The 1st Beatles Single in America Sold About 7,000 Copies
No matter how you measure it, The Beatles enjoyed the most commercial success of any band in history. Maybe Elvis Presley came close among solo acts, but no group has ever outperformed the Fab Four. In the U.S. alone, The Beatles have over 180 million records (LPs) shipped.
But while the band’s success now seems like it was inevitable, things didn’t get off to a great start on the U.S. market. Just check the date of the Beatles’ historic Ed Sullivan performance and subsequent “British Invasion.”
That invasion happened in February 1964. By then, the Fab Four had racked up three No. 1 singles and two chart-topping LPs on the U.K. market. In brief, they were a wild success in their home country but remained virtually unknown in America as of late ’63.
Indeed, the first Beatles singles were flops, starting with the release of future hit “Please Please Me” on the Vee Jay record label in Feb. ’63. The single barely registered at all with radio listeners and the music-buying public.
The Beatles’ debut US single went out on the small Vee Jay label
The story begins with some bad calls made by a big U.S. record label (Capitol) and continues with a bad call by EMI, the company which controlled the Beatles’ Parlophone label. For starters, Capitol declined the option to release the U.K. hit “Please Please Me” in America.
From there, EMI went hunting for a label that would put the record out. It found a taker in Vee Jay, a small label based in Chicago that had just had a hit with “Sherry” by the Four Seasons. It turned out to be a terrible fit for The Beatles.
First, the single featured a careless mistake on the label: Buyers of the 7″ record found themselves in possession of a new release by “The Beattles.” Worse, Vee Jay invested very little in the marketing of their hot new U.K. group.
According to dermon.com, the record only attracted notice in the Chicago market, where it made the top 40 of a major radio station. Nationally, “Please Please Me” didn’t enter the Billboard Hot 100 or crack the other two major charts. Sales reflected that.
‘Please Please Me’ sold just 7,310 copies for Vee Jay in 1963
If you take a small record label, add in limited airplay, and finish it off with zero notice outside of the Midwest, you have the formula for a recording industry flop. That’s the only way to describe the performance of “Please Please Me” on the American market.
According to the figures cited by Beatles Bizhat, the Feb. ’63 release of “Please Please Me” generated 7,310 sales. But it didn’t end there with Vee Jay. After Capitol’s decision to pass on the Fab Four’s U.S. distribution, Vee Jay got the first crack at the second Beatles hit from overseas.
The record was “From Me to You,” which represented the first true U.K. No. 1 for The Beatles in April ’63. Vee Jay basically followed the “Please Please Me” model (i.e., little promotion) for a second time. Yet they did spell the band name correctly, so it was a small improvement.
Technically, “From Me to You” sold three times as well as “Please Please Me.” Unfortunately, that only amounted to 21,126 units (via Beatle Bizhat). The following year, Vee Jay eventually did sell millions of Beatles singles via new releases. It just took a second try to get it right.