-25 voices to compliment and balance out the dense instrumental tracks. “Baby, I Love You” first charted in late December 1963, peaking at No. 24 on the Billboard chart in January 1964 and No. 11 on the U.K. charts in February.
U.K. tour bill, Ronettes & Rolling Stones, January 1964.
By December 1963 and early 1964, with their two singles in the U.K. Top 20, the Ronettes had become quite popular in the U.K. and they began a tour there. On the tour, the Ronettes were the top of the bill, with the Rolling Stones providing their opening act. They were among the first girl groups to produce anything close to hysteria in British audiences. The U.K. press ran headlines like, “Girls Scream at Stones, Boys for Ronettes.” While in the U.K., they also made a much-noticed appearance on the I-TV pop show, Ready, Steady, Go! On the tour, the Ronettes traveled with Rolling Stones in a van as they went to various performances in the U.K. “I remember times when the fog was so thick, we’d have to pull over,” Ronnie would later report. “Keith [Richards] and I would walk up to some stranger’s house to ask for a cup of tea!” Ronnie, in later interviews, would further elaborate on some of their travels:
U.K. poster bill for Ronettes, Rolling Stones & others, January 1964.
“…We were headliners over in London, and … the Rolling Stones, they were our opening act… So that’s how we met them actually. And we all traveled together. They were great guys. And I loved Keith. He loved me. My sister was usually with Mick … and Nedra was with Brian, you know. But we all were together… Like, having dinner together and eating. There was not a lot of sex and all that kind of stuff going on with us. I think that came later on with the [Stones'] groupies and all that. But with us, there was none of that… unfortunately (laughs). My mother toured with us everywhere, so I didn’t get really a chance to do anything, but I didn’t want to then…”
Back in the States, as well, the Ronettes always traveled with at least one family member. According to one report, when they were playing a two-week date in Wildwood, New Jersey, they were asked to stay over an additional week. And when that suggestion became a more forcible proposition, one of the Ronettes’ aunts, along as chaperone, called back home to a contingent of several burley uncles to come to the rescue and get the girls home.
1960s photo of Ronettes & Beatles who appear to be, from left: John Lennon, Estelle Bennett, George Harrison & Nedra Talley.
But during their trip to the U.K, the Ronettes were also introduced to The Beatles, and had spent some personal time with them during the tour. There was at least one night of dancing with John, George and Ringo, as Ronnie later recalled, noting that Paul McCartney was then involved with Jane Asher. Estelle and George Harrison had paired off in the dancing, as Ronnie rememberd that evening, while she spent some time with John Lennon. The Ronettes, in fact, having befriended the Beatles on their first tour of Britain, were on hand February 8, 1964 to welcome the Beatles in New York as they arrived for their first U.S. visit and their Ed Sullivan Show appearance. As for the Rolling Stones, on a subsequent visit they made to New York in the 1960s, Ronnie’s mother would end up cooking for them at her home.
More Hit Songs
1964 Ronettes’ singles, “Be My Baby” and “Do I Love You” on the Phil Spector Int’l label, 7" Belgium issue.
In April 1964, the Ronettes and Phil Spector, released another single — “The Best Part of Breaking Up.” It rose to No. 39 on the U.S. charts and to No. 43 in the U.K. However, with the next recording, Spector returned to the more high-powered sound he had fashioned in the first two Ronettes’ hits.
Music Player “Do I Love You”-1964
In the summer of 1964, “Do I Love You,” a joint composition by Spector and writers Vinnie Poncia and Pete Androli, was recorded by the Ronettes. The song’s production is especially noted for its powerful introduction. And despite reaching only No. 34 and No. 35, respectively in the U.S. and U.K., “Do I Love You” is regarded by many critics as one of Spector and the Ronettes’ best recordings. The song opens with finger snapping and hand clapping, with Ronnie singing her “oh-oh’s,” backed by a lush chorus and full instrumentation.
A radio-DJ copy of a Ronnie Bennett song on Phil Spector’s label in 1964.
During 1964, Spector was also doing some test-marketing of Ronnie Bennett as a solo act – using the name “Veronica” and issuing two singles of her music on the “Phil Spector” record label. One of the songs was a cover of an earlier ballad, “I’m So Young,” and the other, a Jeff Barry / Ellie Greenwich / Phil Spector song titled, “Why Don’t They Let Us Fall in Love.” Each of these was also backed by the other two Ronettes. A sample DJ-only copy of the latter song appears at left. However, these songs were only on the market very briefly, pulled back almost immediately after release. Spector, meanwhile, was also getting some attention in the media, as one article by writer Tom Wolfe in 1964 described him as “the first tycoon of teen.” Spector by this time was already a millionaire.
A London-label EP with four Ronettes’ songs, including “Walking in the Rain.”
“…In The Rain”
In November 1964, Spector and the Ronettes released their fifth single, a dramatic ballad titled, “Walking in the Rain.” This song was written by Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil, and Phil Spector, with Ronnie’s vocals done in one studio take. The song opens with the sound of a recorded thunder storm and continues with the sound of rain throughout, an effect that was unique for its time.
Music Player “Walking in the Rain”-1964
“Walking in the Rain” rose to No. 23 on the Billboard pop charts and later won a Grammy for its innovative use of the ‘rain’ sound effects. Ronnie would also mark this song as a personal favorite. “It was my favorite,” she said in a 2009 interview, “because it was the first song that I sang in a slow [way] … so people could really hear my voice.” In another interview, she also stated “it was a more mature emotional recording than my previous records. I really felt I was developing as an artist after recording it, plus I did the vocal in just one take.”
Ronettes' album of 1964 featuring mostly their hit singles.
In 1964, an album of the Ronettes songs, mostly incorporating their singles to date, was released under the title, Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes Featuring Veronica. This was still the era when the 45 rpm single was the dominant form of pop music marketing rather than the album. This Ronettes album, however, charted at No. 96 on the Billboard album chart, not an exceptional showing. The album, in some ways, marked the end of what some have called the “golden period” for Spector and the Ronettes – running for about 16 months between September 1963 through December 1964 — when the Ronettes placed five singles in the Top 40. By this time as well, the British invasion was coming into full force – in fact, through most of 1964 – as the Beatles and other U.K. artists began capturing the pop charts with a new sound.
The young Ronettes -- minus the beehive hairdos -- performing sometime in the 1960s.
In 1965, the Ronettes continued to record and tour, also making some appearances on television, including a CBS special and also on the NBC pop music show, Hullabaloo, April 27, 1965. However by this time, Phil Spector was also working with other artists. The 1965 song “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” produced and co-written by Spector for The Righteous Brothers, became a big No. 1 hit. And by early 1966, he was also working with Tina Turner. That year Spector produced the Ike & Tina Turner song “River Deep-Mountain High,” which he regarded as one of his best productions. The Ronettes by this time were being moved more or less to the back burner by Spector, with some of their productions, such as “I Wish I Never Saw the Sunshine,” held back from release.
Ronnie Bennett and Phil Spector, meanwhile, were pretty much a couple by this time. Spector was also still the manager of the Ronettes. However, in 1966, he began to control the career of his wife-to-be by limiting her outings and performances. During the summer of 1966, on the Beatles’s last U.S. tour during the month of August, the Beatles had specifically requested the Ronettes as their opening act. But Spector would not allow Ronnie to go on the tour, and replaced her with one of her cousins.
“I Can Hear Music,” by the Ronettes, September 1966, their last single on the Philles label, which was then shut down.
Back in the studio, Jeff Barry produced the last Ronettes single for the Philles label, “I Can Hear Music,” released in September 1966. There were also reports that Spector had vacillated about how much to promote the Ronettes, having released some earlier Ronettes-recorded songs such as “Chapel of Love” to other groups (Dixie Cups, No. 1), and not putting as much marketing muscle behind the Ronettes’ songs “Walking in the Rain,” “Is This What I Get For Loving You?”(1965, No. 75) and “I Can Hear Music”(No. 100), each of which charted higher as cover versions for other 1960s’ artists. In 1966, Spector also recorded two Ronettes songs co-written by Harry Nilsson, “Paradise” and “Here I Sit,” but sat on the tapes for decades. And by September 1966, Spector had suffered a major disappointment when Tina Turner’s “River Deep-Mountain High” – a produc- tion he regarded as one of his best – fared poorly on the U.S. music charts at No. 88, though rising to No. 3 in the U.K. That’s about when the Philles label was formally shut down and the Ronettes would disband. Also in the mid-60s, Nedra Talley married New York radio station programming director Scott Ross, while Estelle Bennett married road manager Joe Dong.
Ronnie & Phil
Ronnie Spector as she appeared on the covers of some 1971 Apple label recordings.
In 1968, Phil Spector left his wife to marry Ronnie Bennett. The two lived together in Spector’s 23-room Los Angeles mansion. During the marriage, Ronnie would complain that Phil was neglecting her career, as she had ambitions for a solo act. She noted in a later interview: “…I was naïve and vulnerable. I was a girl from Spanish Harlem – he thought he could take advantage, and he did. And I was vulnerable, ’cause I loved to sing…” She would say to him, “you know I love singing, so why aren’t I doing shows?” And he would respond, ‘Don’t worry, you’ll have another hit.” This kind of thing went on for years, according to Ronnie.
During their marriage years, however, there would be two singles produced featuring Ronnie. In 1969, “You Came, You Saw, You Conquered” was released as a Ronettes song, “featuring the voice of Veronica.” In 1971, “Try Some, Buy Some,” another single by Ronnie Spector, was released on the Apple record label. Phil Spector had begun working with the Beatles in London in 1969, helping produce their Let It Be album, but it appears at least some of the Beatles played a role in helping Ronnie get “Try Some Buy Some.” In 1971, Beatle George Harrison wrote and co-produced this song with Phil Spector for Ronnie on the Apple label. The song also has the distinction of having all four Beatles playing on the track.
Back in the States, meanwhile, Phil Spector’s behavior toward Ronnie in their marriage grew increasingly erratic and controlling. Ronnie wanted to continue her singing, but Spector refused to book recording sessions for her. Beyond that, he wouldn’t allow her to leave the house without his permission. He became psychologically abusive, allegedly threatening to kill her, monitoring her phone calls, and forbidding her to read books or see friends. In the marriage, Phil Spector’s behavior toward Ronnie grew increasingly erratic and controlling. Spector reportedly carried a gun on occasion during this time as well. The couple separated in 1973 and divorced in 1974. However, Ronnie had developed a serious drinking problem that interfered with her attempts to relaunch her career. Still, through the 1970s – using Ronnie Spector as her recording name – she did some occasional solo recording, tried reforming a Ronettes group with two new singers for a time, and did some backup-singing for Bruce Springsteen. In 1977 she recorded a cover version of a Billy Joel song, “Say Goodbye To Hollywood.” In 1980, a solo album Siren was produced and she also cut some tracks with the E-Street Band, including “Say Goodbye to Hollywood” (see image, later below). In 1986 she had a No. 4 hit duet with Eddie Money, “Take Me Home Tonight,” in which she incorporated the chorus line from 1963′s “Be My Baby.” She and Money also had an MTV music video for the song, and they performed it on American Bandstand and at the American Music Awards. In 1987, another solo album, Unfinished Business, was issued. But neither it nor her earlier album, Siren, had charted.
