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America Gets Ready To Celebrate 40 Years Of Beatlemania

Aired January 31, 2004 - 14:51   ET


FREDERICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Time to get back to a different era. A week from tomorrow will mark 40 years since the Beatles invaded America. And rock music would change forever. But two days after their arrival in New York, the Beatles made their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan show. Well almost half of America tuned in to see the lads from Liverpool. Martin Lewis is a Beatles historian and chairman of the Fab 40 Committee as organizing celebrations of the anniversary. He is in Culver City, California, good to see you Martin.

WHITFIELD: All right, so how should we be celebrating and honoring the Fab four?

LEWIS: Well, there's certainly ways to celebrate the Fab 40 as we are calling it. The Beatles have touched so many peoples lives in certain ways that is not just about music but pop culture got changed, television got changed. The way we dressed, clothes, every aspect of life changed. So, one of the things we are finding is that people want to celebrate in the traditional ways by listening to the music but also going to events.

Some of the organizations in America, the Smithsonian, the American Film Institute, the Museum of TV and Radio, even Lincoln Center in New York holding big tributes to the Beatles. These are wonderful ways to celebrate.

WHITFIELD: It goes on and on. And then your argument is really their music has been celebrated for the duration of 40 years. A lot of times we can feel like we're hearing their music in perhaps some other artist's renditions.

LEWIS: Of course, the Beatles have influenced many artists. Practically every major contemporary artist says they are (INAUDIBLE) and they are the most covered artists of all time. People always want to perform Beatles songs. So you get that wonderful mixture. The hysteria goes on, look at today's the "L.A. Times," on the front cover of the entertainment section, the Beatles. The front cover of "Rolling Stone" magazine, which normally has all those young hot movie actresses. They have got the Beatles on the latest issue. And the people who own the archives of the "Ed Sullivan Show" were poking around in the archive, they found the Beatles did four shows there and just put out this DVD with --


LEWIS: With 20 songs, the Beatles live. People did not realize this; they did 20 songs on the "Ed Sullivan Show." They put it out on a DVD. This is beating Britney Spears. So, we --


LEWIS: So it's really doing fantastic business.

WHITFIELD: That's a shocker. And you know just before Christmas we remember seeing the release of "Let It Be." This album that a lot of young people, folks who were not even born, you know, when the Beatles were hot, have been snatching copies of "Let It Be."

LEWIS: Absolutely, in a funny way, when we chose the name the Fab 40, it was obviously a play on the words of the Fab 4, and the 40th anniversary but we found there were a couple of wonderful statistics. One is as you mentioned over 40 percent of the American population saw the Beatles on the "Ed Sullivan Show" the first time. I translated that to 73 million people then. Do you know what that is now? That would be the equivalent 40 percent of 116 million people watching one TV show. And that's more than "Larry King" gets.

WHITFIELD: Wow, that's incredible.

LEWIS: So that's 40 percent. But over 40 percent of Beatles records and DVDs like this "Ed Sullivan Show" DVD are bought by kids who are 25 and under. Forty percent of them are bought by young people.

WHITFIELD: That is remarkable.

LEWIS: And that's the fascinating thing. It's not for old cogers (ph) like me, aging baby boomers in our prime, we hope. No it's young people. The reason for that --

WHITFIELD: Why do you suppose that is?

LEWIS: I think it's simple; the Beatles are not about the 1960s. They came from the 1960s, but what they gave to us is timeless. And it's about engaging the noblest part of the human spirit the part that wants to make itself and the world a better and happier place. And the Beatles did that in a big way. So young people relate to the good positive energy of the music and the message. They are not thinking this is -- they can't be nostalgic for something that wasn't around before they were born. They relate to the music.

WHITFIELD: So, I'm looking at this video right here. So, you know, the humor was something that was appealing to the Beatles then, now they're self deprecating. You know, like you said, socially aware or we're socially aware. That's why they are such an incredible draw that crosses all ages.

LEWIS: It does and you are right to talk about the humor. You see before the Beatles you would have an interview with an Elvis Presley who was just very deferential and respectful but could not put more than half a syllable together.

WHITFIELD: Oh now. LEWIS: You know what I mean. He didn't make fun of himself where as when you saw the Beatles in a press conference they made fun of themselves. They were so full of energy. Initially the New York press people who met them at the press conference would go there to mock them and make fun of them. They found the Beatles mocked themselves first. And the Beatles took their music seriously but never took themselves seriously. They gave us the gift of happiness, optimism and a spiritual joy in the world that was so important, especially after the tragedy of JFK's assassination to have something so joyful and give us hope for the future.

WHITFIELD: Well, one of the images that come to mind every time you hear the music, you spin the old records, what are some of the kind of indevelal (ph) marks you think they have made for you?

LEWIS: I think the most important thing is that the Beatles grew artistically. Before the Beatles, what happened is if you were popular singer, you simply got better at doing the same thing. Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, they simply did the same thing but they did it better. The Beatles did more than that the Beatles grew artistically.

They became frestaighted (ph) merely being pop singers who entertained, they strove to make artistic music, and they drove to do things differently. They could have taken the easy way out doing the same old thing. But they grew. And when they grew, everybody followed them. And it was a great -- when you think about it, 1963 and '64, they were singing "She Loves You." in 1967 just a few years later they made "Sergeant Pepper." And this growth, and you can't think of any other artist with this ambition.

WHITFIELD: Martin Lewis thanks so much for helping us remember.

LEWIS: Oh we have hours more to talk about the Beatles. Thank you.


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