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BEATLEMANIA

ESSENTIAL QUESTION

What were the factors that contributed to the rise of Beatlemania?

OVERVIEW

In 1964, the Beatles achieved an unprecedented level of success both in their home country of Britain and in the United States.  They amassed crowds of adoring fans that followed them wherever they went, a phenomenon often referred to as “Beatlemania.”  On February 9, 1964, an estimated 73 million people tuned in to see the Beatles perform live on The Ed Sullivan Show, a popular television program.  This meant that 45% of homes with televisions in the U.S. were watching the Beatles, a record at that time.  Their appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, coupled with radio play and album promotion, spurred their meteoric rise in America.  By April 4, 1964, the group held the first five spots on the Billboard Hot 100 list of popular songs, with "Can't Buy Me Love," "Twist and Shout," "She Loves You," "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and "Please Please Me" crowding the top of the charts.  No other act in history has achieved such a feat.   

The Beatles’ skilled songwriting abilities, sophisticated pop sensibilities, and power as an ensemble were all key factors in the rise of Beatlemania.  However, other factors also contributed to their popularity.  Teen idols such as Elvis and Frank Sinatra had captured the hearts and minds of America’s youth before, but there was something magnetic and particularly approachable about these four “mop-tops” from Liverpool named John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr.  They seemed more like the boys next door than heartthrobs to be placed on a distant pedestal.  And this image was no accident.  Under the guidance of their manager Brian Epstein, they had carefully crafted a persona as a youthful, fun-loving band, friends with whom a young audience could identify.  

But the Beatles and their carefree spirit arrived in the U.S. at a time of great political and social uncertainty.  Just 77 days prior to their touchdown in New York, President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated and the nation was wrecked with grief.  Simultaneously, the Civil Rights movement in the South was gaining momentum.  It was a serious and somber time for Americans, a time during which the energetic music and playful personalities of the Beatles were embraced with unprecedented fervor.


Beatles Fans Outside Buckingham Palace, 1965

VIDEO

IMAGES

OBJECTIVES

Upon completion of this lesson, students will:

  1. Know (knowledge):
    • The importance of Beatlemania as an unprecedented cultural phenomenon
    • The historical events leading up to the Beatles' arrival in America
    • The role of manager Brian Epstein in crafting the Beatles' image 
  2. Be able to (skills):
    • Make connections between popular music and the social and political environment in which that music is created
    • Common Core: Students will analyze a variety of media, including print, visual, and video (CCSS Reading 1; CCSS Speaking and Listening 2; CCSS Speaking and Listening 3)
    • Common Core: Students will analyze an article from the Saturday Evening Post, defining key words and phrases to facilitate and deepen their understanding of the article (CCSS Language 4; CCSS Language 6)
    • Common Core: Students will write a fan letter inspired by the text and video sources (CCSS Writing 3; CCSS Writing 4)

ACTIVITIES

Motivational Activity:

You and your students will watch a trailer for A Hard Day's Night.  This comedy film depicts a fictionalized day in the life of the Beatles.  Although the film was released in 1964, you will be watching the trailer from the 2000 re-release.  Discuss as a class:

  • How do crowds and audiences react to the Beatles?
  • How are the adults depicted in the film?  Are they portrayed differently than the Beatles?
  • In what ways do you think the Beatles portrayed an image that a younger generation could identify with?

Procedure:

1. Display the following two pictures on the board of the Beatles circa 1961 (on the left) and the Beatles in 1964 (on the right).  These are also available in Handout 1: Images of The Beatles.  Explain that prior to the filming of A Hard Day’s Night, the Beatles went through a long period of refining their image, working alongside their manager Brian Epstein to achieve their approachable aesthetic.  Students will work in pairs to answer the following questions:

  • How would you describe the clothes and mood in the first picture from 1961?
  • How would you describe the clothes and mood in the second picture from 1964?
  • What kind of image do you think the band is trying to present in each of the pictures?
  • How does the photograph from 1964 portray a heightened sense of intimacy?

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2. Display an image of the Daily Mirror - February 8, 1964.  The image is also available in Handout 1: Images of The Beatles.  Explain to the students that this is the cover story from the Daily Mirror, a British-based publication, the day after the Beatles’ arrival in America.  As a class, discuss the following:

  • What key information can you discern from the text and images in this source?
  • Do you think the arrival of the Beatles in America was worthy of headline news? Why or why not?
  • How might this type of media coverage help build a larger fan base for the Beatles?

