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Turn Left At Greenland
Or How The Beatles Came To America

by Bruce Spizer, Beatles author and historian

In the Marx Brothers film A Night at the Opera, Chico, Harpo and a lovesick tenor hide in Groucho's steamer trunk as stowaways on a vessel heading to America. As part of their ploy to get off the ship upon docking in New York, the stowaways pose as a trio of famous European aviators, with Groucho serving as their interpreter. The plan starts to fall apart when they are called upon to tell of their heroic adventures before a crowd of admirers and the press. Chico gives the story of how they flew to America:

"The first time we started we get-a half-way across when we run out of gasoline and we gotta go back. Then I take-a twice as much gasoline. This time we just about to land, maybe three feet, then what do you think? We run out of gasoline again. And back we go again to get more gas. This time I take-a plenty gas. Well we get-a half way over and what do you think happened? We forgot-a the airplane. So we gotta sit down and talk it over. Then I get-a the great idea. We no take-a the gasoline, we no take-a the airplane. We take-a the steamship. And that, friends, is how we fly across the ocean."

In the Beatles film A Hard Day's Night, the boys find themselves facing a litany of anxious reporters and photographers. When asked, "How did you find America?," John replies, "Turn left at Greenland."

The story of how the Beatles came to America is not quite as convoluted as Chico Marx's explanation, but it is much more complex than turning left at Greenland. And, like any legendary tale, myths have crept in to distort what really happened. While memories fade and embellishments abound as time moves on, we move further and further away from the truth of what really happened. The same misinformation is told over and over again. People believe it's true because it's in almost every book With apologies to Chico Marx, here is how many books tell the story.

"Sid-a Bernstein, he read-a the British papers as part of class he's a-taking in New York. In late 1962, he read-a about this group of long-haired kids, that they're causing a commotion. They're a phenomenon. Every week, he read-a more about this group, the Beatles. At the time, they gotta no records released in America. Nobody knows who they are. But Sid, he wants to bring them to America, but gotta no way to contact them. Then one day in Spring, 1963, he's a-havin' lunch, and what do you think happened? He sees a promotion man named Bud, who says he's a-just begin a-working for Brian Epstein, the manager of the Beatles."

"Well Sid, he puts in a call to Epstein and says he wants to bring-a the Beatles to America. But Brian, he wanna know why. No one knows who his-a boys are in America. And where would they play? So Sid says 'Carnegie Hall,' and Mr. Epstein, he becomes interested."

"But Mr. Epstein, he gotta a problem. Macca told him that the Beatles no go to America until they get-a a number one hit. But at this time, they don't even have a record out in America, much less a number one. So he tells Sid they got a deal to play Carnegie Hall if-a his boys get-a that number one hit. They look at the calendar and Sid, he picks-a Lincoln's birthday for the show, nearly a year away."

"Meanwhile, the Beatles, they finally get-a some records out in America. 'Introducing The Beatles,' it-a comes out in July, 1963. But what do you think happened? Nobody knows it's-a been released. It no make-a the charts. It no get-a any radio airplay. It no sell any copies."

"As for Sid, he waits and a-hopes the Beatles get-a their hit. Then what do you think happened? Capitol Records, they release 'I Want To Hold-a Your Hand,' and it-a tops the charts. Number one smash. So the Beatles, who are a-playing in Paris in January, 1964, they tell-a Epstein they'll-a go to America because they have a number one hit. And Ed Sullivan, he decides to book-a the Beatles on his show because they're already gonna be in New York to play-a Carnegie Hall on-a February 12. And so, on-a February 7, 1964, the Beatles plane, it lands at Idlewild Airport, later to be renamed for President Kennedy. And the Beatles, they get-a off the plane, and there gotta be ten thousand screaming girls a-greatin' them. They drive-a to the Plaza Hotel, play Sullivan's show and do their concert at Carnegie Hall. And that, friends, is how the Beatles came to America."

The above story contains three significant bits of misinformation embedded in Beatles lore: "Introducing The Beatles" came out in July, 1963; the Beatles vowed they would not come to America until they had a number one hit; and Sid Bernstein brought the Beatles to America. Here is the truth.

"Introducing the Beatles" was issued by Vee-Jay Records on January 10, 1964. The album was scheduled for release in the summer of 1963, but Vee-Jay encountered severe cash flow problems because its president, Ewart Abner, used company money to pay off a few hundred thousand dollars of personal gambling debts. No new albums were issued by Vee-Jay that summer because the company did not have the money to do so.

Vee-Jay corporate documents show that no royalties accrued on the songs on "Introducing The Beatles" during 1963 and that no copies of the album were sold or manufactured in 1963. The Vee-Jay brackets logo that appears on the first run back covers to the album was not used until the fall of 1963. Minutes from the monthly Vee-Jay Board of Directors meetings make no mention of the Beatles until January 7, 1964, when it is reported that a Beatles album was being manufactured and could be out on the streets by Friday (January 10).

