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How The Tribune Saw The Beatles

Ahead of this week's obsessive and commercially trumped-up celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Beatles appearing on The Ed Sulivan Show, at least one news organization has admitted that they were so square as to have predicted "The odds are they will fade away, as most adults confidently predict."

That was Newsweek, as recounted in "The Beatles Suck. Yeah, We Said That."

That got me wondering about how the esteemed Chicago press saw the Beatles at the time. The only newspaper archives going back that far I have access to are those of the Tribune, so they're the ones in the crosshairs, but it's a pretty safe bet the mainstream media was uniformly uptight, just as it is now.

In the Trib's case, their obsession was the Beatles' hair. And how they sucked.


The first mention of the Beatles in the Tribune appears to be this wire story with a London dateline on December 29, 1963.

Beatles Bring Screams From Teen-Agers

Four young men with their hair combed down to their eyebrows donned policemen's helmets and greatcoats. They plunged through the crowd of screaming teen-agers unnoticed in their disguise. The Beatles had made it to safety again.

The Beatles is a quartet of three singing guitarists, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison, and a drummer, Ringo Starr, who gets his name from wearing four rings. They range in age from 20 to 23 - almost old men to their fans.

Represent U.S. Break

They share a common past, which appears to be the key to their success. All are "blitz babies" from the backstreets of Liverpool. Youngsters in Britain until now have concentrated their screams on singers who imported rock 'n' roll from the United States.

The Beatles represent "a break from America," said one fan.

The Beatles started out in the cellar jazz clubs of Liverpool, where dancing space is cramped the couples have just enough room to twitch. There are scores of similar groups - the Riot Squad, the Hurricanes, or the Beathovens, for example - playing the cellar circuit and banging out something called "the Mersey sound" on electric guitars with a brutal beat.

Write Their Music

The Beatles write their own songs - or more precisely, they sing them into a tape recorder, since none of them can read a note. The key word in their songs is "Yeah, yeah, yeah."
On stage the Beatles stand in trim, collarless suits. Their grooming is neat, and their overlong Buster Brown haircuts are always trimmed.

At the royal variety show, where Britain's top performers appear before the royal family, they said: "Those of you in the cheap seats can applaud; the rest of you rattle your jewelry."

They earn about $5,600 a week.

On February 11, 1964, the Tribune's editorial board weighed in post-Sullivan.

Human Sheep Dogs

The Beatles, England's gift to the bobbysoxers, have made their debut to American audiences, armed with electric guitars, drums, and sore throats. They make enough noise to bring the plaster down from the ceiling, but the teen-agers respond by howling in ecstasy.

As art, this wouldn't merit a cutting remark from Miss Cassidy, but there is one thing about the foursome that may deserve emulation. These boys wear their hair like an English sheep dog. They sing - if singing it is - thru bangs that resemble an old-fashioned beaded portiere.

It is said that the Beatles have picked up 17 million dollars already, and may have got most of it by staying away from the barber shop. Americans are great on organizing; so perhaps an organizer will come forward to enlist recruits from the younger generation of males for a similar campaign of abstinence.

Parents, we are sure, would approve if Junior could manage to go six months without a haircut. The savings would defray part of the heavy college expenses, and the retaliation would be about what the barbers' union deserves for constantly raising the tariff. An electric guitar is optional equipment. We fervently hope that the scion of the line foregoes it.

Yeah, they said it.


Three days later, a Joseph Di John from Milwaukee got his approving response published

Agonizing Beatles

Today's editorial on the Beatles was a very fine one and you should be commended for it. Someone should bring to the attention of the public the apparent lack of talent which the Beatles display and the lack of taste their followers display. The Beatles are the product of promotion: we are the victims.

But the Beatles do have an important function in our society: they shamefully show the immaturity of our teenagers. Youth's seemingly irrational outbursts of emotion and their unswerving loyalty do nothing more than cancel any respect that adults may have had for adolescent values. As long as America's young display total lack of intellectual, emotional, and social maturity, we will have to put up with the agonizing sound of the Beatles and their related kin.

The generation gap was real.


Perhaps the prevailing attitudes were best summed up in this February 23, 1964 offering - even if it was buried on page 22.

Beatle Debate

I think the way critics and adults are criticizing the Beatles is awful. I think they're neat and their hair is nothing to laugh about.

Inclosed are some pictures of guys who really have mops to laugh about. Take Schubert, for instance. He looks like he just took his curlers off. Beethoven's hair doesn't look any better. And people who criticize the Beatles' clothes should take a good look at the outfits worn by Bach, Schubert, Brahms, and Beethoven.

These guys' music can't even compare with that of the Beatles.

- Carol Seider, Evanston.


The Beatles are a curse to humanity. They have no talent. They cannot sing. They cannot play music. They have absolutely no showmanship.

They do have queer hair-dos and no doubt an efficient promoter.

The world is disintegrating into a bedlam of chaos.

- Walt Sands, Chicago.

One can only wonder if Walt and the Trib's editors ever came around.


Comments welcome.


Posted on February 12, 2014

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