“On the airplane, I felt New York,” Ringo Starr said many years later. “It was like an octopus….I could feel, like, tentacles coming up to the plane it was so exciting.” For the better part of a year leading up to their arrival in America on this day in 1964, the Beatles had been adjusting to the hysteria that seemed to greet them wherever they went. They had grown somewhat accustomed to the screaming hordes of teenage fans and the omnipresent pack of photographers, cameramen and reporters. They had conquered Sweden, France, Germany and their native England. Yet even the Beatles were nervous at the prospect of finally visiting the United States, a country that had seemed to react indifferently to the initial small-label release of singles like “Please Please Me” and “She Loves You” almost a year earlier. “I know on the plane over I was thinking, ‘Oh, we won’t make it,'” John Lennon later recalled. “But that’s that side of me. We knew we would wipe them out if we could just get a grip.”
Getting a grip would be difficult given the reception that awaited them on the ground in New York.
“We got off the plane, and we were used to ten, twelve thousand people, you know,” Ringo later recalled. “It must have been four billion people out there. I mean, it was just crazy!” The Beatles were loose, poised and funny at the airport news conference amid the bedlam of shouted questions and screaming fans. But on the ride into Manhattan, Ringo says, they were as giddy as some of the fans who surrounded their limo as it approached the Plaza Hotel. “It was madness! They were all outside and there’s barriers and horses and cops all over the place…with the four of us sitting in the car, giggling. I’ll speak for everybody—we couldn’t believe it! I mean, I’m looking out the car saying, ‘What’s going on? Look at this! Can you believe this?’ It was amazing.”
Nowadays, scenes like those that greeted the Beatles in America in February 1964 could be manufactured by any competent publicist with a client who was willing to foot the bill. It would be impossible, though, to manufacture the emotional impact of Beatlemania, both on the Beatles themselves and on America. John, Paul, George and Ringo had developed an airtight act both onstage and off, but they were still four working-class lads from northern England, now being hailed as conquering heroes in the country whose music had inspired them to become musicians in the first place. And America—not just its teenagers, but the entire country—was still looking for a reason to emerge from the shadow of the Kennedy assassination barely two months earlier. New York found its reason on this day in 1964, and the rest of America followed just two days later when the Beatles made their live television debut on The Ed Sullivan Show.