Fifty years ago today, the Beatles appeared on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for the first time.
The band’s breakthrough, and ultimately, pop culture-redefining, first U.S smash, “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” entered the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 45. The issue was dated Jan. 18, 1964. The following week, the song rocketed to No. 3. It became the Beatles’ first of 20 No. 1s the following week (Feb. 1, 1964).
The Beatles’ 20 toppers remain the most by any artist in the Hot 100’s history. (Mariah Carey follows with 18.) When Billboard ranked the top acts of the chart’s first 55 years this past August, the Beatles ranked at No. 1.
While today’s gold anniversary clearly marks one of the most significant milestones in Billboard chart history, even at the time it was front-page news. Literally: “British Beatles Hottest Capitol Singles Ever,” the front page of Billboard beamed upon the song’s chart start.
“The Beatles’ Capitol single ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ this week jumps aboard Billboard’s Hot 100 chart for the first time, landing in the No. 45 spot 10 days after the record hit the market, thus becoming the fastest-breaking disk in the label’s history,” Billboard’s Eliot Tiegel wrote. (At the time, Tom Noonan headed up Billboard’s charts team. Nearly six years earlier, he’d launched the Hot 100.)
“Capitol’s artists and repertoire vice-president Voyle Gilmore told Billboard his company had shipped 640,000 copies during the first week of the disk’s release,” Billboard revealed. “This surpasses the label’s all-time fastest-breaking singles, Tennessee Ernie Ford’s ‘Sixteen Tons’ and the Kingston Trio’s ‘Tom Dooley’.”
Ironically, the instant success of “Hand” almost threatened its further momentum, due to production logistics. “To keep pace with the demand,” Billboard wrote, “Capitol has had its plants in Scranton, Pa., and Los Angeles on 24-hour production schedules, and found it necessary to farm out 200,000 Beatle pressings to RCA Victor.”
Billboard also reported that the group’s debut U.S. album, “Meet the Beatles,” was ordered an “immediate release,” up from its original Jan. 20, 1964, target date. Because of the demand for “Hold,” according to then-Capitol President Alan Livingston, “pressure [became] too great for us to hold back [the album] any longer.”
What led to the Beatles’ instantaneous American acceptance?
As former Billboard Chart Beat editor Fred Bronson notes in his book “Hottest Hot 100 Hits,” the Beatles made their first appearance on the British singles chart the week of Oct. 11, 1962, with “Love Me Do.” Prior to the U.S. release of “Hand,” four Beatles singles were released stateside: “Do,” “Please Please Me” and “From Me to You” on the Chicago-based Vee Jay label and “She Loves You” on Philadelphia-based Swan, as Capitol had not yet decided to promote the band in the U.S. Still, “From” granted the Beatles their first visit to any Billboard chart: the song entered the Hot 100’s Bubbling Under tally the week of Aug. 3, 1963. In a three-week run on the ranking, it reached No. 116. (Those four early releases eventually hit the Hot 100 after “Hand.” “She Loves You” and “Love Me Do” became the Beatles’ second and fourth No. 1s, respectively; “Please Please Me” reached No. 3; and “From Me to You” hit No. 41, all in 1964.)
In November 1963, Bronson chronicles, Beatles manager Brian Epstein flew to New York with a demo of “Hand.” Enamored upon hearing it, Brown Meggs, Capitol’s then-director of Eastern operations, decided it to release it in the U.S. on Jan. 13, 1964. However, Carroll Baker, a DJ at WWDC Washington, D.C., had received a copy of the song from a British flight attendant and played it. Other stations quickly added it, as well, and Capitol advanced the official U.S. release date to Dec. 26, 1963.
When Jack Paar showed a clip of the Beatles on his Friday night NBC series on Jan. 3, the stage was set for American Beatlemania and the band’s first Hot 100 entry.
In Billboard’s front-page story the week of Jan. 18, 1964, the item even previewed what would become one of the most iconic music performances, and TV events, ever. “England’s hit act is scheduled for three appearances on the ‘Ed Sullivan’ Show immediately after its arrival here, the first to be telecast February 9.”