As 13 Beatles Albums and 4 Compilations Now Free to Stream Online this week, we think about the Beatles when they visited Harlem.
On Saturday, February 8, 1964, the day before the Beatles’ much anticipated appearance on Harlem’s Ed Sullivan the New York City weather was blustery, the landscape bleached of essential color.That morning, with George staying in the room nursing a sore throat and fever, John, Paul and Ringo dodged a mob of bundled-up admirers, who shrieked at the sight of their shaggy-haired idols. A thicket of blue-uniformed police, fighting to hold back the crowd, picked up limp, seemingly lifeless girls who had collapsed in delirium and slung them over shoulders to safety.
The Beatles weren’t particularly interested in the standard New York sights—the Empire State Building, the U.N., Rockefeller Center, the Statue of Liberty. Their destination was a more meaningful shrine. John wanted to “cruise past the Apollo Theater,” Paul recalled, where so many of the Beatles’ idols had debuted.
There was little romance, however, in the Harlem that the Beatles encountered. By the early 1960’s, Harlem had lapsed into an “impoverished ghetto,” its streets a warren of blighted tenements. Race relations in general were at an all-time low, and you could feel the residual backlash in Harlem’s restless pulse. Everywhere there were people jostling on the sidewalk, spilling out of bodegas, jackknifing through traffic.
Suddenly they turned onto a wide boulevard, 125th Street, and the Apollo loomed right in front of them. tonight!—the marvelous Marvelettes! read the marquee – they were tempted.
The same with the specialty record shops that beckoned from every corner: salsa, soul, gospel, jazz, doo-wop, R&B, R&B, R&B. The Beatles, tempted by such offerings, had to restrain themselves from making innumerable stops. As it was, they barely made it back for the start of their mid-town Ed Sullivan Show rehearsal.
The fab three ended up grabbing something to eat at Sherman’s Barbeque at West 151st Street and Amsterdam Avenue with East Harlemite Ronnie Spector of the Ronettes at Sherman’s in central Harlem.
Via TIME book, The Beatles Invasion, by Bob Spitz.
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