“Dirty Dancing’s” soundtrack album, with “Be My Baby,” spent 18 weeks at #1on the Billboard charts; sold 42 million copies.
In 1986 a very popular film named Dirty Dancing starring Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey had come out using 1960s’ music in its soundtrack. The Ronettes’ “Be My Baby” was featured in the film’s opening and the song enjoyed some renewed market life as a result. In fact, the Dirty Dancing album spent 18 weeks at No.1 on the Billboard album chart, sold 42 million copies worldwide, and became one of the best-selling albums of all time. But none of the money from these sales came to the Ronettes. This and other developments – including use of Ronettes’ songs on numerous 1960s compilation albums, videocassettes, films, TV shows, and advertising – raised issues about the Ronettes’ song rights, licensing fees, and past royalties never paid. In 1987, the Ronettes filed a lawsuit against Phil Spector over these issues, but the case bogged down in red tape and legal maneuvering for nearly a decade before coming to trial. More on this case in a moment.
Hardback edition of Ronnie Spector’s 1990 book, “Be My Baby,” Harmony Books.
In September 1990, Ronnie Spector published a book about her life as a Ronette and her marriage with Phil Spector. It was written with Vince Waldron and titled, Be My Baby: How I Survived Mascara, Miniskirts, and Madness. Cher wrote a forward to the book and Billy Joel did the introduction. The book drew praise from a number of reviewers and it became a modest best-seller. “An insider’s look at the madness and glamour of an explosive period in rock…,” wrote Publisher’s Weekly. Jon Wilde of London’s Blitz Magazine called it “One of the three greatest rock ‘n roll memoirs…” Some critics compared it to Mary Wilson’s Dreamgirl: My Life As A Supreme and Tina Turner’s I, Tina – books that also told stories of singers overcoming adversity.
Alan Light for Rolling Stone described Ronnie Spector’s book as “an entertaining, often disturbing autobiography…” And the San Francisco Chronicle described it as “an unflinching look at a dream that turned into a nightmare.” A subsequent paperback edition followed, and more than a decade later, Onyx Books republished the book in a revised and updated version released in 2004.
Vanity Fair writer Dominick Dunne, who had occasion to read the book some years later in 2007 wrote: “…I couldn’t put the book down…. Ronnie was an absolute prisoner in her own mansion, surrounded by staff. She had nothing to do all day but drink, and drink she did. Phil had lost interest in her career. He told her not to talk to the servants…. Ronnie and Phil’s marriage was one of day-to-day madness, from which she ultimately escaped in bare feet. She ran down the hill to Sunset Boulevard and caught a taxi out of his life forever.” Ronnie, years after her flight from Phil, eventually remarried and had two sons with new husband, Jonathan Greenfield, living with their family in Connecticut. But the old battles with Phil Spector continued to wend their way through the courts.
Ronnie & The Clintons 1997
In June 1997, Ronnie Spector was one on several artists – including Chuck Berry, Lyle Lovett, Michael Bolton, and Eartha Kitt – who performed at the G-8 Summit, the gathering of leaders from the world’s eight most powerful nations then being held in Denver, Colorado. “And after the show was over,” Ronnie later explained to Chuck Miller at GoldMine magazine, “the Secret Service came up to me, and I hear the guy on the speaker phone saying, ‘The President would like to see Ronnie Spector, please.’ And so you hear my name all over the place, saying, ‘The President would like to see Ronnie Spector.’” Shortly thereafter, Ronnie was escorted to the President’s chambers, where Bill and Hillary Clinton greeted her, a visit which she imparted as follows:
In 1997, Ronnie Spector autographed a copy of an early Ronettes’ 1960s Colpix album for President Bill Clinton at his request. (Actual signed album may vary from the version shown).
So when I walked in there, he just opened his arms and gave me the biggest grin and he started singing ‘Be My Baby’ to me. And it was so amazing… I don’t care what anybody says, I love President Clinton so much, he was the nicest guy I ever met. That’s why I hated that thing with Monica Lewinsky….”
“But with me, he was so nice, he hugged me and he was so happy. And he was a little flirtatious, but in a nice way. Nothing at all dirty or sexual, he was so nice. Later on, I did a show in front of the Washington Monument, and he sent his security guards over to give me a copy of one of my albums, for me to sign for the President. It was the most amazing thing. And after I signed it, when I got home, I had a letter from him. And I have it framed in my living room, saying ‘Thanks Ronnie, I love your voice, I love your records, thanks, Bill Clinton.’ With the President’s seal and stuff. And the album I autographed for him was the Colpix album – the one before I did before ‘Be My Baby.’ Which was so weird to me – I thought I was the only one that bought that album.”
By 1998, the Ronettes’ now decade-old lawsuit against Phil Spector – legally titled, Greenfield v. Philles Records, Inc. – had made its way to trial in New York. The Ronettes’ had sued Spector for unpaid royalties since 1964, and for unpaid income made from his licensing of Ronettes’ music in movies, television, advertising, compilation albums, reissues, and other uses. The Ronettes were seeking $10 million in damages for breach of contract as well as former and future earnings from their original recordings.
Cover of 1991 “Phil Spector: Back to Mono” CD boxed set of four discs from ABKCO, which included seven of the Ronettes’ songs.
The Ronettes charged that they had received only one royalty payment from Spector in 1964, for $14,482.30. And beginning in the 1970s, portions of the Ronettes’ songs began showing up in movies, TV shows, and TV advertising. Among these uses, for example, were films such as Mean Streets (October 1973) and Dirty Dancing (August 1987);episodes of the 1980s TV show Moonlighting; and TV ads for American Express, Levis, and other companies. Phil Spector, as holder of the legal rights to Ronettes’ songs under his original 1963 contract with them, could arrange for and license such uses at will. And he did so regularly, in all of the cases mentioned above and more, making millions in the process. By the late 1980s and into the 1990s, Spector was reportedly taking in more than $1 million a year in licensing fees from his Ronettes’ and other songs. The Ronettes, in their lawsuit, claimed Spector wasn’t authorized by the 1963 contract to use their music in these various venues.
As the trial proceeded in June of 1998, each side presented its arguments. “Phil Spector was a boy genius in music, producing, assembling, marketing girl groups,” said the Ronettes’ attorney, Alexander Peltz, “but he was also a genius in greed, vengeance and spite.” “He’s totally cheated us for 35 years.” - Nedra Talley Ross on Phil
Spector, 1998. Peltz said the Ronettes’ efforts to recoup earnings from Spector had been fruitless. Spector, for his part, said the Ronettes owed him money for production costs. Taking the stand at the trial, Spector said that the cost of recording the 28 songs made by the Ronettes far exceeded his income, and the group actually owed him money. “Philles Records is still owed a considerable amount of money by the Ronettes,” he contended. The Ronettes, of course, saw this quite differently. ”He’s totally cheated us for 35 years,” said former Ronette, Nedra Talley Ross at the time of the trial, then 52 years old and owner of restaurant and an importing business in Virginia.
In court, Spector’s attorney, Andrew Bart, also stated that Ronnie Spector had signed away her portion of the group’s earnings in her 1974 divorce settlement. Ronnie Spector had indeed signed the 1974 divorce settlement that included a clause forfeiting all future record profits. However, in her court appearance she said the settlement with Spector was made under duress. Phil Spector, she explained, held her as a virtual prisoner when they lived together at his estate. Ronnie stated in court that she feared for her life, explaining that Phil had threatened her with guns and hit men. He would confiscate her shoes to keep her from leaving the estate. In fact, she had fled Spector’s estate barefoot around the time of her divorce “so as not to arouse Phil’s suspicions.” She also stated in court that she was “fearful for my life,” explaining that Phil Spector had threatened her with guns and hit men. He once threatened to have her killed unless she gave up custody of their children. “‘I’m going to kill you,’” Ronnie said, quoting her ex-husband on a telephone call he made to her. “‘I’m going to have a hit man kill you if you don’t drop all these charges.’” When the two were married, they had adopted three boys – an infant son and two six-year-old twins. But in the divorce, Ronnie gave up the children. Phil Spector, for his part, denied that he kept his wife as an involuntary prisoner and he rejected the hit man allegations, saying ”I’ve heard them over the last 20 years.” And as for back royalties due the Ronettes, Spector said he would concede to owing, at most, $350,000 in unpaid royalties.
In June 2000, the court’s ruling came down from Justice Paula Omansky of State Supreme Court in Manhattan. Omansky, while noting that Spector’s contributions to the Ronettes’ success could not be underestimated, for he was the composer of their songs and creator of the sound that made their recordings famous. The Ronettes’ lawsuit also sought ownership of the 28 master recordings of the songs they made with Spector in the 1960s. Still, she found that Spector had underpaid the Ronettes based on his 1963 contract with them. She also found that Spector, as the rights holder of all Ronettes recordings, had made millions of dollars from them in ways not authorized by the 1963 contract. She said the contract covered only royalties on sales of phonograph records, but that Spector had sold the recordings for use as background music in movies and advertising, and had licensed without authority the group’s master recordings to third parties — for “oldies” compilations, video- cassette recordings, and the like. The Ronettes’ lawsuit also sought ownership of the master recordings of the 28 songs they made with Spector from 1963 to 1967. But Judge Omansky denied this request, writing in her decision that “rescinding the 1963 recording contract and taking ownership of the masters away from Spector is not warranted.” She did rule that the Ronettes were entitled to $2.6 million in royalties plus interest.
Although Ronnie Spector recorded songs in her solo career, she noted during the1998 royalties trial that Phil Spector’s restrictions on her performing Ronettes’ songs had hurt her career.
After the ruling, Ronnie Spector commented she was generally pleased. “I worked very, very hard making those records in the ’60s,” she said. “I just didn’t know I’d have to wait 37 years to get paid for my efforts.” Still, she felt the damage done to her career by Phil Spector’s control over the song rights and restrictions on her had been substantial, including not being able to perform her songs on TV. Phil Spector, meanwhile, appealed the court’s ruling.
The case by this time had attracted outside interest – with the Recording Industry Association of America, a trade group, joining Spector’s side and urging the court to uphold his ownership claim in the 1963 contract as absolute. Joining the Ronettes in a friend of the court brief was the Recording Artists Coalition, a nonprofit group formed to help artists gain their legal rights. In November 2001, Spector’s appeal was denied, as the court upheld the lower court’s verdict and the $2.6 million award. Spector then appealed that ruling as well, taking the case to the New York State Supreme Court. This time, Phil Spector won.
