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When America Fell for the Beatles

Springsteen, Dylan and other musical greats recall how the Fab Four’s arrival 50 years ago kicked off a new era of rock ’n’ roll

Screaming girls in a crowd holding a large banner reading 'Beatles Please Stay Here 4-Ever', Beatlemania - 50 years later

The author is pictured at center (her face is behind the outstretched arm), standing among screaming girls in a crowd at the dawn of Beatlemania. — Redux Pictures

In late 1963, the Atlantic seemed impossibly vast. News from Europe arrived by way of long-distance calls, letters and telegrams. Telegrams!

Then, not long after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, an English band suddenly infiltrated the U.S. airwaves. "I Want to Hold Your Hand," with its tight harmonies and insistent backbeat, seemed to render almost everything that came before it obsolete. One hit followed another in swift succession — "I Saw Her Standing There," "She Loves You," "Please Please Me," "Twist and Shout" — forever collapsing the distance to Liverpool. And when the Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964, they seemed to awaken the country from its profound, shattering grief.

Slideshow: Beatles "Fab Four" retrospective photos

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At the time, I was 12 years old. Later that year, when I was a committed Beatlemaniac, I appeared in a New York Times photograph of young women screaming and squealing behind a banner reading "Beatles Please Stay Here 4-Ever." Today, decades later, the Beatles are revered throughout the world. But they were never adored as directly and simply as they were by us, the very first wave of Beatlemaniacs, who chased them down streets and hotel corridors and drowned out every word they tried to sing.

In memory of that dazzling, electric time, prominent musicians and performers recall how the Beatles changed the country — and us.

Bruce Springsteen, musician

"I Want to Hold Your Hand" was the first Beatles song I heard. When you hear something like that, your hair stands on end on your arms, and it's having some strange and voodoolike effect upon you, and you can't figure it out.

I got out of my mother's car, which is where I heard it, and I ran down the street into the bowling alley and immediately into the phone booth, slammed the door behind me and got my girlfriend on the phone. I said, "Have you heard this song?" It stopped your day when it hit. It stopped your day. That just was a nuclear explosion.

Janis Ian, singer-songwriter

I grew up on classical and jazz and folk. Pop was really off my radar. When A Hard Day's Night came out [in the summer of 1964], I was 13 and attending summer camp with my friend Janey Street, who was a huge Beatles and Stones fan. We and a bunch of other campers took the camp truck into town to see the film. I came out of that film a convert. We sang Beatles songs all the way back to camp, and we all started learning them the next day on the guitar, and that was kind of it. The energy when Lennon and McCartney joined voices and harmonized or sang in unison was astonishing.

Next page: Billy Joel, Bob Dylan and Cyndi Lauper recall the Beatles. »

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