(Above: Never before, and never since.)
The first week of April 1964 was the peak of Beatlemania. The group did something never before accomplished in the history of the Hot 100: they held down the top five positions on the chart at the same time. “Can’t Buy Me Love” shot from #27 to the top in one week, moving “She Loves You” down to #3 as “Twist and Shout” leapfrogged it to #2. “I Want To Hold Your Hand” and “Please Please Me” rounded out the top five.
If we look across the chart, there’s more: “I Saw Her Standing There,” falling down the chart, stayed in the top 40 at #31. “From Me To You” is at #41, “Do You Want To Know a Secret” is just below at #46, “All My Loving” is at #58, “You Can’t Do That” (a song I have always snuck into Oldies playlists) debuts at #65, “Roll Over Beethoven” checks in at #68, and “Thank You Girl” rounds out the list at #79. In all, the band occupied 12% of the chart. If we add in the Beatles-related tunes, like the Carefrees “We Love You Beatles” at #42 and – a favorite of mine – “A Letter To The Beatles” by the Four Preps (which was driven underground by lawsuits concerning the theft of recognizable bars) at #85, there’s no escaping the band’s effect on the culture. (That’s not even counting “Hippy Hippy Shake” at #24, a song many listeners couldn’t distinguish from the Liverpool sound.)
There’s two ways to look at this phenomenon: one, that a bunch of other songs were left out/held down due to the popularity of the band, and two, that the national charts were slow to pick up on what was going on. Some of the songs around the Beatles on the chart had remarkable staying power: the song stuck at #6, “Hello Dolly” by Louis Armstrong, eventually gets to the top spot after “Can’t Buy Me Love” finally falls from the top on May 9. (The next Number One, “My Guy” by Mary Wells, debuts on this chart at #50.) Other songs end up as also-rans at best. Brenda Lee’s “Think” gets stuck at #26, Elvis Presley’s “It Hurts Me” peaks at #29. There’s no assumption that these would have been bigger hits, but their sound is so dissimilar to what the Beatles were recording it’s hard to imagine kids taking an interest in them.
I’m as fascinated by local charts as anything else, though. The oft-written about “Beatlemania” reflected in Billboard hit Grand Rapids much earlier. The WMAX 1480 survey from January 31, 1964 already has the band at #1 and #2 with “I Want To Hold Your Hand” and “She Loves You.” (Both songs tie for #1 on February 7 as the country meets the band on the Ed Sullivan show.) By the first week of April the top slot on the WMAX survey belonged to Terry Stafford’s “Suspicion.”
Over at WGRD, “I Want To Hold Your Hand” is in the #1 position on January 17, after three weeks. (The January 3 debut is rather early.) The band has two songs on the January 24 chart, three in the Top 10 by February 21, and by the beginning of April WGRD is also showing Stafford at the top and – oddly – Elvis’ “It Hurts Me” at #5 in between two Beatle tracks.
WLAV was later to the rock and roll game. The January 9, 1964 chart doesn’t feature a Beatles song until you get down to #17. But the next week the same song – “I Want To Hold Your Hand” – is at the top of the list. By the end of the month the top 2 songs are by the Beatles, and again – by the first week of April – there’s only three Beatle songs in the top 40, at numbers 4 and 5. Terry Stafford and Elvis are split by the Serendipity Singers at #2. Beatlemania had waned in Grand Rapids.
Every April, the music historians look back to this time in music history when one rock group was positively dominant. I’d suggest, though, that perhaps if we want to be truly accurate, we should start the retrospectives about three months earlier – at least in the Midwest.