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3. Distribute Handout 2: Beatlemania Timeline.  Ask the students to complete an engaged reading of the timeline on their own.  They should underline any historical events that take place in America and they should place a star (*) next to any event that is related to the Beatles’ career.  Walk around the room and check for understanding.  Ask the students as a class:

  • Are there any events on the timeline that you recognize?  If so, what?
  • The Beatles arrived in America in February 1964.  What was the most recent event that had transpired in the U.S.? 
  • What do you think was the general feeling in America at the time when the Beatles arrived?

4. Play video of the Beatles performing “She Loves You” on February 11, 1964.  This is from the Beatles’ first U.S. concert at the Washington Coliseum.  Two days prior, they had appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show and 73 million people (or 45% of American households with televisions) tuned in to watch.  After viewing, discuss the following with the class:

  • What do you notice about the Beatles' performance?  How do they interact with each other on stage?
  • How does this live footage compare with the trailer for A Hard Day’s Night?
  • Describe some of the reactions in the audience. 

5. Distribute Handout 3: Brian Epstein and the Beatles.  The students will watch a video interview conducted with Brian Epstein as Beatlemania reached its peak.  Explain to the students that a rising tide of youth culture and the obsession with the Beatles was not welcomed by all.  Students should indicate on their handouts the perspectives of both the interviewer and Epstein.  Discuss the following:       

  • Is Beatlemania evidence of mass hysteria?  What does Brian Epstein think about the word “hysteria”?  What does the interviewer think?
  • How does the interviewer see Epstein’s role as the band’s manager? To what does the interviewer attribute the band’s popularity?
  • How would you define the “commercial machine”?

Summary Activity:

1. Pass out Handout 4: Four Corners of Beatlemania.

2. In their seats, have the students complete the handout.  They must choose one factor which they believe is the most important reason for the rise of Beatlemania in America.  While they are completing the handout, the teacher will label four corners of the classroom, or four areas, with the following words: Talent, Personality, Media Coverage, and Historical Context.

3. After they have completed the handout, ask the students to get up and move to their chosen corner of the room.  Have the students in their groups discuss their reasoning for their choice.  They must come up with one reason, as a group, to share with the class.

Writing Prompt:

Ask students to imagine that they are living in 1964; they will be writing a one-page fan letter to the Beatles.  Explain that one factor which contributed to the Beatles’ popularity was teenage fans could pick the Beatle to whom they most closely identified.  Similarly, students should choose one individual Beatle as the recipient for their letter (John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, or Ringo Starr).  They should write from the perspective of someone living at that time.  Invite students to use examples or details from the sources studied in class to improve their narratives.  Students should reference at least one historical event from Handout 2: Beatlemania Timeline in their letters.

Extension Activity:

Distribute Handout 5: Building the Beatle Image, published in the Saturday Evening Post in 1964. Ask students to read the article aloud with a partner, alternating by paragraph.  Students may need to look up some vocabulary in the dictionary or use context clues to figure out the meaning.  Discuss the following as a class:

  • What are the five elements Packard describes as necessary for creating Beatlemania?
  • What elements might you add to Packard’s list?  What elements do you disagree with, if any?
  • Have you ever been “obsessed” with an artist, an athlete, or an actor?  Why do you think people create strong attachments to celebrities?

STANDARDS

Common Core State Standards

College and Career Readiness Reading Anchor Standards for Grades 6-12 for Literature and Informational Text

  • Reading 1: Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

College and Career Readiness Writing Anchor Standards for Grades 6-12 in English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science and Technical Subjects

  • Writing 3: Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.

  • Writing 4: Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening for Grades 6-12

  • Speaking and Listening 2: Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.
  • Speaking and Listening 3: Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.

College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Language for Grades 6-12

  • Language 4: Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases by using context clues, analyzing meaningful word parts, and consulting general and specialized reference materials, as appropriate.
  • Language 6: Acquire and use accurately a range of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when encountering an unknown term important to comprehension or expression.

 

Social Studies – National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS)

  • Theme 1: Culture
  • Theme 2: Time, Continuity, and Change
  • Theme 4: Individual Development and Identity
  • Theme 5: Individuals, Groups, and Institutions
  • Theme 9: Global Connections

National Standards for Music Education

Core Music Standard: Responding

  • Analyze: Analyze how the structure and context of varied musical works inform the response.

  • Interpret: Support interpretations of musical works that reflect creators' and/or performers' expressive intent.

  • Evaluate: Support evaluations of musical works and performances based on analysis, interpretation, and established criteria.

Core Music Standard: Connecting

  • Connecting 11: Relate musical ideas and works to varied contexts and daily life to deepen understanding.