Why the Early Beatles Records Flopped in America

Would The Beatles be able to make it in America? In 1963, no one could say. They’d certainly built up a fan base in the U.K. by then. “Love Me Do,” the Fab Four’s very first single, had cracked the top 20 on the British charts in ’62. By April ’63, the group had begun their run of No. 1 U.K. hits.

But over in America few people could tell you anything about The Beatles in those days. “Please Please Me,” the band’s first U.S. single, failed to enter any of the three music-industry charts (including the Billboard Hot 100). And sales were dismal.

In Beatles Anthology, Paul McCartney spoke about those early returns. “‘From Me To You’ was released – a flop in America. ‘She Loves You’ – a big hit in England, big No. 1 in England – a flop in the U.S.A. Nothing until ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand.'”

Indeed, everything happened for The Beatles after “I Want to Hold Your Hand” hit record stores in the last days of ’63. It was a stunning reversal from the “nothing” of just a few months earlier.

The Beatles’ 1st 3 US releases all sold poorly and did nothing on the charts

Beatles with Silver Record in 1963
8 April 1963: The Beatles hold their silver record awarded for high UK sales. | Chris Ware/Keystone/Getty Images

These days, most music fans know the basic stats and awards for hit records. In the U.S., a single gets the “Gold” certification when it passes 500,000. It goes “Platinum” when it surpasses 1 million units. For The Beatles, “I Want Your Hold Your Hand” went 3x Platinum before the end of ’64.

To land on Billboard Hot 100 and other charts, a ’60s record would have to sell well and get a significant amount of radio airplay. So when “Please Please Me” sold (per Beatles Bizhat) 7,310 copies and got little airplay following its Feb. 1963 release, it didn’t enter any charts.

As Paul noted, “From Me to You” didn’t fare much better when it went out in May. It sold just over 21,000 units and did not enter the Billboard Hot 100. (The tracked peaked at 116 on the Billboard Bubbling Under Singles chart.) Then came “She Loves You” in Sept. ’63.

The third Beatles single somehow did even worse than the second. It simply didn’t register at all with U.S. radio listeners and music consumers. Paul wasn’t exaggerating when he described the three releases as “flops.” If you added them together they came about 450,000 sales short of a Gold record.

Weak promotional efforts likely doomed the 1st Beatles records

Beatles posing in 1963
The Beatles pose on the beach at Bream Down near Western Super Mare, 22 July 1963. | Daily Mirror/Mirrorpix via Getty Images

To understand how the first Beatles singles sold so poorly, it helps to start with the success that came a few months later. By Dec. ’63, the Fab Four was genuinely huge in England, and manager Brian Epstein had all the leverage he needed to get Capitol to promote the “I Want to Hold Your Hand” single.

The strategy obviously worked, though it took an unprecedented $40,000 promotional budget (per Beatles Bizhat) to make it happen. Epstein wasn’t playing around after seeing how the Vee Jay and Swan labels handled the first three Fab Four singles.

In brief, they didn’t promote them effectively at all. For the first Vee Jay pressing, the label actually spelled the band’s name incorrectly (“Beattles”). And when it released “From Me to You” the promotional budget again was sorely lacking.

It took much more to get a hit record by a British band in America. No U.K. acts were doing any damage on the U.S. charts in those days. So the bare-minimum effort by Vee Jay was doomed from the start.