It was 50 years ago in February that the Beatles forever changed popular music and culture. On Feb. 7, they arrived at New York's JFK Airport to a surprisingly shocking throng of new fans. Two days later, they performed for the first time ever on "The Ed Sullivan Show."
These landmark events are being celebrated and remembered with a slew of activity. First, on Jan. 21, Capitol Records released "The U.S. Albums" boxed set, a 13-CD collection featuring the American versions of the Beatles albums. (Capitol, which was late to embrace the Beatles, released their albums with different track lists, mixes, album titles, and cover art than their U.K. counterparts).
Surviving Beatles Sir Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr appeared Sunday at the 56 Annual Grammy Awards. Ringo played his 1973 hit "Photograph," as photos of the Fabs were shown on screen. He later joined McCartney's band on "Queenie Eye," a track from Macca's latest album, New. The widows of John Lennon and George Harrison, Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison, were also on hand to present the Album of the Year Award. Prior to the telecast, the Beatles were honored by the Recording Academy with a Lifetime Achievement Award.
On Monday night, a special called "The Night That Changed America: A Grammy Salute to the Beatles" will be taped to air on Feb. 9, the 50th anniversary of the Beatles' first Ed Sullivan appearance. McCartney and Starr are expected to perform together. Also performing that night will be the reunited Eurythmics, Keith Urban, Alicia Keys, John Legend, and others.
In honor of the Beatles' anniversary, we got long-time McCartney pal and his one-time flatmate Peter Asher on the phone to talk about the insanity that happened just before and after the Beatles hit America. McCartney was dating Asher's sister Jane at the time of the Beatles breakout success.
Asher was half of Peter & Gordon, the British Invasion duo that scored their first No. 1 trans-Atlantic hit with the Lennon-McCartney tune "A World Without Love," but he admits the British Invasion was"90 percent Beatles and 10 percent everyone else."
He was still in the U.K. at the time the Beatles arrived in America and watched the news reports from afar, but really wasn't too surprised by their success. "They were that good," Asher says. "Their music was that good. They were that charming. It was one of those perfect storm situations. Their appearance, their style, their charm was all so right, and they backed it up with by writing better pop music than anyone had been writing for years, based on, of course, on copying American pop music. That was the irony of it — that they learned their craft from listening to American records....But they brought it back with a style and radicalism that just charmed everybody."
Asher reconsidered that last thought. "Not everybody, of course...there were people that thought it was the end of civilization, but there always are," he says. "That's the whole point of rock 'n' roll. You have to outrage some people sometimes, or there's no point. It's astonishing now when you look back on it, all the people that were outraged at their incredibly long hair — and these were these totally smart, polite boys in suits. Little did they know that they'd have the Rolling Stones to look forward to, not to mention Miley Cyrus twerking. They'd have heart attacks if they knew where it was headed."