For one day of 2014, we all felt 50 years younger…
1964 was quite a year. The New York World’s Fair welcomed the crowds in Queens. Fiddler on the Roof opened on Broadway. And, oh yeah, a well-dressed, mop-topped, foursome from England stepped out of a Pan Am jet plane at the newly-named John F. Kennedy airport to began their addictive attachment to America’s ears and hearts.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the Beatles.” With those words, delivered by CBS Television Sunday night emcee Ed Sullivan, the screaming began as America was officially introduced to John, Paul, George and Ringo. I was just one of the estimated 73 million people watching with my family on our Black and White screen TV set, seeing and hearing the songs “All My Loving,” “Till There Was You,” “She Loves You”, “I Saw Her Standing There” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” I didn’t scream, but I did feel a sense of the volcanic-type musical eruption that was overtaking America that evening. Of course, as we have seen and heard, that one night was just the beginning…
‘Epstein, Bernstein, Meyerowitz & Kaufman’ could be the moniker of a respected Wall Street law firm. But it’s not. Those fabulous four Jewish names are simply a few of the very well connected names to the Fab Four. As the manager of the Beatles, Brian Epstein can singlehandedly be credited with helping to make the Beatles the international sensation that they would become. But he needed a big push from a team of professionals across the pond. Brian said that the first call he got from America was from a young concert promoter named Sid Bernstein. It was strictly a telephone conversation that led to an agreement that enabled Bernstein to book the Beatles into a Carnegie Hall concert in 1964 followed by not one but two Shea Stadium concerts over the next two years. When Bernstein called Epstein, there was no radio airplay for the Beatles. Here in New York City–Queens to be precise, Flushing to be exact–I was musically addicted to my hand-held transistor radio. I always kept a supply of replacement 9-volt batteries nearby. When not listening to my transistor, I was connected to the area AM radio stations including WMCA, WABC and WINS. They were all top 40- music stations. Born Bruce Meyerowitz, “Cousin Brucie” Morrow was a disc jockey at the most powerful station (WABC) at the onset of Beatlemania and wound up introducing the Beatles during their first Shea Stadium concert. His competitive counterpart was Murray Kaufman, known to WINS listeners as “Murray the K” who often referred to himself as the “Fifth Beatle” due to his close association with the group. The other major New York station, WMCA (my favorite) featured popular DJ Jack Spector. Jake and the other WMCA Good Guys (yes, I was an official “Good Guy” and proudly wore by prize-winning yellow WMCA Good Guy sweatshirt) claimed to be the first station to play the Beatles song “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” Some could even argue that perhaps Ed Sullivan’s wife, the former Sylvia Weinstein, could have had a hand at bringing the Beatles to her husband’s huge audience. She was at the London Airport along with her husband and noticed all the commotion as 1,500 youngsters waited for the arrival of the then-unknown Beatles.
Judaically speaking, the Beatles have had and continue to have quite an impact. There’s a synagogue called Temple Beth Israel in Houston that reminisced by recently staging a Beatles Shabbat. TBI’s Cantor Mutlu said he had to make sure the mood of each of the songs coincided with the mood of the prayer book text. “I looked for something serene and tender for ‘Shalom Rav,’ the prayer asking for peace.” He tried the Beatles song “Yesterday” but instead chose “Something” because he felt the mood was perfect. “Mi Chamocha” on the other hand was set to the Beatles version of “Twist and Shout.” The Cantor also sang the Barechu to “Love Me Do.” In describing his synagogue’s Beatles Shabbat, their Rabbi David Lyon noted that if it has been a particularly long week for you, set down your troubles and “let it be, let it be.” He added, “All You Need is Love” bound up in spirited music,” and in a welcoming thought, just “imagine all the people” who have come to services for TBI’s Beatles Shabbat.
At the Young Israel of Hollywood, an Orthodox synagogue in South Florida, Beatles music was incorporated into their service with the help of the a song-parody group called Schlock Rock. The group also introduced a CD with 21 Beatles’ songs set to various parts of the Shabbat service. For example, “Shalom Aleichem” is sung to the tune of “With a Little Help From My Friends.” “V’Shamru” uses “The Long and Winding Road.” The concluding prayer “Ein Keloheinu” incorporates the sounds of “Let it Be.” The Havdalah service brings in the sound of the song “Imagine.”
Heading north, Connecticut’s Greenwich Reform Temple is putting together a British invasion program called “A Beatle’s Purim” which features popular Beatles songs into a grogger-shaking fab four production that sounds like it would make any fan of John, Paul, George and Ringo proud.
With all the positive success that the Beatles enjoyed in England and America back in 1964, one notable country was non-supportive: Israel. It was reported that Israel’s banning of the Beatles 50 years ago was due to the expectation that the mop-topped quartet would have a negative impact on Israel’s young people. In denying their approval, a committee under the auspices of Israel’s Education Ministry said that the “Beatles had no intrinsic value and their concerts promote mass hysteria.”
Forty-three years later, the Beatles Paul McCartney, despite receiving death threats, performed his first concert in the Jewish state. A crowd estimated at 40,000 enjoyed the outdoor concert in Tel Aviv. He had promised to give Israel the concert they had been waiting decades to hear.
While the Beatles didn’t go to Israel following their New York success, they did head to another Jewish stronghold…traveling to Miami Beach with Murray the K and staying at the the Deauville Hotel where they were set for a live remote broadcast of another Sullivan show appearance.
Then there was Ray Bloch, the musical director for “The Ed Sullivan” show who told a reporter that he didn’t expect any long-term success for the Beatles following their appearance on his boss’ “really big shew.” “I give them a year,” Bloch noted. Five decades later, it’s hard not to imagine that the Beatles will continue to sing on in our memories forever. Yeah, yeah, yeah.