In less than two hours the country would be left stunned, sickened, and terrified. But before then, on the morning of November 22, 1963, the CBS Morning News, hosted by Mike Wallace, aired a light trend segment about a band called The Beatles and a phenomenon called “Beatlemania” that was taking Britain by storm. Walter Cronkite was planning on re-airing the report later that day on the CBS Evening News, but it was preempted by John F. Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas.
These two events, some of the first communal moments of the live television age were not quite related, but they did abut one another. A few hours before Kennedy was shot, the Beatles released their second studio album in the U.K., With The Beatles, which went to number one on the British charts in less than two weeks and remained there for 21 more, and propelled their fame to the U.S. Some two months later, the Beatles would land in New York City at Kennedy International Airport, renamed only six weeks prior for the fallen president. And at a little past 8:00 p.m. on the bitter New York City evening of February 9, 1964, Paul McCartney turned to his three pals on the stage at CBS’s TV Studio 50, and with the snap of a finger and a count to five jumped right into “All My Loving.” There was no musical intro to the song — just a bar of McCartney’s a cappella voice going right to the verse — spoke to the immediacy of the moment. Four lads were shaking the world, and by the time Dutch magician Fred Kaps was doing card tricks for the restless The Ed Sullivan Show audience following a commercial break, history was written and for the second time in 79 days America would never be the same.
Today’s viral journey for memes, videos, trends, etc., can go any number of ways. For example, a photo gets posted on 4chan, spreads onto Twitter and then to Reddit before sites like Buzzfeed and Gawker pick it up, wherein it floods the rest of the media. But what happened in the 79 days between Kennedy’s assassination and the Beatles live American debut on The Ed Sullivan Show? And how did the Beatles go viral in the off-line era so quickly and thoroughly? Nothing of the Beatles in America timeline has been undocumented, and between Capitol Records, The Ed Sullivan Show, and Beatle manager Brian Epstein, little was left to chance by the time the boys took the stage on February 9. But perhaps we can pinpoint some of the bigger beats that explain the rapidity of the Beatle saturation of the American market. And like many on-line viral voyages, a seminal moment in the early spreading of Beatlemania happened in the quaintest of ways.