So why does nearly every Beatles book list July, 1963 as the release date of the album? This date first appeared in the 1975 book "All Together Now, the First Complete Beatles Discography 1961-1975" by Harry Castleman and Walter J. Podrazik. This excellent book's title says it all. It was the first complete Beatles discography. Most of the information in the book is correct, but the authors did not have access to Vee-Jay documents when they wrote the book. They noticed that "Introducing The Beatles" discs have either "6-28-63" or "6-29-63" etched in their trail off areas, indicating that the album was mastered on those dates. They assumed that the record came out the following month and showed July, 1963, as the album's release date.

This incorrect date was copied into numerous later books and went unchallenged until my 1998 book "The Beatles Records on Vee-Jay." Blessed with access to Vee-Jay documents from 1963 and 1964, I was able to determine that the album was not released until January 10, 1964. Although my book has been out for several years, many of the Beatles books published after my book still show the album's release date as July, 1963.

Should we blame Harry Castleman and Wally Podrazik for this? Of course not. They made a logical guess as to when the album was released based upon the only evidence available at the time. Their book is a classic. They were trailblazers. But there is no excuse for the post-1998 books continuing with the incorrect date. It's just lazy research. The truth is out there.

The story that the Beatles vowed they would not come to America until they had a number one hit has been part of Beatles lore from the very beginning. It appears in tons of Beatles books, articles and television shows. Paul McCartney maintains that he and John told Brian, "We're not going to America till we've got a number one record." But Brian Epstein, in November, 1963, committed the Beatles to appear on "The Ed Sullivan Show" on February 9 and 16, 1964. At the time the agreement was made, the Beatles not only didn't have a number one hit, but hadn't even cracked the "Billboard Hot 100." As it turned out, when the Beatle arrived in America on February 7, 1964, "I Want To Hold Your Hand" was topping the charts. And that has fueled the myth. But the fact remains that when the group was committed to coming to America, they had not even had a minor hit in America.

So is Paul McCartney a liar? Of course not. Paul explains that the reason the group didn't want to go to America until they had a hit was based on what had happened to other British stars who came to America without an American hit record. Popular British acts such as Cliff Richard and Adam Faith had gone to America, only to be placed third or fourth on a bill behind people such as Frankie Avalon and Fabian, who were artists the Beatles didn't respect. The Beatles viewed such a trip to America as a downward step.

Brian understood the basic idea that he should not book the Beatles on a tour of America until they were in a position to headline. He didn't want his boys second on a bill to anyone or to see them play half-empty venues in America. But "The Ed Sullivan Show" was a different matter. Brian knew the exposure would be tremendous and he pushed to get the group top billing. True to the plan, he didn't commit to concerts at Carnegie Hall and the Washington Coliseum until after "I Want To Hold Your Hand" was number one in America. But the Beatles would have come to America to play "The Ed Sullivan Show" whether or not they had a hit.

Sid Bernstein has often been dubbed as the man who brought the Beatles to America, but that is not an accurate statement. At the time Sid booked Carnegie Hall for the Beatles February 12, 1964 concert, the Beatles had already committed to playing "The Ed Sullivan Show." The facts show that Sid did not even call Brian Epstein until after Epstein's November, 1963 visit to New York. By Sid's own account, he got Epstein's phone number from Bud Hellawell. Brian didn't hire Bud until his New York visit. It was during this visit that Ed Sullivan booked the Beatles to appear on his show.

Should there be any doubt as to who was first, Ed or Sid, the most telling statement comes from Sid himself in an interview made on the night on the Carnegie Hall concert. "At college, I was a political science major, so for about ten or twelve years I've been reading the British papers. I kept reading about the Beatles and then when Sullivan had them signed I got Epstein's number." (See "The Real True Beatles" by Michael Braun, 1964, Fawcett Publications, page 88.)

So Sid wasn't the man who brought the Beatles to America. Ed Sullivan was first. But does that mean Sid Bernstein isn't an important part of Beatles history? Of course not. Sid Bernstein booked the Beatles into Carnegie Hall, one of the world's most prestigious venues, giving the group instant credibility. He later booked the Beatles into Shea Stadium, proving that popular bands could fill large venues. His bold move forever changed the face of touring by rock bands. There is no need to falsely embellish Sid's accomplishments. Carnegie Hall and Shea Stadium are enough to ensure his immortality. Dick Clark was right on target when he called Sid "one of the good guys." Sir Paul McCartney said it all, "Sid Bernstein is a wonderful person who was instrumental in introducing the Beatles to America."

Does any of the above really matter? It does to Beatles fans. While we may laugh when John says "Turn left at Greenland," we want to know the truth behind how and why the Beatles came to America. We don't need myths and embellishments when what really happened is fascinating enough. If I had written "The Beatles Are Coming! The Birth of Beatlemania in America" as a work of fiction, people would have said "It never could have happened that way." But it did. And the world was changed forever.

Bruce Spizer is author of the critically acclaimed books, The Beatles Records on Vee-Jay, TheBeatles' Story on Capitol Records parts 1 & 2, The Beatles on Apple Records, The Beatles Solo on Apple Records, and The Beatles Are Coming! The Birth of Beatlemania in America, and served as an official consultant to Capitol Records on The Capitol Albums Volumes 1 and 2.

This article is Copyright © 2006, Bruce Spizer, and may not be reproduced on other web sites or in print, in whole or in part, without expressed permission.

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