It was 18 years ago today That the Beatles came to town to play They were just then coming into style And they were guaranteed to raise a smile . . .
The actual date of the Beatles' visit to Washington was Feb. 11, 1964. Their show at the Washington Coliseum was the Beatles' first public concert appearance in America (they had been on the Ed Sullivan show for the first time four days earlier). It was also the largest crowd they had ever faced -- 8,600 screaming kids.
The kids were ready but the press was not overly hospitable. The Post's columnist George Dixon called them "a commonplace, rather dull act that hardly seems to merit mentioning, about as exciting an act as Fink's Mules." Laurence Laurent, commenting on their Sullivan show appearance, branded them "part of some kind of malicious, bilateral entertainment trade agreement . . . imported hillbillies who look like sheepdogs and sound like alleycats in agony."
The day of the concert didn't start out particularly well, either. The Beatles were still in New York, scheduled to fly here. A storm that eventually dumped eight inches of snow at National Airport forced them to switch to a train. Arriving at Union Station in an antique Edwardian sleeping car, they were greeted by 3,000 fans. Quickly whisked off by limousines, the four mop-tops went directly to a press conference at the coliseum.
Sample questions: Were they Britain's revenge for losing the Revolution? Ringo: "No, no, we just came for the money."
What about criticism that they weren't really very good? Paul: "We're not."
How long had they been together? A voice rang out: "We have been together for three years." A second, third and fourth voice repeated the answer and then the Beatles sang a unison refrain four times. End of conference.
Tommy Roe, the Chiffons and the Caravelles opened the concert that night. The Beatles' portion, basically one continuous scream from the mostly teen-age girls in the audience, was described by The Post's Leroy Aarons thus: "An 8,000 voice choir performed what is likely to become an American classic; call it Cacophony in B . . . it was like being downwind from a jet during takeoff. Interesting possibilities, what with the trend toward electronic music and all."
The concert had been set up to offset the losses on the Beatles' first trip to America, which was mostly for three Sullivan appearances. The stage was set up in the middle of the coliseum, so that the group had to alternate sides after each number. All through the show, the Beatles were pelted with jellybeans (some of them still in bags), popcorn, buttons, hair rollers and spent flashbulbs. Policeman guarding the stage screwed bullets into their ears to shut out the noise. Afterwards, the band was quickly swept to a reception at the British Embassy, where they begged "Please don't throw jellybeans, throw peppermint creams. They're softer when they hit."
The embassy corps didn't quite know what to do with the Beatles. Just before they arrived, the British press secretary announced solemnly, "Attention: Beatles are now approaching the area." When they did enter (making silly faces to contrast with the aloofness of the ambassador's wife), John Lennon looked the eager crowd over and pondered out loud, "What's the matter with you?" The staff asked their own silly questions: "Where do you get all that hair?" "It comes from my head," said Ringo. "It just keeps growing." Without bothering to ask, a secretary reached over a cut a piece of it off.
Over at the White House, British Prime Minister Sir Alec-Douglas Home was visiting with President Lyndon Johnson -- a day late so as not to conflict with the Beatles' visit to Washington. "I like your advance guard," LBJ smirked, "but don't you think they need a haircut?" Press Secretary Pierre Salinger fielded questions as to why the Beatles hadn't been invited over. "Nobody has suggested that the failure to invite the Beatles to the White House will impair U.S.-British relations," he replied stiffly, adding a personal note: "I wish my kids wouldn't try to look like the Beatles."
The Beatles left early on Friday. They would return in August 1966, playing RFK stadium with the Ronettes and the Cyrkle; it turned out to be their farewell tour. Just after that first show, though, their home town music paper, "Mersey Beat," reported on the Beatles' successful foray into America: "Could be the Beatles may open another location niche for Liverpool talent. They've certainly got their own feet firmly planted in America's elusive charts." Yeah, Yeah, Yeah.