In October 2002, a five-judge panel of the state Court of Appeals said it found the Ronettes’ plight sympathetic – i.e., earning less than $15,000 from their 1960s’ songs that topped the charts and made them famous. Still, these judges found the 1963 contract with Spector to be the governing authority giving him unconditional rights to the recordings, including future uses of those rights for whatever purpose. In the end, Phil Spector won. The 1963 contract he made with three young teenage girls prevailed, giving him full control over all rights and future uses of the Ronettes’ songs. ”[T]he unconditional transfer of ownership rights to a work of art includes the right to use the work in any manner…,” said the ruling, “unless those rights are specifically limited by the terms of the contract.” This is what the Ronettes had given Phil Spector and Philles Inc. when they were teenagers back in 1963. It didn’t matter, for example, that the subsequent and various uses of music in film, advertising, video, etc. weren’t common in the 1960s, or even known about or invented in some cases. Since nothing was said in the contract about such “future rights and uses,” and lacking some stipulation that the Ronettes should receive a specified share of those rights, the Ronettes received, and will continue to receive, nothing from those uses. Phil Spector got those as well. On top of this, the judges in this final appeal also reversed the lower court’s ruling that the Ronettes were entitled to the music industry’s standard 50 percent royalty rate on sales of records, tapes, and compact discs. Again, the court reverted to the 1963 contract and the specified royalty rate of an average of 3 to 4 percent. Thus, the $3 million award first given the Ronettes from the lower court was substantially reduced. After lawyers’ fees, each of the Ronettes took home something around $100,000, and perhaps a bit more.
Hall of Fame
The Ronettes performing in the mid-1960s, from left: Estelle, Ronnie, and Nedra.
Another outgrowth of the split between Phil and Ronnie Spector, in addition to the battle over royalties and song rights, was Phil Spector’s alleged blocking of the Ronettes from entering the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. First established in the mid-1980s, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducts a small number of artists and other influential music industry players into the Hall each year. The first group was inducted in January 1986 and included Little Richard, Elvis Presley, Fats Domino, Ray Charles, Chuck Berry, Sam Cooke, The Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, and Jerry Lee Lewis. Currently, groups or individuals are qualified for induction 25 years after the release of their first record. Phil Spector, for his music production talents, was inducted in 1989, and he also became a member of the Board of Governors. However, Spector was reported to have deliberately prevented The Ronettes and Darlene Love from being nominated for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Both Love and the Ronettes had been eligible for nomination for a considerable period. And both Love and the Ronettes had sued Spector for back pay and royalties.
In any case, Phil Spector soon had much bigger problems. In 2003 he was arrested for the shooting death of actress Lana Clarkson at his California estate, leading to a second degree murder charge. After a 2007 mistrial, he was convicted in 2009, and was given a prison sentence of 19 years to life, which he is currently serving.
The Ronettes, meanwhile, were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on March 12, 2007 at the 22nd annual induction dinner. Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones was their presenter. Among those present at the ceremony was Nedra Talley Ross’ mother, Susan, who was one of those family members who had worked hard for the Ronettes in their early days, banging on doors to help get the group noticed.
In February 2009, Estelle Bennett was found dead in her apartment. She reportedly died from colon cancer. She was 67 years old. Bennett was found by Kevin Dilworth, a friend and former Newark, New Jersey Star-Ledger newspaper reporter. “I think she really just died of a broken heart,” said Dilworth in one interview following her death. “After [the Ronettes] disbanded in 1966, I don’t think she was ever right again…” Dillworth added that the only time he really saw her come to life was at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame of March 2007: “When they came out of the main ceremony… when she walked down the hallway, and the paparazzi … all the flashing cameras, and the people asking for autographs … her eyes just lit up. She was so excited, and she was back on top of the world again. But she went right back to anonymity.” Former Ronette and cousin Nedra Talley Ross, reported that Estelle had led a hard life, struggling with schizophrenia and anorexia.
Estelle Bennett in happier times, 1963 L.A. studio.
Estelle was the quieter of the two Bennett sisters, Ronnie being more the extrovert. When they were in school, Estelle did her homework and kept up with her grades. Ronnie chose to focus on her singing. Estelle was also quite into fashion in her younger days, always reading Glamour, Vogue, or some other fashion magazines. Estelle was valedictorian at her George Washington High School graduation in Manhattan. She eventually studied at Manhattan’s Fashion Institute of Technology. But Estelle also loved her role in The Ronettes and the success the group enjoyed in the 1960s. During those years, Estelle also had her share of male suitors. As cousin Nedra Talley Ross recalled: “She was not pretentious at all, but she carried herself with a sophistication that a lot of guys thought was really sexy. And she had a very, very good heart.” Among those Estelle had dated were Mick Jagger, George Harrison, Johnny Mathis, and George Hamilton.
But when the success of the Ronettes came to an end, Estelle took it hard. Her cousin, Nedra said that “Estelle did not want the Ronettes to end.” After the group broke up in 1966, and after Ronnie married Phil Spector 1968, Estelle seemed to lose her moorings. In the mid-1960s, Estelle had married as well, to road manager Joe Dong. And she tried a bit of a solo career for a time, but it never took off. Thereafter she left music and her life began sliding into another world. At one point, Estelle Bennett was hospitalized with anorexia. Not long thereafter her grip on reality began to loosen considerably. In recent years, according to her 37 year-old daughter, Toyin Hunter, Estelle sometimes wandered the streets of New York, telling people she would be performing with the Ronettes at a particular nightclub. Hunter explained she had never really known who her mother was. “From the time I was born she suffered with mental illness,” Hunter said, “I never really got to know Estelle in a good mental state.”
The young Ronettes in the 1960s – from left, Ronnie, Estelle & Nedra.
During the legal fight with Spector, fellow 1960s singer Darlene Love was called as a witness, and one day at court she saw Estelle. “She didn’t remember me,” Love said. Estelle Bennett had been homeless for a time as well. Love also recalled seeing Estelle at the Ronettes Hall of Fame induction ceremony in 2007. “They cleaned her up and made her look as well as possible…She looked the best she could for somebody who lived on the street. It broke my heart.” But all agreed that in her prime and growing up, Estelle had been a force in creating the Ronettes’ style and act – and that she had a heart of gold. “Not a bad bone in her body,” said her sister Ronnie in a press statement. “Just kindness.”
“Estelle had such an extraordinary life,” said her cousin, Nedra. “To have the fame, and all that she had at an early age, and for it all to come to an end abruptly. Not everybody can let that go and then go on with life.”
The Ronettes’ Legacy
“Best of the Ronettes” CD issued on the ABKCO label, September 1992.
The Ronettes’ music lives on to this day as part of the special sound that came out of the early 1960s’ music scene. It was a productive time for new music of all kinds then, and the Spector-Ronettes sound still resonates today, being discovered by new generations of listeners and revered as well by any number of musicians and producers who acknowledge its influence. “I was a big Phil Spector fan when I was in high school,” said singer Bob Seeger in a 2007 interview. “I was a junior in high school in 1962, so it was “Be My Baby” by the Ronettes,” he said. “All those Spector [songs] with the big drums and the big productions. I love the way Ronnie sang too. ” Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen have both cited the Ronettes and Ronnie Bennett as an influence.
Ronettes’ songs have been covered by numerous groups. “Be My Baby” alone has been covered by at least a dozen or more artists, including Andy Kim, who had a 1970 chart hit with it. The song has also been covered by: John Lennon, The Lightning Seeds, the Bay City Rollers, Blue Öyster Cult, We Are Scientists, Psyched Up Janis, Maroon 5, Glasvegas, Ivy, Linda Ronstadt, Whigfield, Ultima Thule, Jason Donovan, Travis and Remi Nicole. The song’s opening drum beat has also been appropriated by a number of artists. “Baby, I Love You” has been covered by Cher, The Ramones, Linda Ronstadt, Nicky Onidis and Bad Boys Blue, among others. In 1969, an Andy Kim cover of this song became a Top Ten Billboard hit and earned gold record status. In 1973 in the U.K., Dave Edmunds released a version that rose to No. 8 on the U.K. singles chart. And Phil Spector produced a 1980 Ramones’ version which also rose to No. 8 on the U.K. charts. “Baby I Love You” is also on the soundtrack of the 1995 Hugh Grant-Julianne Moore film Nine Months.
Of the three Ronettes, only Ronnie continued to perform after the group broke up in the 1960s. And there is more detail on Ronnie’s career at her website and elsewhere on the web, as well as her biography mentioned above, available through Amazon.com below and other outlets on the web.
The Beatles in a session with Ed Sullivan prior to their February 9th, 1964 show. From left: Paul McCartney, Ed Sullivan, George Harrison, John Lennon, and behind & above, Ringo Starr.
The Beatles became a sensation in the U.K. in 1962-63, about a year or more before anyone in the U. S. knew much about them. However, before that, the Beatles had honed their craft playing in nightclubs and other gigs dating to the late 1950s. Known by earlier names such as The Quarrymen, Johnny & the Moon- dogs, and the Silver Beatles, they played a variety of venues, with some alternating personnel during those early years. In Hamburg, Germany, and Liverpool, Eng- land, from about 1960 on, they worked hard and steadily in nightclubs, putting in long hours, improving their stage act, increasing their range of music, and writing their own songs. They were a cover band as well, as most English rock bands then were. They offered their own versions of Buddy Holly, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Carl Perkins, Larry Williams, and others. By late 1961, they were playing to packed houses at the Cavern nightclub in Liverpool, England where they were discovered by their manager-to-be Brian Epstein in November 1961. Epstein did a wardrobe and style make-over on them, cleaning them up for the music industry. By May 1962, after being rejected by a number of U.K. record labels, they signed a deal with EMI, then the U.K.’s leading music company.
Music Player “Please Please Me,”1963-64
During 1962, their songs began hitting the British Melody Maker music chart and others. “Love Me Do,” a Lennon/McCartney compo- sition, reached No. 21 in the fall that year, and their first No. 1 hit came with “Please, Please Me” on February 22, 1963. At about this point, what came to be known as “Beatlemania” began to take hold in the U.K. Their first U.K. album was titled Please Please Me, released in April of 1963. Within four weeks it would be the No.1 U.K. album, remaining in that position for 30 weeks, followed by their second U.K. album, With the Beatles. From then on, there came a string of No. 1 Beatles’ hits and No. 1 albums until the group broke up in 1969-1970.
The Beatles as photographed upon their arrival at JFK Airport in New York, February 7, 1964, from top left: John, Paul, George & Ringo.
In the American music industry, however, there was an initial hesitancy about the Beatles, as some record executives and DJs, especially in 1963, didn’t think that British acts generally would do well in America. That perspective would soon change.
What follows below is a timeline marking the rise of Beatles’ music and appearances in the U.S. during 1963 and 1964, along with a few photos, anecdotes, and sidebar stories. It is not a complete and comprehensive treatment of the Beatles’ activities during these years, nor is it meant to be. There are entire books and websites devoted to that topic, some of which are noted in “Sources & Additional Information” at the end of this article. What is offered here, hopefully, is a representative sampling of activity in those first two “Beatles-in-America” years, mixing in music history, business developments, and news-of-the-times – plus one or two stories that may be new to many readers.
January 1963 George Martin of EMI in London sends a copy of “Please Please Me” to U.S. subsidiary Capitol Records, urging executives there to distribute Beatles’ songs in the U.S. They decline, saying: “We don’t think the Beatles will do anything in this market.” Lesser known labels then begin picking up Beatles’1963 songs for U.S. release.
Vee-Jay single of Beatles’ “Please Please Me,” in Feb 1963, distinguished by ‘Beattles’ misspelling, later corrected.
25 Jan 1963 Vee-Jay record label of Chicago obtains a contract to release limited number of Beatles records in the U.S. for a limited time period.
