Forty years ago the Beatles came to Philadelphia. And nothing would ever be the same.
It is precisely 9:36 p.m. in West Philadelphia on the second splendidly summery September night of 1964, and exactly six minutes ago everything suddenly changed.
For teenage Philadelphia, the calendar just flipped, along with everyone's wig, to a new era. It will be years before anyone fully understands all the far-reaching implications, but this much is indisputably true: The hazy, crazy 1960s have officially begun.
OMIGOD, THEY'RE HERE! THEY'RE REALLY REALLY HERE!
For months, their songs have blared from the tinny speakers of transistor radios, and they've stared out hirsute and soulful from the glossy pages of fan magazines, and yeah, yeah, yeah-ed aphrodiscially into the black-and-white kinescope cameras of The Ed Sullivan Show, beaming live and direct into the nuclear family living rooms of the American night. And right here, right now, at Convention Hall, the kids in Philly are sharing the same rare air as the Fab Frickin' Four!
From the outside--where more than a thousand ticketless Beatle- maniacs loiter hoping for a miracle, or at least a security guard with his back turned--you can almost see Convention Hall vibrating. Under the dusky evening sky, the illuminated windows of the hall create a shimmering jack-o'-lantern effect.
The cause of this seismic vibration is a deafening unstoppable sound, supersonic in pitch and intensity, like sticking your head inside the roaring jet engine of a 747 achieving takeoff velocity. It's a sound that until recently had not been heard in the entire history of human listening: the sound of 13,000 teenage girls losing their shit under one roof.
A shivery, quasi-orgasmic wave washes over the crowd as the four mop-tops, in dark velvet-collared suits and pointy-toed Cuban-heeled boots, finally--finally!--take the stage. But before they can even get out a single note, the Beatles are completely drowned out by the united mega-scream of 13,000 teenage girls. It will be years before scientists invent a concert sound system that's louder than 13,000 screaming teenage girls.
Philly Beatlemania begins with a riddle on a cold morning in December 1963 in the gray wake of the Kennedy assassination. Hymon "Hy" Lit--aka Hyski, aka Hyski O'Rooney McVautie O'Zoot, the No. 1 jock on WIBG, the city's AM powerhouse--walks out to his car. On the windshield is the letter "B." What in sam-hell is this? The next day there are two letters on the windshield: "B" and "E." Day after that: "A," followed by "T" the next day.
Every morning another letter--placed by an enterprising Capitol Records promo man, Hyski suspected. By the end of the week, the message on Lit's windshield is complete: "THE BEATLES ARE COMING!"
It's January 1964 and WIBG jocks Hyski and Joe "the Rockin' Bird" Niagara, the two biggest names in Philadelphia radio, are knocking back complimentary beverages at a swanky "Meet the Beatles" cocktail party at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York. Disc jockeys and concert promoters from across the nation have been flown in to rub elbows and trade japes with the Fab Four. Hyski staggers out of the cocktail party with one thing on his mind: getting the Beatles to Philadelphia.
The next day he calls up William Morris, the Beatles' booking agency, and asks what it will take. Twenty-five thousand dollars, they say. Hyski doesn't even blink. He'll be there tomorrow, he says, with a certified check. Thank you, Mr. Lit, says the booking agent. The Beatles will be on your doorstep Sept. 2.
Within weeks the Beatles appear on Ed Sullivan, which commands a Super Bowl-sized viewership, and seemingly overnight America falls hard for the Fab Four.
Tickets for the Philadelphia date go on sale in May, starting at $2.50 for the nosebleed seats and topping out at a whopping $5.50 for the floor. Convention Hall's 12,037 seats sell out in 90 minutes. A mini-riot ensues when word of the sellout reaches the scores of ticketless Beatlemaniacs still in line. Hyski will be hit up with so many won't-take-no-for-an-answer VIP ticket requests that when all is said and done and the Beatles have left town without even saying goodbye, he'll be out $5,000.
In fact, the whole Beatles thing will turn out to be a really big headache, baby. What with the suits at the station giving him guff about that stunt he pulled on a Bulletin reporter who was writing trash about the Beatles fans the day after the concert. Hyski gave out the reporter's office number on the air and told listeners to call him up and scream in his ear.
PW's Taste of Philly 2014
Election Day 2014: Tues., Nov. 4