By William Clark
It will soon be 50 years since that Sunday evening on Feb. 9, 1964 when more than 73 million of us watched four lads from England make their American debut on the Ed Sullivan show. This date would mark the unofficial end of mourning for a fallen American President assassinated less than 75 days before.
On that February evening, families were gathered around the TV like many Sunday nights as the Beatles sang five songs. “I Want to Hold Your Hand” would climb to the top of the charts by the end of that week. Now for any of us who know those early tunes, we know their lyrics and melodies were simple and much like the innocence taken from us just months before with the fall of Camelot. That in fact may have been a big part of the magic and the need filled that night. Of course it helped that many teenagers watched as fathers were anxious to change channels and leave those mop top boys from England. Thankfully, many mothers and kids won the battle to enjoy the moment with these well dressed, well-mannered and well groomed young lads.
The next day the halls of both Trenton Junior High and Trenton High School were filled with chatter of the night before. Just a few weeks before Venna Trump had been crowned Snowball Queen joining a line of similar queens from the past but now something totally new had occurred. Some had missed the show but learned this group would be on the next two Sunday nights thanks to a magnificent deal the Beatles manager, Brian Epstein had made with the show’s producers. The deal was three live shows on consecutive Sundays for bottom dollar. He wanted top billing and exposure and got them both. Later a fourth and final “live” appearance would occur in September of 1965 with aired video clips in the years after.
In between these live TV shows the group made some carefully selected appearances in major cities throughout the country. While the band toured and the nation waited for the next show, we tuned in DJ’s at WHB in Kansas City or KIOA in Des Moines as they spun their records while adding stories and news about the fab four. Sometimes the DJs would tease about a nearby concert that might have available seats then gave us a number to call.
Allen Baker, Connie Smith, Vicki Harkins and Karen Marquis were among our classmates that did go to the Kansas City concert at Municipal Stadium on Sept. 17, 1964. They were driven there by Allen’s dad, Highway Patrolman,Chet Baker, who waited in the parking lot but still managed to arrest someone breaking into cars that night.
All of this excitement and emotion also gave birth to a whole new industry that fed the heart and passion of Beatle mania. You might call it a perfect storm. Soon you could buy records, posters, calendars, Beatle wigs, Beatle lunch boxes, Beatle boots and even Beatle trading cards that arrived in a pack with bubble gum, just like baseball cards. They were all available at Mart Drugs or Mattingly’s. Soon you could watch Beatle cartoons on Saturday mornings.
Our generation, like most generations, was defining and expanding its musical voice and dreams. Helping to feed this was the opening of a Trenton music store run by “Fudge” Davis right on North Main Street. You no longer had to drive all the way to Chillicothe or the city.
Like many others, I bought my first guitar at Fudge’s store and soon many of us had a guitar or were looking to form a band. I was in several that practiced and never performed with forgotten names like the Classics or the Squires. I was not alone with this experience but other local groups did perform like the Breakaways from my class with Jeff Kesler, Richard Griffith, Tom Eads, Jim Binney and Stanley Ingraham. Likely the most successful of the bunch was the Blue Angels with Mike Ritz, Danny Pritchett, David Binney, Eudean Sager, Roger Baugher and Bob Brown. The Blue Angels with their matching blue blazers actually performed with Trenton High school classmates on St. Joseph’s Channel 2 Saturday show, “Let’s Dance,” northwest Missouri’s version of “American Bandstand” based in Philadelphia at the time.
We were years away from that 1969 outdoor concert in Woodstock, NY that would serve as a milestone for our generation, but changes were already happening around town and in homes throughout north central Missouri and beyond. The buzz cut of the 1950’s that had given way to the “Beach Boy” look was now yielding to longer hair and funny clothes with a British flair to them. There were arguments in many homes about someone needing to get a haircut while in a parallel universe the “Silent Majority” movement was slowly gaining traction. The world was changing on multiple tracks. Among the many changes looming was a military draft that would take young Grundy County men to places none of us had ever heard of before.
Typical of most generations and the times, those of common age gravitated and huddle together to hold on to their separate realities. Parents would say things like, “I don’t understand what’s gotten into their heads” or “Have you seen Bobby’s hair? He looks like a girl”. Teenagers would be thinking how “Out of touch” their parents were or that their parents “were so clueless about what really mattered.” As we all know now, this is a very common and expected dance between generations of most any family household.
What happened nearly 50 years ago may have been just as much about the ending of our national mourning and the beginning of normal lives as it was about music. Certainly the music we first heard from those four Liverpool lads was not ground breaking or remarkable. Although not initially a fan, I remain one of those who believes their later music was distinctive, genre blending and creative while also remaining simply remarkable.
In some ways it ended rather quickly with their last live concert performed in late August 1966 at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. Their last song in that concert was “Long Tall Sally.” Their last live performance as a group was Jan. 30, 1969 on the rooftop of their Apple Studio in London which ended with their fifth version of “Get Back.” After that, the group was no more.
Their music did lead the way for others and helped so many of my generation define who we were and give us voice. I believe events or moments like this happens for most every generation and for mine, this was one of those moments. I don’t think we knew it at the time and few give it much thought even now. Through YouTube we can go right back to those Sunday nights of 1960’s and embrace our youth so long forgotten.
Some Trenton students of today may look at us, your grandparents, and wonder if they really will grow old like us or wonder what our lives might have really been like when we were young. For those of us grandparents of that era, some might be caught looking in the distance and may be humming “Please, Please Me.” Those past moments and others, still remain a part of who we are today and perhaps always will.
By William Clark