‘Ladies and Gentlemen…The Beatles’

Text and images by Laurie Rosenthal
Staff Writer

John. Paul. George. Ringo. Never have there been four other names so widely known and loved in all of rock ‘n’ roll. In 1962, the four Liverpudlians joined forces to become what is widely considered to be not only the best, but also most important, band in the history of popular music.

Time has only increased their significance in music history. You can draw a line from any contemporary musician and it will go back to The Beatles, either directly or indirectly.

John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and George Harrison, better known collectively as the Beatles.
John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and George Harrison, better known collectively as the Beatles.

Countless books have been written about the band. Their songs have been covered thousands of times, by artists as varied as Frank Sinatra, the London Symphony Orchestra, Tina Turner, the Grateful Dead, Los Lobos, The Muppets and Nirvana.

Offering a retrospective into this special time in The Beatles’ history, the Grammy Museum in downtown L.A. is presenting “Ladies and Gentlemen . . . The Beatles” through September 5.

The exhibit focuses on the time period of 1964-66, the height of Beatlemania, and includes memorabilia, ephemera and merchandise.

Though it may be hard for today’s youth to imagine, back then there was rock ‘n’ roll. That was it. Music wasn’t subdivided to the extent that it is today.

For those too young to remember the mid-sixties, Beatlemania ran rampant throughout the
world. Though the face of Beatlemania was usually teenage girls, screaming their lungs out, boys as well as adults were also affected (cheekily shown in an ad for the film, A Hard Day’s Night.)

Arguably, The Beatles were ahead of their peers in every way. They made movies and videos long before any other band. They experimented musically. They went to India and studied meditation with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. They had their own cartoon show that aired on Saturdays.

One of the most engaging things about the exhibit is the journey back to a time when life was much simpler and more innocent. The Beatles—their enormous talent notwithstanding— came along at the right time, landing on these shores mere months after President Kennedy had been assassinated. Americans needed something to bring them out of mourning, and the Fab Four were the perfect antidote. A highlight includes that fateful day in February 1964, when The Beatles landed  at JFK airport. It was pandemonium— with shrieking fans everywhere—which would last for years to come.

Even beyond The Beatles, the exhibit hearkens back to a time that no longer exists, and items that are long forgotten: 45-RPM records (youngsters, ask your parents), transistor radios and more.

The Beatles not only influenced music, fashion and hairstyles, but even more importantly, they expanded people’s minds and influenced how they thought. They also inspired thousands of garage bands across the country—and the world.

An Abbey Road street sign greets you  at the beginning of the exhibit, along with the famed album (not CD) cover of the Fab Four crossing Abbey Road, all the long-ago conspiracy signs right there: Why is Paul barefoot and smoking? Why does the license plate on the Beetle say 28IF, when Paul would have been 28 (including his time in the womb) if he were still alive? Turns out he was—and still is—alive.

Also on exhibit is the jacket that Ringo wore (and helped design) on the classic cover, and a pair of John’s spectacles from the late 1960s.

Other clothes include a suit that Ringo wore in A Hard Day’s Night and the jacket that Paul wore at Shea Stadium, complete with a Wells Fargo badge.

Merchandise is a big part of the exhibit: Beatles games, Colorforms, gum, tennis  shoes, rings, a lunchbox, 45 records carriers, dolls, books, buttons, coloring books, trading cards, pins and other items show how all-pervading the Fab Four were.

An issue of TV Guide is opened to Sunday, February 9, 1964. Among the offerings that night were Bonanza, My Favorite Martian, Candid Camera and the Ed Sullivan Show, which featured The Beatles’ American television debut and cemented their fame in this country forever.

Also included are concert and movie tickets, handwritten set lists and lyrics, concert posters, stills, autographs, contracts, a press release that details John’s “The Beatles are bigger than Jesus” comment, magazine covers, telegrams, replicas of their instruments and membership cards for the Cavern Club, where they played in their Liverpool, England, hometown.

A tour date schedule from 1964 shows that the band hardly took a day off starting on August 19 in San Francisco through September 20 in New York.

There are also video screens throughout the exhibit, with Beatles footage and interviews with various people connected to the band.

Interactive features include singing “Yellow Submarine” with Ringo, and sitting at a drum kit and getting a video lesson from Ringo himself. Both are fun for everyone.

Chances are a die-hard Beatlemaniac isn’t going to learn anything new, but that doesn’t diminish the fun of looking at the eclectic mix of offerings up close, and not in a book or on the Internet. For most of us, this exhibit is as close to a Beatle as we’ll ever get.

For more information, visit grammymuseum.org.

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