The Earliest Strain of Beatlemania
By Bill Crandall
Five decades before Bieber Fever crept over the Canadian border or One Direction Infection slid across the Atlantic, Beatlemania absolutely stormed America. Britain’s Daily Mail was the first major publication to print the 11-letter word in on October 21, 1963, and, on November 2, the Daily Mirror plastered it above a picture of a screaming teenager seemingly trying to pull out her own hair. The term “Beatlemania” grabbed imaginations as quickly as the Beatles’ popularity itself. In fact, reporting from Liverpool later that month, CBS News characterized Beatlemania as an “epidemic” that had “seized” Britain’s teenage population.
By February 1964, American teens had been infected as well, and thousands ecstatically greeted the Beatles at New York’s Kennedy Airport. Three days later, 500 fans rushed a cop outside Beatles’ central – The Plaza Hotel. “A policeman came up, and [a fan] yelled, ‘He touched a Beatle! I saw him!’” read an account in the New York Herald Tribune. “The girls jumped on the cop’s arms and back, but it wasn’t a mob assault. There were goony smiles all over their faces.”
As strange and remarkable as Beatlemania seems, the epidemic was merely a new strain of a contagion that seized Europe more than a hundred years earlier — one caused by another long-haired, handsome musician. However, this guy didn’t sing like Paul McCartney, or shimmy like Justin Bieber — he merely played the piano. But, boy, did chicks dig him!
Franz Liszt incited such a rabid response from European concertgoers in the 1840s that scholars coined the term “Lisztomania.” According to one account, “Ladies and girls laughed and wept, threw handkerchiefs at their idol and threw themselves at his feet, scrambled for souvenirs and sometimes fainted dead away.”
The Beatles quit touring in 1966 due partly to their inability to hear the music over the audience decibel levels. Liszt, too, left his fans screaming for more, kissing the stage goodbye at age 35 to pursue the quieter life of composing and instructing.
Late in his career, Liszt only occasionally performed for one of his biggest fans: Pope Pius IX. However, his reputation as a showman lives on in the camp-orific 1975 film Lisztomania, starring The Who’s Roger Daltrey as the legendary pianist and lady-killer. The Pope is played by … Ringo Starr.
Bill Crandall is a contributor to CBS News Presents and the former Head of Digital Content for Rolling Stone. A Beatles fan from birth (his middle name is Jude), Crandall once interviewed Sir George Martin about the making of each of the Beatles’ No. 1 singles.