Remembering the ‘64 invasion

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Fifty years ago, I was 11-years-old and a sixth grader at South Highlands Elementary School in Opp. It was a time when I was moving from childhood toward becoming a teenager, and music was part of that transition.

At home, I listened to the Big Bam on the radio and at school we talked about songs we liked. All the sixth grade classes even put on a Hootenanny for the school.

For those who don’t know, a Hootenanny is an informal concert at which folk singers (think Peter, Paul and Mary) perform, often the audience participates. They were big in the early 60s.

However, on this particular week 50 years ago, talk about what was happening on television the upcoming Sunday night replaced anything Hootenanny related. First, understand watching television as a family was, at the time, a ritual in this country.

My family watched its routine shows. On Sunday night, it was the Ed Sullivan Show. The time for the show must have been after church because we always went to Sunday night services, but I remember seeing Ed Sullivan.

Anyway, in early February 1964, the song talked about at school, especially by girls, was “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” Even now, if I concentrate, I recall most of the words.

“And when I touch you I feel happy inside.

It’s such a feeling that my love

I can’t hide, I can’t hide…”

Now I didn’t know much about “feeling happy inside” from a touch, but I understood handholding. In sixth grade, handholding was a big deal.

Back to Ed Sullivan. I’d heard the group that sang, “I Want to Hold Your Hand” was from England. However, unlike today when you instantly check out performances on the Internet, we’d never seen these English boys perform.

So on Sun., Feb. 9, 1964, my family, along with 73 million other viewers, tuned in to get a first look at the Beatles. I was excited and when they opened the curtain — well, wow, they were cute.

Of course, it was a different cute from the clean-cut Hootenanny and 50s malt-shop-music singers. These fellows had long hair (long by 1964’s standards, not by today’s Duck Dynasty standards). No boy I knew had hair over his ears or hanging down into his eyes.

In fact, their hair got a comment the next morning on the ride to school with our neighbor. She was a teacher and gave my brothers and me a lift each day.

I remember saying something about seeing the Beatles and hearing, whispered under her breath, “Bunch of long-haired mess.”

Well, it was the topic at school and for the next two Sunday nights, my friends and I watched that “bunch of long-haired mess,” perform on Ed Sullivan. Of course, we didn’t realize it was the beginning of the “British invasion” of American music.

All we knew was four cute guys sang songs we liked and we wanted more. Of course looking back, I also liked that their long hair shook up adults, like my neighbor. It was, perhaps, a taste of some forthcoming teenage rebellion.

When I heard Paul McCartney (Sir Paul) and Ringo Starr might perform together during the Grammy’s this year, I watched. It was nice to see them, somewhat bittersweet like running into childhood friends and noting the changes the years brought to their faces.

Now, this week there is anticipation of what is coming on this Sunday. Fifty years after the Beatles invaded America and the hearts of lots of 11-year-old girls at South Highlands Elementary School, Paul and Ringo, along with George and John’s widows, appear in that old Ed Sullivan Show time-slot to commemorate the anniversary.

While the excitement, for me, is not what it was 50 years ago, I still plan to be in front of that television. And, I so hope they sing, “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”