25 Feb 1963 “Please Please Me”/ “Ask Me Why” released as single on Vee-Jay label. The song is played on Chicago’s WLS radio station where it reaches No. 35 on WLS music survey in March, but does not chart nationally; not on Billboard.
27 May 1963 “From Me To You” / “Thank You Girl” released as a single by Vee-Jay, but is barely visible; No. 116 on August Billboard chart, drops off thereafter.
Record sleeve for ‘She Loves You’ / 'I’ll Get You’ single issued by Swan Records in Sept. 1963, which went ‘virtually unnoticed.’
16 Sept 1963 “She Loves You” / “I’ll Get You” released in U.S. by Swan Records, a Philadelphia label, but does not chart on Billboard.
31 Oct 1963 American TV variety show host, Ed Sullivan, traveling to London, has his arrival delayed at London Heathrow Airport by a screaming crowd of teens welcoming the Beatles home from a tour of Sweden. Sullivan has his first thoughts of booking these rising British music stars with strange haircuts – perhaps as novelty act.
11-12 Nov 1963 Beatles manager Brian Epstein travels to New York and persuades Ed Sullivan to book the Beatles for an unprecedented three consecutive appearances on Sullivan’s much-watched Sunday eveningvariety show – February 9th, 16th and 23rd, 1964. CBS-TV gets one year’s exclusive rights to the Beatles’ U.S. television appearances.
Brian Epstein, who discovered the Beatles and became their manager, also negotiated early business deals and arranged for publicity.
15 Nov 1963 Time magazine take notice of the “Beatlemania” craze sweeping England and the Beatles’ command performance for British royalty in London.
16 Nov1963 CBS News bureau London – at the suggestion of Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein – sends a news crew to the British seaside resort of Bournemouth where they film a Beatles concert, thousands of screaming fans, and a few Beatles’ comments on camera. This film clip is later sent to New York.
Mid-late Nov 1963 Brian Epstein phones Capitol Records president Alan Livingston over label’s refusal to distribute Beatles songs in America. Epstein urges Livingston to listen to the U.K. single, “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” while mentioning the Beatles’ upcoming 1964 Ed Sullivan Show appearances as a big opportunity for Capitol. Livingston later agrees to spend $40,000 for Beatles promotion, equal to about $250,000 in today’s money.
Beatles’ ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand' song that Brian Epstein urged Capitol Records Alan Livingston to listen to, Nov 1963.
18 Nov 1963 NBC’s evening news program, The Huntley-Brinkley Report, airs a four-minute segment on the Beatles.
22 Nov 1963 U.K. album, With The Beatles, is released in the U.K., rising to No. 1 on the British album charts and remaining there for 21 weeks. With The Beatles becomes the Beatles’ first million-selling album in Britain, and the second album of any kind in Britain to sell one million copies, the first being the South Pacific soundtrack.
22 Nov 1963
The “CBS Morning News With Mike Wallace” runs a story on the Beatles for the network’s morning news show. CBS planned to repeat the segment that evening on Walter Cronkite’s newscast. However, that day, in mid afternoon, Walter Cronkite was breaking the tragic news to a shocked nation that their President, John F. Kennedy, had been shot and killed while visiting Dallas, Texas.
29 Nov 1963 The Beatles’ single “I Want To Hold Your Hand” is released in the U.K. and immediately hits No. 1 on the British pop charts.
“Dick Clark & The Beatles” Aug-Dec 1963
Dick Clark, of 'American Bandstand' fame, was a partner for a time in Swan Records.
Swan Records was a Philadelphia, PA record label founded in 1957 by Bernie Binnick, Tony Mamma- rella, and Dick Clark. Clark was then host of American Bandstand, a popular dance and pop music TV show. Binnick, an accountant, had worked with Clark on earlier music projects, and Marmmarella was a producer at Bandstand. Initially, Clark held 50 percent of Swan Records, with Binnick and Mammarella each holding a 25 percent share. After the 1959-60 payola scandal that had implicated music DJs in “play-for-pay” music deals, Dick Clark – though never found guilty of any wrong-doing – divested his music holdings, including Swan, which he sold to Binnick and Mammarella. By 1963, Clark was still at American Bandstand, and very much a recognized leader in the business of rock ‘n roll music.
The Beatles in England by this time were already a sensation, with hit after hit, setting music sales records. On August 23, 1963, the Beatles released the song “She Loves You” in the U.K. on EMI’s Parlophone record label. “She Loves You” hit No. 1 in the U.K. on August 29, 1963. However, in the U.S., Capitol Records, a subsidiary of EMI, declined to issue “She Loves You” in America. They had also not issued other Beatles’ U.K hits – “Love Me Do”, “Please Please Me” and “From Me To You.” That left the door open to other smaller companies to obtain the U.S. distribution rights for Beatles’ songs.
Swan Records released the Beatles’ ‘She Loves You’ in Sept 1963, but it went nowhere. Re-issued in early 1964 after Beatles’ music soared, it hit No. 1 in March.
According to John Jackson’s excellent book, American Bandstand: Dick Clark and the Making of a Rock ‘n Roll Empire, Bernie Binnick acquired the American rights for “She Loves You” for his Swan Record label while on vacation in England in the summer of 1963. When he returned, he pressed his old friend Dick Clark about the song, obviously hoping for some American Bandstand attention. “What do you think?” he reportedly asked Clark, who replied that the song sounded like “Buddy Holly and the Crickets and Chuck Berry and a lot of other early American songs sort of mixed together.” Clark was not reassuring, though Binnick tried to interest Clark in the new group’s novel look. But after glancing at a picture of the Beatles, Clark noticed their long hair and reportedly told Binnick, “you’re absolutely insane….It’ll never fly.”
Still, Binnick’s Swan label released “She Loves You” to the American market in mid-September 1963. But nothing happened. Clark, meanwhile, appears to have given the record a review on American Bandstand’s “rate-a-record” segment – probably in the Oct-Nov period. Bandstand’s “rate-a-record” consisted of a selected group of teenagers reviewing several new records that were played, then rated on a numeric scale by the teens who were interviewed by Clark. “She Loves You” reportedly did poorly on the rate-a-record segment, earning a seventy-one out of a possible ninety-eight points – not an impressive showing. According to another account, Clark would later explain that the Beatles’ disc rated “just fair.” He also added, ”then I pulled a picture of the group out, and the audience just giggled. I figured these guys were going nowhere.” But as Clark would later acknowledge, “We all found out the truth soon enough.”
New songs were rated by teens on Bandstand, who reportedly gave the Beatles’ ‘She Loves You’ a poor rating in 1963.
Binnick, meanwhile, had a pile of newly pressed Swan recordings of “She Loves You” going nowhere. Then in late 1963 he got a telephone call from Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein, who was then in New York arranging an American television appearance for the Beatles. Epstein wanted to know how “She Loves You” was doing in America. Binnick replied that the record was “a stiff.” Epstein shot back that it might soon become a huge hit, explaining that the Beatles were going to appear on The Ed Sullivan Show. Binnick, unimpressed, told Epstein he “blew it,” saying he should have had the Beatles appear on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand rather than The Ed Sullivan Show, suggesting that Clark’s show was more popular.
About a month or so later, Jack Paar, who hosted a Friday evening variety TV show on NBC, had just returned from England that December, marveled to his viewing audience over the “Beatlemania” that he had observed overseas. Paar was also able to get a film clip of the Beatles performing “She Loves You” in an English town, and he aired it on his show Friday, January 3, 1964, showing the Beatles performing the song as their teenage fans went wild. According to Binnick, “the record exploded [in sales] the following Monday.” Binnick and Swan, re-issued “She Loves You” to meet demand. By March 21st it would become the No. 1 hit in the land. “She Loves You,” in fact, would sell 1 million copies, creating a temporary windfall for Binnick and Swan Records. However, Swan’s option on future Beatles songs had been lost since it stipulated that ‘She Loves You” had to sell 50,000 copies in its first year, 1963, which it did not. Swan also had the rights to the German version of “She Loves You,” which did reasonably well too, but not enough to save Swan from its troubles. The company went out of business in 1967.
29 Nov 1963
Radio station KIOA in Des Moines, Iowa begins playing “I Saw Her Standing There” from a Drake University student’s copy of Beatle’s U.K. album, Please Please Me, and a few days later, “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” from a U.K. Beatles’ single (see sidebar story below).
1 Dec 1963 The New York Times Sunday Magazine, runs a story on “Beatlemania” in the U.K.
4 Dec 1963 Capitol Records issues a press release announcing that it will begin selling the Beatles’ first U.S. 45 rpm single, “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” on Monday, January 13th, 1964.
10 Dec 1963 A four-minute CBS film segment on The Beatles that had been pre-empted by the JFK tragedy is aired on Walter Cronkite’s CBS Evening News.
Capitol Records issues a "Beatles' Campaign" memo to its staff, Dec 23rd, 1964.
17 Dec 1963
Radio disc jockey Carroll James at Washington. D.C. station WWDC, plays rare U.K. copy of “I Want to Hold Your Hand” on the radio after 15-year-old girl from Silver Spring, MD wrote to him requesting Beatles music after seeing the CBS-news segment. James arranged to have an airline stewardess buy a U.K. copy of the Beatles’ latest single in London. Listeners phone in repeatedly to request the song.
18-19 Dec 1963 Capitol Records threatens to sue WWDC to stop playing song, but then reverses itself and decides to rush-release “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” previously scheduled for January 13, 1964. Christmas leave is canceled at Capitol Records, as pressing plants and staff gear up for rush release.
23 Dec 1963 Capitol Records issues a memo to its sales people and regional managers across the country, outlining an extensive “Beatles Campaign” using various promotional items – from major music magazine trade ads and a fake tabloid Beatles newspaper (reprinted in the thousands), to Beatle buttons, Beatle stickers, Beatle wigs, and a battery-powered, “Beatles-in-motion,” bobble-head-like, window display for music stores.
“Beatles’ Iowa Breakout” 29 November 1963
On the evening of Nov 29, 1963, a Drake University student showed up at this Iowa radio station waving a copy of a new U.K. Beatles’ album at the DJ through the window.
Stu Adams was a disc jockey at Des Moines, Iowa radio station KIOA – one of the “KIOA Good Guys,” as that station’s DJs were known locally. It was late November 1963, the Friday after Thanksgiving. In fact, it was exactly a week after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The programming at the station was gradually getting back to normal. Adams was working the 6:00 to 9:00 pm shift on that cold November night. He was situated at his radio post behind a huge storefront plate glass window in the studio at 803 Keo Way in Des Moines. While working, he was interrupted by an urgent rap on the window. Outside was a young man trying to get his attention. He was holding up a copy of a Beatles LP from England, Please Please Me, their first album, unavailable in the U.S.
At first, Adams tried to ignore the young man. But he persisted, holding up the album and pointing to it emphatically. So Adams finally let him in out of the cold. The young man was a Drake University student who had recently returned from a trip to England. He insisted that the station play the Beatles’ new music.
On the evening of Nov 29, 1963, a Drake University student showed up at Iowa radio station KIOA with this Beatles’ U.K. album.
