February 1, 1964: What Was the First Beatles #1 Hit in the US?

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A Brief History

On February 1, 1964, the British sensational band, The Beatles, hit the top of the American charts for the first time with their smash hit, “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”  The iconic rock song was written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney and would be the first of many such #1 hits by this song writing and singing pair.  In fact, the Beatles would go on to post a record 20 #1 hits in the US.  The Beatles would go on to probably the greatest career for any band in musical history, let alone Rock and Roll.

Digging Deeper

Oddly enough, in Britain “She Loves You” was the first Beatles #1 hit and prevented “I Want to Hold Your Hand” from instantly taking the top slot.  In 2 weeks “I Want to Hold Your Hand” finally ousted “She Loves You” and grabbed Britain’s top position for the next 5 weeks.  While the Beatles had previous success in Britain with “She Loves You” and “Love Me Do,” those 2 songs failed in the US market, and it was finally “I Want to Hold Your Hand” that captivated American music fans.  In fact, “I Want to Hold Your Hand” went on to sell 12 million singles and remains the biggest Beatles hit in the US and in the entire world.  Billboard Magazine rated “I Want to Hold Your Hand” #44 on their list of Biggest Hits of all time in 2013.

Norwegian Picture sleeve, reissue 1967

Considering the incredible success of the Beatles, it is mind boggling that the band broke up in 1970, after being together only for 10 years.  Even more amazing is that the Beatles only enjoyed widespread popularity for even fewer years, from their breakout year of 1964 until their breakup year of 1970.  Still, Billboard (as of 2017) does call them the most successful artists of all-time, with record sales of 178 million in the US and over 800 million world-wide!  A total of 7 Grammy’s and an Academy Award emphasize just how amazing the Fab Four really was.

Of course, the success of the Beatles was not merely the synergy of 4 separate musicians, but also based on the extreme writing and performing talents of each of the members.  Lennon and McCartney went on to the greatest level of success in the post-Beatles era, though Lennon’s career was tragically cut short at the hands of a mentally ill assassin in 1980.  McCartney continues to draw enormous crowds wherever he appears.  George Harrison, often referred to as “The Quiet Beatle” also enjoyed individual success, although he also died young, at the age of 58, cut down by lung cancer.  He had survived an assassination attempt 2 years earlier from a knife wielding mentally deranged man at Harrison’s home in England.  Harrison had achieved great success with his 1988-1992 collaboration with the Traveling Wilburys, a super-group he formed with Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan, and Tom Petty.

The Traveling Wilburys in May 1988 (top: Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty; bottom: Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan, George Harrison)

Ringo Starr, the drummer of the Beatles since replacing Pete Best on percussion in 1962, is arguably the least musically talented of the Fab Four, but this particular mop top also achieved great post-Beatles success himself, with hit songs such as “It Don’t Come Easy,” “Photograph” (a #1 hit), “You’re Sixteen” (a cover that also hit #1), “Back Off Boogaloo,” and “Oh My My” among others.  Ringo also succeeded at acting, with appearances in the Beatles’ movies as well as several other films.  In 1981 he married the beautiful Barbara Bach, a marriage that has lasted to the present.

The Beatles found initial success with a faddish sort of pop music that they quickly left behind for more substantial themes, their music evolving to stay on the cutting edge of the industry throughout their entire career from 1964 to 1970.  From light hearted pop music to heavy, politically shaded tunes and even fringe drug culture songs, the Beatles remained relevant like no other band of their time.  Not surprisingly, the Beatles were named among the 100 Most Influential people of the 20th Century by Time Magazine.

The Beatles in 1964. Clockwise from top left: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and George Harrison

Questions for Students (and others): Which Beatle is your favorite?  What is your favorite Beatles’ song?  Who is your favorite musical group?

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Spitz, Bob. The Beatles: The Biography. Simon & Schuster Audio, 2005.

The Beatles: The Biography (Audible Audiobook)

List Price: $31.93 USD
New From: $23.99 USD In Stock
Used from: Out of Stock
buy now

Theroux, Gary. The British Invasion, Volume 1. Happyland, 2017.

The British Invasion, Volume 1 (Audible Audiobook)

List Price: $3.47 USD
New From: $2.95 USD In Stock
Used from: Out of Stock
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Turner, Steve. The Complete Beatles Songs: The Stories Behind Every Track Written by the Fab Four. Dey Street Books, 2015.

The Complete Beatles Songs: The Stories Behind Every Track Written by the Fab Four (Hardcover)

List Price: $40.00 USD
New From: $22.76 USD In Stock
Used from: $22.76 USD In Stock
buy now

The featured image in this article, the front cover art for the single “I Want to Hold Your Hand” by the artist The Beatles, is of a cover of an audio recording, and the copyright for it is most likely owned by either the publisher (Apple Corps, Ltd.) of the work or the artist(s) which produced the recording or cover artwork in question.  It is believed that the use of low-resolution images of such covers solely to illustrate the audio recording in question, qualifies as fair use under the copyright law of the United States.  The copy is of sufficient resolution for commentary and identification but lower resolution than the original cover.  Copies made from it will be of inferior quality, unsuitable as artwork on pirate versions or other uses that would compete with the commercial purpose of the original artwork.  The image is used for identification in the context of critical commentary of the work for which it serves as cover art. It makes a significant contribution to the user’s understanding of the article, which could not practically be conveyed by words alone.  The image is placed at the beginning of the article or section discussing the work, to help the user quickly identify the work and know they have found what they are looking for.  Use for this purpose does not compete with the purposes of the original artwork, namely the artist’s providing graphic design services to music concerns and in turn marketing music to the public.  As musical cover art, the image is not replaceable by free content; any other image that shows the packaging of the music would also be copyrighted, and any version that is not true to the original would be inadequate for identification or commentary.  Using a different image as a header would be misleading as to the identity of the work.


About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.