What Was The Beatles’ First No. 1 Hit in America?
Looking back, it’s easy to think of The Beatles as a sure thing. In 1963, the band featured three bona fide lead singers, two talented songwriters, and the swagger to electrify crowds. However, Paul McCartney didn’t think it was enough to take America by storm.
“We mustn’t go to America until we’ve got a No. 1 record,” Paul recalled telling Brian Epstein, The Beatles’ manager, at the time. Though the band would go on to rack up an unthinkable 20 chart-topping singles, the first one wasn’t easy to come by.
During the interviews for Anthology, Paul described “From Me to You,” a previous single, as a “flop” in America. He didn’t want the band to arrive and end as an opening act for singers like Fabian (!), as the lesser British bands had to do during that era. He wanted to arrive on top.
When Epstein and the band saw the success of “I Want to Hold Your Hand” in the UK, they knew they had their “in.” In December of ’63, upon the single’s release in America, it sold 750,000 copies in three days. Soon enough, the Fab Four would have its first No. 1 in the States.
‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ grabbed the No. 1 spot just before The Beatles arrived.
Paul’s wish for a perfectly timed hit came true in early 1964. With the band booked to play Ed Sullivan’s show on the February 9, the release of “I Want to Hold Your Hand” just before New Year’s Day built up an absurd amount of anticipation.
By mid-January, the single entered the Billboard charts. In the last week of the month, it hit No. 3 while record stores struggled to keep up with demand. On February 1, it reached No. 1 after bumping off Bobby Vinton’s “There! I’ve Said It Again.”
Six days later — before any song had a chance to dethrone it — The Beatles arrive at Kennedy Airport and the phenomenon known as Beatlemania officially commenced.
When The Beatles played Ed Sullivan a few days later, the record remained at the top of the Billboard charts. In fact, it took an impressive seven weeks before “I Want to Hold Your Hand” relinquished the top spot. As you might have guessed, it took another Beatles song to shove it aside.
‘She Loves You’ followed at No. 1. Next came ‘Can’t Buy Me Love.’
In late February, with “I Want to Hold Your Hand” holding strong on the charts, the only song that could knock it down a peg was “She Loves You,” another Beatles smash in the UK. The chorus-first track held the top spot for another two weeks.
On April 4, “Can’t Buy Me Love” took over at No. 1 and stayed there for the rest of the month. It wasn’t until May 9, when Louis Amstrong’s “Hello Dolly” bumped it aside, that the Fab Four finally let go of the top spot on the U.S. charts. The run had lasted more than three months.
But The Beatles weren’t done. In May, the band scored another No. 1 with “Love Me Do.” “A Hard Day’s Night” followed in August. When “I Feel Fine” topped the charts in December, it made six No. 1 hits in the same year.
Needless to say, no other recording artist has ever matched that. When The Beatles arrived in ’64, Elvis has been the only one who’d come close (with four, twice in the late ’50s).
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