Adams, as music director at the station, was aware of the Beatles. In fact, the station had tried playing “She Loves You” back in September 1963 when it was released in the U.S. by Swan Records. But the song received little interest. In fact, a teen record panel that met weekly at the station to rate songs had also given it a thumbs down. Adams was also hearing talk in the music industry that English records were a hard sell in the U.S., and that the Beatles wouldn’t make it here either. But Adams was more open-minded on that score, since a late summer song by England’s Cliff Richard, “Lucky Lips,” had been a Top Ten KIOA hit.
The Drake student, meanwhile, insisted the Beatles album he had was better than previous Beatles recordings, and that “I Saw Her Standing There,” on the album, was one of the songs that was then very popular in England. Adams, having been playing a steady parade of “car tunes and surfing music,” decided to give the new Beatles album a whirl. He “slapped the Parlophone labeled Please Please Me LP on a turntable” and asked his listeners to call in and let the phone ring just once if they liked it. “Instantly, all the lines lighted up and stayed that way until well after the song ended,” recalled Adams in a later account of the playing. “With that,” said Adams, “Beatlemania was not only born in Iowa, but throughout the Midwest.”
This was the U.K. Beatles’ LP that Iowa radio station DJ Stu Adams began playing on Nov 29, 1963.
Requests continued for the Beatles music the next day. Adams had no choice but to add “I Saw Her Standing There” to the station’s playlist, using a dubbed version taken from the student’s album. It became the most requested song at the station, but it didn’t make the station’s top tunes survey because that survey was based on local record sales, and at the time, there were no copies of that record in stores. No sales meant no chart position. But according to Adams, “the requests just kept on coming in.” Several days later, the Drake University student returned with the new UK Beatles single, “I Want to Hold Your Hand” backed with “This Boy.” Said Adams: “sales in England were phenomenal and as soon as we put it on the air we could see why.” But as Adams and KIOA continued playing these U.K. Beatles releases, local record shop owners in Des Moines weren’t too happy, as they had none to sell. Soon, Capitol Records, which held the rights to the Beatles records in the U.S., ultimately was forced to move up the release date for “I Want to Hold Your Hand” — the first scheduled U.S. Beatle’ single from Capitol – from January 13th, 1964, to December 26th, 1963. Once released, the single, with “I Saw Her Standing There” on the B side, hit No. 1 in record sales in Des Moines and made it to No. 1 on the KIOA survey – as it soon did throughout the rest of the U.S.
The Beatles’ single ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand,’ issued by Capitol Records, went on sale in the U.S. in late December 1963.
26 Dec 1963
Capitol Records begins distributing “I Want To Hold Your Hand” to radio stations in major U.S. cities where it is played regularly. With teens home for Christmas-New Years break, radios get full-time use, and the record begins selling like crazy. In New York City, 10,000 copies are sold every hour. In the first three days, 250,000 copies are sold. Capitol was so overloaded it contracted Columbia Records and RCA to help with the pressings.
28 Dec 1963 The New Yorker magazine publishes a Brian Epstein interview; regarded as first serious article in U.S. about the Beatles and their manager.
29 Dec 1963 New York city radio station WMCA joins others broadcasting “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” Back in London, meanwhile, Sunday Times critic Richard Buckle praises the Beatles as the greatest composers since Beethoven.
A Beatles' film clip was shown on Jack Paar's TV show in early January 1964.
30 Dec 1963 A two-page ad from Capitol Records pitching the Beatles’ recordings runs in Billboard and Cash Box music industry magazines. Bulk reprints of these ads have already been distributed to Capitol’s sales agents for use with radio stations and in enlarged, easel-scale size for use in music store displays across the country.
3 Jan 1964 Jack Paar, host of the late night U.S. TV talk show, “The Jack Paar Show,” airs a filmed Beatles’ performance of “She Loves You” from England. It is the first complete Beatles song shown on American TV, and for many in America, the first time they see the Beatles.
V-J’s promotional cover sleeve for Beatles’ ‘Please Please Me’ single following Jack Paar show, Jan 1964.
10 Jan 1964 Vee-Jay Records releases the first Beatles album in the U.S., Introducing…The Beatles. Legal and business issues plague the album, but by late fall, it would sell more than 1.3 million copies.
10 Jan 1964 Two weeks after the Capitol Records release of “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” sales hit 1 million copies – a staggering number at that time for an unknown music group from overseas.
mid-Jan 1964 Vee-Jay Records’ issues special record sleeves for promoting “Please Please Me” to radio DJs, noting Beatles’ clip on Jack Paar’s show, upcoming Ed Sullivan Show dates, and national news coverage in Time, Life & Newsweek magazines.
'Meet the Beatles,' their first U.S. Capitol album.
17 Jan 1964 “I Want to Hold Your Hand” by The Beatles is the No. 1 single in America.
20 Jan 1964 Capitol Records issues Meet the Beatles, the Beatles’ first Capitol album in the U.S.
20 Jan 1964 To promote the Meet The Beatles album and their upcoming first American visit, Capitol Records distributes pre-recorded interview with the Beatles to American radio stations.
29 Jan 1964 Capitol Records announced in a press releases, that Meet the Beatles had already sold 400,000 copies by January 27th.
Vee-Jay's "Please Please Me," released a 2nd time, late Jan 1964.
30 Jan 1964 Vee-Jay Records releases, for the second time, the single “Please Please Me” / “From Me to You,” entering the Billboard chart at No. 69. It would later reach No. 3, and Vee-Jay would sell at least 1.1 million copies.
7 Feb 1964 At about 1:20 p.m. the Beatles arrive at Kennedy International Airport in New York where they are greeted by 3,000 screaming teenagers, 200 reporters and photographers, and more than 100 New York police officers. At a televised press conference the Beatles come off as witty, charming and playful.
Beatles at press conference after landing in New York, February 7, 1964.
9 Feb 1964 Elvis Presley sends The Beatles a telegram wishing them well in their upcoming Ed Sullivan Show appearance later that evening.
9 Feb 1964 Beatles perform live on The Ed Sullivan Show, reaching a record-breaking audience of 73 million, or according to A.C. Nielsen, 23.2 million households. One estimate at 40% of population. They perform five songs: “All My Loving,” “Till There Was You,” “She Loves You,” “I Saw Her Standing There” and “I Want To Hold Your Hand.”
Beatles performing on ‘Ed Sullivan Show,’ Feb 9, 1964, before estimated TV audience of 73 million.
11 Feb 1964 The Beatles give their first live concert performance in the U.S. at the Washington Coliseum in Washington, D.C.
12 Feb 1964 The Beatles perform two shows at Carnegie Hall in New York City.
16 Feb1964 Second appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, live from the Deauville Hotel in Miami Beach, Florida. Approximately 70 million people tune in, or 22.4 million households. Songs performed: “She Loves You,” “All My Loving,” “This Boy,” “I Saw Her Standing There,” “From Me to You,” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”
Beatles clowning with boxer Cassius Clay (later known as Muhammad Ali) during visit to Miami, FL, Feb 1964. Photo, Harry Benson.
22 Feb 1964 The Beatles return to London, U.K.; at Heathrow Airport at 7 a.m. they are met by an estimated 10,000 fans.
23 Feb 1964 Beatles appear for 3rd time on Ed Sullivan Show, a performance that was taped earlier in New York – performing three songs: “Twist and Shout”, “Please Please Me” and “I Want to Hold your Hand.”
13 Mar 1964 Meet the Beatles LP by this date is reported to have sold 3,600,000 copies. “Can’t Buy Me Love” their next single, has advance orders of 1,700,000 copies in the U.S.
The Beatles, 'Saturday Evening Post' cover, 21 March 1964.
14 Mar 1964 “Please Please Me” is a massive hit, rising to No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart by this date.
16 Mar 1964 “Can’t Buy Me Love/You Can’t Do That” is released as single by Capitol Records; sells 940,225 copies first day, 2.1 million by March 19th.
21 Mar 1964 Beatles appear on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post, one of America’s mainstream magazines at the time. Post’s cover story – “The Secrets of The Beatles” – promises “an intimate account of their American tour and a probing analysis of their incredible power to excite frenzied emotions among the young.”
23 Mar 1964 “Do You Want to Know a Secret” / “Thank You Girl” released as a Vee-Jay single.
28 Mar 1964 Capitol Records reports sales of “I Want To Hold Your Hand” in excess of 3.4 million copies.
Beatles' 2nd album from Capitol, released April 10th, 1964.
31 Mar 1964 The Beatles hold the top five slots on Billboard: (1) Can’t Buy Me Love, (2) Twist and Shout, (3) She Loves You, (4) I Want To Hold Your Hand (5) Please Please Me — a musical first.
10 Apr 1964 The Beatles’ Second Album is released by Capitol Records, which replaces the Beatles first Capitol album, Meet The Beatles, at No. 1 on the Billboard album chart from May 5th to June 2nd.
11 Apr 1964 The Beatles hold 14 slots on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart.
14 Apr 1964 The Beatles’ Second Album reaches $1 million in sales by this date.
Beatles’ Hot 14 Chart #s on Billboard April 11, 1964
1. Can’t Buy Me Love
2. Twist & Shout
4. She Loves You
7. I Want To Hold Your Hand
9. Please Please Me
14. …Want to Know a Secret
38. …Saw Her Standing There
48. You Can’t Do That
50. All My Loving
52. From Me To You
61. Thank You Girl
74. There’s A Place
78. Roll Over Beethoven
81. Love Me Do
___________________ Billboard Hot 100, 1964.
27 April 1964
“Love Me Do”/ “P.S I Love You” released as single by Tollie Records, a Vee-Jay subsidiary.
1 June 1964 “Sweet Georgia Brown” / “Take Some Insurance Out on Me” released as Atco Records single.
‘A Hard Day’s Night’ became one of the fastest-selling soundtrack albums of the 1960s.
June 1964 Advance orders for the soundtrack album from the Beatles’ forthcoming film, A Hard Day’s Night, are 250,000 in the U.K. and 1 million in the U.S.; album would sell 2 million copies in the U.S. by October, and 600,000 in the U.K. by year’s end. American version, with somewhat different songs, was released on June 26, 1964 by United Artists Records.
June 1964 The Beatles fly to Hong Kong, June 8-10, perform two concerts there and then go to Austrailia, June 12-14. In Adelaide, Australia they are greeted by an estimated crowd of 300,000 along their motorcade route.
Beatles’ single, ‘And I Love Her’/ ‘If I Fell’ released July 20th, 1964.
13 July 1964 “A Hard Day’s Night” / “I Should Have Known Better” released as single by Capitol Records.
20 July 1964 “I’ll Cry Instead”/ “I’m Happy Just To Dance With You” released as single by Capitol Records.
20 July 1964 “And I Love Her”/ “If I Fell” released as single by Capitol Records, as well as a new Beatles’ album, Something New.
Beatles' film poster, 1964.
11 Aug 1964 Beatles first film, A Hard Day’s Night, opens in America and is a huge hit. Shown in 500 theaters across U.S., it earns $1.3 million in the first week. Some 15,000 prints made for world-wide distribution – historical first in film industry.
12 Aug 1964 Variety magazine reports that by August 1964, the Beatles had sold approximately 80 million records globally.
19 Aug 1964 The Beatles perform at the Cow Palace in San Francisco, California, in the first concert of their USA/Canada tour, which lasts a month through August and September.
24 Aug 1964 “Matchbox” / “Slow Down” is released as a single by Capitol Records.
Beatles, 'Life' magazine, August 1964.
August 1964 The Beatles received a request from the White House press office to be photographed with President Lyndon B. Johnson, laying a wreath on the grave of John F. Kennedy. The request was politely declined by their manager, Brian Epstein, saying it was not the group’s policy to accept “official” invitations.
25 Aug 1964 The Beatles’ single, “A Hard Day’s Night,” is certified gold for exceeding sales of more than 1 million copies.
26 Aug 1964 Beatles’ North American tour plays Denver, Colorado.
27 Aug 1964 Beatles’ North American tour plays Cincinnati, Ohio.
28 Aug 1964 Life magazine article reports that the Beatles’ 33-day tour of 23 American cities is a sell out at every location and is expected to gross millions. Beatles pandemonium at the time is such that some hotels along the tour route refused to house the Beatles, and Los Angeles’ Lockheed Airport forbad any Beatles plane from landing there for fear of screaming fans running on to the tarmac.
“Charlie O & The Beatles” 17 September 1964
Ticket stub, Beatles' Sept 17,1964 concert in Kansas City, MO.
Charles O. Finley (b.1918 - d.1996) was an American businessman who made his fortune in medical insurance. In December 1960, he became the owner the Kansas City Athletics professional baseball team in Kansas City, Missouri. He later moved this team to Oakland, California where they became the Oakland Athletics. However, in Kansas City, “Charlie O” as he was sometimes called — remembered for his promotional antics and not always winning teams — was also responsible for bringing the Beatles to Kansas City in 1964. The Athletics played their games at Kansas City’s Municipal Stadium then, and Finley promised the city’s people he would bring the Beatles to Kansas City during the group’s first American tour that summer. But Kansas City was not on the list of cities where the Beatles had arranged to perform.
Finely on ticket back.
Finley went to San Francisco on August 19, 1964, where the Beatles were playing their first date. There he met with the Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein. He told Epstein that he was disappointed that Kansas City was not on the Beatles’ itinerary. He then offered Epstein $50,000 and then $100,000 if the Beatles would schedule a concert for Kansas City. Epstein refused, pointing out that on the only free date available, September 17, the band was scheduled for a day of rest in New Orleans. Finley left disappointed, but again encountered Epstein in Los Angeles a week later. Epstein again rejected Finley’s offer of $100,000, noting that the band wanted to use their only day off to “explore the traditional home of jazz.” Undetered, Finley tore up the $100,000 check and wrote a new one for $150,000 (equal to about $1 million in today’s money). Astonished, Epstein excused himself to talk to the group. John Lennon speaking for his bandmates replied, “We’ll do whatever you want.” So Epstein accepted Finley’s check, and they agreed to play Kansas City. At the time it was the highest fee ever paid for a musical concert, working out to about $4,838 per minute (or roughly $33,000 per minute in 2009 $$). When the Beatles performed there they included their version of the song “Kansas City.” They also gave a memorable press conference at the Hotel Muehlebach, available today on CD.
CD of Beatles' 1964 Kansas City press conference.
Finley had justified the Beatle’s high-priced recruitment to Kansas City with the quip, “Today’s Beatles Fans Are Tomorrow’s Baseball Fans” – printed on the back of the concert tickets. Also shown on the back of some of the tickets was a photo of Finley in a Beatle’s wig – which were sold as a fad at the time as part of Beatles’ promotional merchandise.
At the concert, however, a crowd of 20,207 attended, which was just over half of Municipal Stadium’s full capacity of 35,000 when seats were installed on the field. The drop off in attendance was due in part to local animosity over Finely’s record with the Athletics and some of his promotional antics, which weren’t always welcomed in the community. In fact, the local media at the time, and especially The Kansas City Star, suggested boycotting the Beatles’s concert as a way to protest Finley’s unpopular management of the Athletics. Still, thousands came out, as Beatles’ fans heard a full set of their tunes performed that night. Finley, meanwhile, who had earmarked profits from the event for Children’s Mercy Hospital, had to write a $25,000 check to cover the minimum donation he had pledged to the hospital in the event that the concert did not earn a profit.
_______________________ Sources: “Charles Finley,” Wikipedia.com; “Can’t Buy Him Love,” Kansas City Public Library; and, Mark Lewisohn, The Beatles Live!: The Ultimate Reference Book, New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1986, pp. 168-69.
Vee-Jay Record’s “Beatles vs. Four Seasons” two-album set, October 1964.
20 Sept 1964 The Ed Sullivan Show replays broadcast of Beatles’ February 16th appearance on the show.
1 Oct 1964 The Beatles vs. The Four Seasons two-record set is released by Vee-Jay Records. Package is basically two previous albums – 1963′s Golden Hits of the 4 Seasons and VJ’s Beatles album, Introducing The Beatles. VJ hypes the package as “The International Battle of the Century!”
1 Oct 1964 Book by Brian Epstein, A Cellarful of Noise, is released by Souvenir Press; includes his autobiography and inside account of early Beatles. Later edition issued in 1998 by Byron Preiss Multimedia Books.
Beatles’ Tour North America Aug-Sept 1964
Aug 19 San Francisco
Aug 20 Las Vegas
Aug 21 Seattle
Aug 22 Vancouver
Aug 23 Los Angeles
Aug 26 Denver
Aug 27 Cincinnati
Aug 28 New York
Aug 30 Atlantic City
Sept 2 Philadelphia
Sept 3 Indianapolis
Sept 4 Milwaukee
Sept 5 Chicago
Sept 6 Detroit
Sept 7 Toronto
Sept 8 Montreal
Sept 11 Jacksonville
Sept 12 Boston
Sept 13 Baltimore
Sept 14 Pittsburgh
Sept 15 Cleveland
Sept 16 New Orleans
Sept 17 Kansas City
Sept 18 Dallas
Sept 20 New York
2 Oct 1964 As of this date, ten million Beatles’ records had been sold in the U.S.; their American concert tour had grossed at least $1 million; their film, A Hard Day’s Night, had reaped $5.8 million at the U.S. box office in six weeks. EMI, their record label, was reporting fiscal year sales of $265 million, up 12 percent largely on Beatles’ business. Capitol Records was reporting its revenues were up as well, by 17 percent. Brian Epstein and the Fab Four, meanwhile, were millionaires many times over, with total income earned beyond the U.K. then estimated to be some $56 million.
Atco album, of Beatles' songs and other U.K. artists, October 1964.
5 Oct 1964 Ain’t She Sweet album is released by Atco Records, an American album featuring four 1961 Beatles tracks from Hamburg, Germany and cover versions by other British groups.
13 Nov 1964 CBS TV shows a 50-minute doc- umentary, “What’s Happening! The Beatles in the U.S.A.,” filmed by Albert Maysles, covering the Beatles U.S. tour and other activities that year.
23 Nov 1964 “I Feel Fine” / “She’s a Woman” single released by Capitol Records.
23 Nov 1964 The Beatles Story double LP is released by Capitol Records, billed as “a narrative and musical biography of Beatlemania on two long-play records.” The albums feature interviews, press conferences, and songs by the The Beatles. It was The Beatles’ fourth release by Capitol Records.
'The Beatles' Story' album, 1964.
1 Dec 1964 Ringo Starr has his tonsils removed at the University College Hospital in London.
15 Dec 1964 Beatles ’65 album is released by Capitol Records featuring 11 Beatles’ cuts, among them: “I’m a Loser,” “Baby’s in Black,” “I’ll Follow the Sun,” “Mr. Moonlight,” “Honey Don’t,” “I’ll Be Back,” “She’s a Woman,” and “I Feel Fine.”
December 1964 Christmas recordings, with Christmas songs and messages from individual Beatles, are sent to fan club members in the U.K and U.S.
'Beatles '65' album, December 15, 1964.
The 7th Grammy Awards, held in 1965, recognized the accomplishments of musicians for the year 1964. This was the year musically when Barbra Streisand won a Best Vocal Performance award for “People,” and Louis Armstrong for “Hello, Dolly!”; the year Stan Getz and Astrud Gilberto won Record of the Year for “The Girl from Ipanema” and songwriter Jerry Herman, Song of the Year, for “Hello, Dolly!”
1964 was also the year that Henri Mancini won a Grammy for the “Pink Panther Theme” and Roger Miller took home several Country & Western music awards, while Nancy Wilson won Best Rhythm & Blues Recording, Petula Clark for “Downtown,” and Gale Garnett, Best Folk Recording for, “We’ll Sing in the Sunshine.” Not to be left out, of course, The Beatles won two awards: Best New Artist and Best Performance by a Vocal Group for “A Hard Day’s Night.” But the Beatles’ 1964 arrival left its mark on more than music awards.
A Sound of Change
The Beatles’ bursting onto the music scene of 1963-64 with their numerous popular songs has been described by some historians as a rare “pop explosion” — a musical infusion lasting basically four years, 1963-1967. This Beatles’ infusion, however, produced change that would last much longer than four years, not only in music but more broadly throughout popular culture — in fashion, literature, politics and beyond. But it would all start with the music, especially that first flush of Beatles’ songs in 1963-64. What the Beatles had then, according to rock music historian Greil Marcus writing for The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll, “was that elusive rock treasure, a new sound – and a new sound that could not be exhausted in the course of one brief flurry on the charts.” This new Beatles’ sound, according to Marcus, is best captured in a selection of their 1963-64 tunes, such as: “Please Please Me,” “I Saw Her Standing There,” “Boys,” “There’s A Place,” “It Won’t Be Long,” “All My Loving,” “She Loves You,” “A Hard Day’s Night,” “Things We Said Today,” “Eight Days A Week,” among others. This Beatles’ sound, at that time, was different and unique – exciting, optimistic, playful, and fresh. Also unique was what the Beatles did together musically – i.e., their group dynamic; beat, rhythm, vocals, composition, etc. – yielding a very high level of music quality. It blew away most of the competition. In fact, what the Beatles had in this case was “so fluid and intelligent,” says Greil Marcus, “that for years they made nearly everything else on the radio sound faintly stupid.”
Bob Dylan …On the Beatles
“We were driving through Colorado [and] we had the radio on and eight of the Top Ten songs were Beatles songs. In Colorado! ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand,’ and those early ones.
“They were doing things nobody was doing. Their chords were outrageous, just outrageous, and their harmonies, made it all valid… But I kept it to myself that I really dug them. Everybody else thought they were for the teenyboppers, that they were gonna pass right away. But it was obvious to me that they had staying power. I knew they were pointing the direction that music had to go…in my head, the Beatles were it. In Colorado, I started thinking but it was too far-out. I wouldn’t deal with it – eight in the Top Ten.
“It seemed to me a definite line was being drawn. This was something that never happened before.”
_______________________ Source: “Bob Dylan, 1971,” The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll, p. 212.
Between January and March 1964, the Beatles accounted for 60 percent of all record sales in the U.S. In 1964 alone, the Beatles put 19 hit songs in the Top 40, and 30 in the Top 100. They had 15 separate recordings in 1964 – nine singles and six albums — that each sold 1 million or more copies, representing total Beatle sales in the U.S. that one year of more than 25 million copies. That feat has never been matched. Many of the Beatles’ songs from 1964 went on to enjoy continued success. “I Want To Hold Your Hand” would proceed to have worldwide sales of 15 million copies, the largest-selling single in rock history until Elton John’s 1997 version of “Candle in the Wind” for Princess Diana, eclipsed it. “Can’t Buy Me Love” would have worldwide sales of 6 million; “She Loves You,” 5 million, and several others from that year each surpassing 2 million or more copies.
On Billboard, the prominent U.S. music chart that reflects single and album popularity and success, the Beatles set a slew of records, most in the March-April 1964 period, but a few of which still stand today. Among their marks in 1964: most songs on the Billboard Hot 100 chart at the same time (14); most songs within the Billboard Top 40 ranking at the same time (7, on two occasions); most songs within the Billboard Top 10 and Billboard Top 5 at the same time (5); and most songs charting on the Billboard Hot 100 within a calendar year (30). On April 4, 1964, Beatles’ singles and albums simultaneously held the top five Billboard singles spots and the top two Billboard album ratings — a record that still stands.
The Beatles’ impact, of course, goes well beyond their music-chart numbers in 1963-64. Yet these Beatle years marked a turning point for rock ‘n roll, both musically and as a business. From their Ed Sullivan Show appearance onward, the Beatles made plain the power of good music meeting the right demographic – in this case, Baby Boomer disposable income.From their Ed Sullivan Show appearance onward, the Beatles made plain the power of good music meeting the right demo- graphic – in this case, Baby Boomer disposable income. This Boomer market was clearly visible before the Beatles’ pop explosion, but they certainly took it to another level, revealing a gigantic “rock business” segment that would only expand over the next several decades in all manner of ways, from concert touring to MTV and beyond. In 1964, the Beatles opened the door for other British rockers that helped to change and enlarge the nature of the rock music business globally. In that year, for example, the Dave Clark Five, Dusty Springfield, the Searchers, Billy J. Kramer, Peter & Gordon, Gerry & the Pacemakers, the Animals, Manfred Mann, the Zombies, Herman’s Hermits, and the Rolling Stones all had Top 20 hits on the U.S. music charts. It wasn’t just the British sound, of course, as all of rock ‘n roll was going great guns by then – from Motown to the Surf sound, the Beach Boys to the Supremes, Bob Dylan to Marvin Gaye, and many more to come. But the Beatles had their distinct effects on the music business – influencing the rise of album format in rock music, for example, and also presaging and influencing the music video era with their 1960s’ film-making techniques. The Beatles were also one of the first acts to package and exploit pop music as a multi-media business opportunity – combining music, television, film, concerts, and merchandising.
Beatles’ "Rock Band" video game, released internationally Sept 2009, features more than 40 Beatles songs.
Today, more than 40 years after the Beatles’ musical explosion of 1963-64, their music from that era is still a cultural and business phenomenon. As this is written in September 2009, Beatles’ songs from the 1960s are being used again to form the backbone of a giant new Beatles’ business built around family-based video games. And Beatles’ songs are also soon expected to be available on iTunes and similar digital media. In any case, the sales of Beatles’ music – whether for video or digital media – will only add to the 1.6 billion singles and albums already credited to their legacy.
Jack Doyle, “Beatles in America, 1963-1964,” PopHistoryDig.com,
September 20, 2009.
Sources, Links & Additional Information
‘Introducing...The Beatles’ was the first Beatles album sold in the U.S., by Vee-Jay Records. Business problems spoiled a planned July 1963 debut, but it did appear on January 10, 1964. Legal issues also plagued the album, but Vee-Jay was permitted to sell it until the fall of 1964, selling more than 1.3 million copies.
Beatles' 'Can't Buy Me Love' / 'You Can't Do That' single, Capitol Records, 16 March 1964.
Beatles' 'Do You Want to Know A Secret?' single, Vee-Jay, 23 March 1964.
Beatles’ single, ‘Love Me Do’ with ‘P.S. I Love You,’ April 1964, Tollie Records.
Beatles’ ‘Hard Days Night’ single, released by Capitol Records, July 14, 1964.
Beatles’ ‘I’ll Cry Instead’ single, released by Capitol Records, July 20, 1964.
Beatles’ ‘Something New’ – 3rd Capitol album of 1964, released July 20th. It spent 9 weeks at No. 2 behind then No. 1 Beatles’ 'A Hard Day's Night' album by United Artists.
Beatles’ 'Matchbox' / 'Slow Down' single by Capitol Records, August 24, 1964.
Beatles’ ‘I Feel Fine’ / ‘She’s A Woman’ single, Capitol Records, Nov 23, 1964.
Brian Epstein’s book, ‘A Cellarful of Noise,’ released Oct 1, 1964, included his autobiography & inside account of early Beatles. New 1998 edition shown here.
Poster for Beatles' Washington, D.C. concert, 11 Feb 1964.
Cover sleeve with Beatle photos on George Martin’s album of May 1965, featuring instrumental versions of Beatles’ songs from the film soundtrack for ‘A Hard Day's Night.’
“The Beatles,” in Holly George-Warren and Patricia Romanowski (eds), The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, Rolling Stone Press, New York, 3rd Edition, 2001, pp. 56-59.
“Singers: The New Madness,” Time, Friday, November 15, 1963.
Stephen Watts, “Nonconformists and Newcomers on the British Screen; Anomaly Universal “Beatles” Rising Star,” New York Times, Sunday, November 24, 1963, Arts & Leisure, p. 35.
Frederick Lewis, London, “Britons Succumb To ‘Beatlemania’,” New York Times Magazine, Sunday, December 1, 1963.
Lawrence Malkin, “Liverpudlian Frenzy; British Beatles Sing Up a Teen-Age Storm,” Los Angeles Times, December 29, 1963, p. G-4.
Hank Bordowitz, Turning Points in Rock and Roll, New York: Citadel Press/Kensington Publishing, 2004, 282 pp.
Greil Marcus, “The Beatles,” in Anthony DeCurtis and James Henke, with Holly George-Warren (eds), The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock n Roll, New York: Random House, revised edition, 1992, pp. 209-222.
Martin Goldsmith, The Beatles Come to America, J. Wiley & Sons, January 2004, 208 pp.
John C. Winn. Way Beyond Compare: The Beatles’ Recorded Legacy, Volume One — 1957-1965, Three Rivers Press, 416pp, 2008, and That Magic Feeling: the Beatles’ Recorded Legacy, Volume Two — 1966-1970, Three Rivers Press, 416pp, 2009.
Philip Norman, Shout!: The Beatles in Their Generation,” Simon and Schuster, 2005, revised edition, 546 pp.
Bob Spitz, The Beatles: The Biography, Little Brown, 2005.
Jonathan Gould, Can’t Buy Me Love: The Beatles, Britain and America, Piatkus Books, 2008.
“The First U.S. Visit: A Film by Albert and David Maysles,” DVD, Apple/Capitol Records, 1964, Revised 1990.
“The Beatles Anthology,” Directed by Geoff Wonfor, VHS, Apple/Capitol Records, DVD, Apple/Capitol Records, 1996.
“The Four Complete Historic Ed Sullivan Shows Featuring the Beatles,” VHS & DVD, Sofa Entertainment, 2003.
“The Beatles in Washington, D.C.,” Passport Video, 2003.
“Beatles Around the World,” DVD, Entertainment Properties, 2003.
Dick Clark at his DJ post in the 1950s. "I don't make culture," he reportedly said at one point, "I sell it."
On July 7, 1956, a young radio disc jockey named Dick Clark made his first appearance hosting an afternoon TV show called Bandstand. Broad- cast from Philadelphia, the show had originally begun in 1952. Bandstand played the new rock ‘n roll music and featured kids from local high schools dancing to the music. When it first began, the dancing was almost accidental, but local TV viewers called in saying they liked watching “those young people dancing.” As the show’s new host, Clark made the most of that novelty, and took Bandstand to the national level. The son of a radio-station owner in Utica, N.Y., Dick Clark had been a radio disc jockey as a student at Syracuse University. By 1951, when he landed a job at ABC’s WFIL station in Philadelphia, he worked in radio, regarded as too youthful looking to be a credible TV newscaster. Clark’s big break came when the station decided to replace former Bandstand host Bob Horn. A youngish-looking 26 when he took over, Clark quickly made the show his own. He featured musical guests lip-synching their songs and used his teenage audience to “rate” new records. Local audiences loved the show.
American Bandstand, late -1950s-early-1960s.
Bandstand, out of Philadelphia, soon became the highest rated local daytime TV show in the nation. That got the attention of network executives in New York. By August 1957, now called American Bandstand, ABC began broadcasting the show nationwide at 3 p.m. for an hour-and-a-half. Within six months of going national, American Bandstand was picked up by 101 stations. Twenty million viewers were now tuning in, half of whom were adult. The show was also receiving 20,000 to 45,000 fan letters a week. Teenagers came to Philadelphia from wide and far for a chance to dance on the show. Bandstand also became known as a place where new talent could be seen; a place where aspiring artists could get their start. On the November 22, 1957 show, for example, two young singers using the name “Tom & Jerry” appeared. The duo would later become known as Simon & Garfunkel. New dances were often introduced on the show. It was on Bandstand that Chubby Checker brought “the Twist” to the nation in the summer of 1960. Bandstand’s “regular” dance couples approached daytime soap-opera fame, and in the 1950s and 1960s they were written about regularly in teen magazines, as was Clark and the show.
Clark interviewing singer Bobby Rydell, 1958.
It didn’t hurt, of course, that Bandstand‘s WFIL-TV station was owned by the Walter Annenberg empire, which also included, among other media outlets, TV Guide and Seventeen magazine for girls. Seventeen had a regular column on Bandstand, “written” by one of the show’s regulars. And TV Guide put Clark’s telegenic face on its cover several times during the 1950s (see sample covers below).
Brokering Rock ‘n Roll
American Bandstand also played another critical role – especially for mainstream culture and the music business. It helped make America more receptive to rock ‘n roll, a music genre not then accepted as it is today. “From the time it hit the national airwaves in 1957,” observes rock historian Hank Bordowitz, “Bandstand changed the perception and dissemination of popular music.” The show helped make rock ‘n roll more acceptable to many adults by bringing the music and the dancing kids into their homes every afternoon, with Clark providing the responsible, clean-cut adult supervision. Clark’s income was soon approaching $500,000 a year.
“We built a horizontal and vertical music situation… We published the songs…, managed the acts, pressed the records, distributed the records, promoted the records… .” – Dick Clark
American Banstand also helped to open the doors to a new kind of music business. And along the way, Dick Clark became a wealthy man, buying into music publishing companies, record labels, and promoting “Philly sound” recording artiststs on those labels — stars such as Frankie Avalon, Bobby Rydell, and Fabian. Clark also became involved in managing the artists, formed a radio offshoot, and conducted live productions. He also made personal appearances as a DJ hosting live dance events called “sock hops” — as many as 14 a week. And he also packaged concert tours, taking the music on the road. He soon had a nice little musical empire in the making. “We built a horizontal and vertical music situation,” explained Clark of his various businesses. “. . . We published the songs domestically and abroad, managed the acts, pressed the records, distributed the records, promoted the records. . . .”
Dick Clark Covers Annenberg-Owned TV Guide
May 24, 1958
October 4, 1958
August 29, 1959
September 10, 1960
“Payola” & Congress
August 1958 cover of 'Teen' magazine with Clark & headline: 'Why America Loves Dick Clark's American Bandstand.'
In 1960, however, the “payola” scandal broke, a controversy involving prominent radio disc jockeys then implicated in playing records for payment to make them popular. Clark was investigated by Congress during the scandal, along with other prominent DJs like Alan Freed. But Clark, in his appearence before a Congresional committee, was cool and thorough in his testimony, and denied taking “payola.” He emerged from the hearings without lasting harm. However, it was later revealed that Clark had been “given” royalty rights to more than 140 songs. ABC did require him to divest his outside ventures, more than 30 by one count, including a number of record labels. Still, Clark and American Bandstand held their popularity.
American Bandstand was broadcast every weekday through the summer of 1963. But in the fall of that year, it became a once-a-week show run on Saturday afternoons. By 1965, Dick Clark, then 35 years old, was making about $1 million a year. By February 1964, American Bandstand moved to Los Angeles, in part to facilitate Clark’s expansion into other TV ventures and film production. It was also easier in L.A. to tap into the recording industry. By 1965, Dick Clark, then 35, was making about $1 million a year. Musically, the sound on Bandstand changed with the times, featuring the California surf sound in the 1960s, and a decade later, the ‘70s disco beat. Through it all, dating from the 1950s when Clark took over, Bandstand was one of the few places on television where ethnically-mixed programming could be seen.
1959: "Caravan of Stars."
In fact, Clark later claimed that he had integrated the show in the 1950s – a claim disputed by some. Clark did feature black recording artists as guests on the show in its early years. When American Bandstand first went national with ABC in August 1957, Lee Andrews and the Hearts appeared among the first guests performing their song, “Long Lonely Nights.” In that year as well, other black artists also appeared, including Jackie Wilson, Johnny Mathis, Chuck Berry, Mickey & Sylvia, and others. Integration of the studio audience, however, appears to have been slow and controlled according to research by John Jackson in his 1997 book, American Bandstand, and also Matthew F. Delmont in his 2012 book, The Nicest Kids in Town. However, there are also reports that when Clark took black and white artists on the road to perform concerts in his “Caravan of Stars” shows of the 1960s – sometimes in towns where segregation was still practiced – he insisted on equal treatment of his performers at those venues, otherwise threatening to pull his show.
Dick Clark shown in American Bandstand's 'rate-a-record' segment sometime in the 1970s.
In the 1970s, with the rise of disco, Bandstand began to become something of an artifact rather than a trend-setter, although still netting its share of popular guests. By the mid-1980s, with the rise of MTV and other music video channels, American Banstand’s format became dated. In September 1987 Bandstand moved to syndication, and in April 1989it ran briefly on cable’s USA Network with a new host and Clark as executive producer. The show ended for good on October 7, 1989. Yet over its three decades, American Bandstand played a key role in the music business. Not only did it become the place where major record labels sought to showcase their songs and artists, it also generated millions in record sales each year, plus millions in advertising revenue for ABC. As for recording artists – with the notable exceptions of Elvis Presley, the Beatles, and the Rolling Stones – most of the major rock ‘n roll acts from the 1950s through mid-1980s appeared on the show.
Sonny and Cher made their first TV appearance on American Bandstand, June 12, 1965. The Jackson 5 made their TV debut on the show February 21, 1970, as did Aerosmith in December 1973. In January, 1980, Prince made his TV debut on Bandstand. By the mid-1980s, with the rise of MTV and other music video channels, American Bandstand’s format became dated.Among others appearing during the show’s 33-year run were: Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, James Brown, the Beach Boys, the Doors, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, the Temptations, the Carpenters, Van Morrison, the Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Neil Diamond, Ike & Tina Turner, Pink Floyd, Creedance Clearwater Revival, George Michael, Rod Stewart, Bon Jovi, Gloria Estefan, Michael Jackson, and last but not least, Madonna, who appeared January 14, 1984 singing the tune “Holiday.” But even after the show’s on-air demise, American Bandstand did not die. In early 1996, MTV’s sister network, VH-1 began broadcasting old Bandstand episodes, mostly from the 1975-1985 period. Within three months, these reruns – called the Best of American Bandstand, with taped introductions by Dick Clark himself — became one of VH1′s top-rated programs.
Dick Clark’s Empire
In addition to American Bandstand, Clark amassed a portfolio of other TV and movie productions, among them, numerous TV specials and awards shows. In the late 1960s he did various television series, talent shows, and also hosted TV game shows, culminating in the late 1970s with The $25,000 Pyramid. In the 1980s and 1990s, his Dick Clark Productions, Inc. turned out more than a dozen made-for-television movies, at least 60 TV specials, several Hollywood films, and radio shows. By 1986, Clark had made the Forbes 400 list of the wealthiest Americans. By 1986, Clark had made the Forbes 400 list of the wealthiest Americans. In recent years he continued his TV productions, landing a prime time TV series, American Dreams. That show was set in 1950s-1960s Philadelphia and used AmericanBandstand footage in its storyline. It ran for three seasons on NBC during 2002-2005. Clark also parlayed the American Bandstand name into other businesses, using it as a brand and capitalizing on its nostalgia cache. He opened a chain of music-themed restaurants using the name Dick Clark’s American Bandstand Grill. Several of these have opened at airports — Indianapolis, Indiana; Newark, New Jersey; Phoenix, Arizona; and Salt Lake City, Utah. Two others are located in Overland Park, Kansas and Cranbury, New Jersey.
One of Dick Clark's 'American Bandstand' Grills. Similar themed venues have also opened in airports.
In June 2006, Dick Clark’s American Bandstand Theater — which uses some now-senior performers from the 1960s era in its acts — was opened in Branson, Missouri. An American Bandstand Grill opened there as well. In 2007, Dick Clark’s American Bandstand Music Complex, with restaurant, opened in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.
Throughout his career, Clark kept one foot in the world of radio, and would later focus some of his business interests there, also using it as a platform for rock ’n roll nostalgia. In 1981, he created The Dick Clark National Music Survey for the Mutual Broadcasting System, which counted down the Top 30 contemporary hits of the week.
Sample recording from one of Dick Clark's radio programs, May 1985.
Beginning in 1982, Clark also hosted a weekly weekend radio program distributed by his own syndicator, United Stations Radio Networks. That program focused on oldies, called Dick Clark’s Rock, Roll, and Remember — also the name of a 1976 autobiographical book he wrote with another author. This radio program would also sell recordings of its shows, some of which involved Clark interviews with, and/or features on, current and former music stars. By 1986, he left Mutual Broadcasting to host another show, Countdown America. In the 1990s, Clark hosted U.S. Music Survey, which he continued hosting up until 2004, when he suffered a stroke. Although he recovered partially from his stroke, his public appearances since that time have been limited.
In June 2007, Daniel Snyder, owner of the Washington Redskins professional football team and Six Flags amusement parks, and also a partner with Tom Cruise in a film venture, announced the purchase of Dick Clark Productions for $175 million. In the deal, Snyder became the owner of American Bandstand‘s entire library of televised dance shows stretching over 30-plus years. In addition, Snyder is also acquiring other Dick Clark assets, including the New Year’s Rockin’ Eve broadcast from Times Square, the Golden Globe Awards show, the American Music Awards, the Academy of Country Music Awards, and the Family Television Awards. In 2007, Dan Snyder, owner of the Washington Redskins, acquired Dick Clark Productions for $175 million including Band- stand‘s 30-year library of TV shows. The Dick Clark properties also include the Bloopers television shows and Fox’s popular reality TV show, So You Think You Can Dance. Snyder, who will take over as chairman of Dick Clark Productions, said in a press release, “This was a rare opportunity to acquire a powerhouse portfolio and grow it in new directions.” It was not entirely clear at the time of the deal’s announcement, exactly what Snyder would do with the American Bandstand material, other than mention of possibly using it visually on television screens throughout Six Flags amusement parks while patrons were standing on line.
Today, the legacy of American Bandstand is alive and well, and can be found in various venues, including the internet, You Tube, and various fan web sites. There are also a number of books on Dick Clark and the show, including Clark’s 1976 autobiography written with Richard Robinson, and a 1997 volume authored by John A. Jacksonentitled, American Bandstand: Dick Clark and the Making of a Rock ‘n’ Roll Empire.
Ginia Bellafante, “Ultrasuede Is Funny – VH-1′s Reruns of American Bandstand Prove the Hootie Network Can Outwit MTV,” Time, Monday, April 22, 1996.
John A. Jackson, American Bandstand: Dick Clark and the Making of a Rock ‘n’ Roll Empire, New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.
Fred Goodman, “Roll Over, Beethoven: How Dick Clark Taught American Parents not to be Afraid of Rock-and-Roll and Made a Fortune in the Process,” Dick Clark and the Making of a Rock ‘n’ Roll Empire, Book Review, New York Times, October 26, 1997.
Richard Corliss, “Philly Fifties: Rock ‘n Radio,” Saturday, July 14, 2001.
Hank Bordowitz, Turning Points in Rock and Roll, Citadel Press, 2004.
Thomas Heath and Howard Schneider, “Snyder Adds A TV Icon To His Empire, “Washington Post, Wednesday, June 20, 2007, P. D-1.
Ken Emerson, “The Spin on ‘Bandstand” – Music, TV and Popular Culture Learned to Swing to the Beat of a Different Drummer: Big Bucks,” Los Angeles Times, August 5, 2007.
Becky Krystal, “Dick Clark, Host of ‘American Bandstand,’ Dies at 82,” Washington Post, April 18, 2012.
Matthew F. Delmont, The Nicest Kids in Town: American Bandstand, Rock ‘n’ Roll, and the Struggle for Civil Rights in 1950s Philadelphia, Berkeley: University of California Press, February 2012.
Matthew F. Delmont, “The America of ‘Bandstand’,” Washington Post, Sunday, April 22, 2012, p. B-2.
Democracy Now, “Despite Rep for Integration, TV’s Iconic ‘American Bandstand’ Kept Black Teens Off Its Stage,” YouTube.com, Mar 2, 2012.
Alex Alvarez, “DJ ‘Cousin Brucie’ Recalls Dick Clark’s Commitment To Racial Integration: ‘If We Don’t Go All Together, We Go Out’,” Mediaite.com, April 19th, 2012.
John Liberty, “Dick Clark Remembered: the Velvelettes Say Icon Defended Them in Segregated South, Share Memories of 1964 Tour,” Mlive.com, April 20, 2012.
A documentary film entitled The Wages of Spin, focuses on the history of American Bandstand, the 1950s payola scandal, and Dick Clark. A preview clip from that documentary is available at You Tube and additional information is found at Character Driven Films.