‘Beatlemania’ through the lens of Paul McCartney

Sixty years ago, “Beatlemania” was born.

It started in the United Kingdom, home of the legendary British band that went on to become the best-selling musical act of all time. Within months, the phenomenon had spread to the United States and other international markets.

During this pivotal time in the Beatles’ history, a young Paul McCartney was taking photos of all the excitement around him and his bandmates.

For decades, these photos — shot with his 35 mm Pentax camera — were mostly unseen, stored away in his archive as negatives and contact sheets.

They were rediscovered just a couple of years ago.

This trove of photos is now featured in McCartney’s new book, “1964: Eyes of the Storm,” and at the National Portrait Gallery in London. The selection, curated by McCartney, largely focuses on a whirlwind period of three months from December 1963 to February 1964.

“Looking at these photos now, decades after they were taken, I find there’s a sort of innocence about them,” McCartney says in the book’s foreword. “Everything was new to us at this point.”

Through McCartney’s lens, we see the Beatles right at the time they became international superstars. This included their first trip to the United States, which many remember for their first appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show” on February 9, 1964. More than 73 million people watched the Beatles perform on the show, a US ratings record at the time.

McCartney’s pictures show the Beatles’ hectic pace as they traveled city to city with fans and photojournalists tracking their every move.

They were blown away by the reception they received in the United States, which included stops in New York; Washington, DC; and Miami. Almost everywhere they turned, there were cameras pointed at them or people staring — the “eyes of the storm” referenced in the book’s title.

“You might think that all this was terrible, that it was painful, and that we felt like animals in a cage,” McCartney wrote in the book. “I can only speak for myself, but I did not feel that way. This was something we had always wanted, so when it actually happened, when the mounted policemen held back the crowds outside the Plaza (Hotel), I felt like we were the stars at the center of a very exciting film.

“And the good thing was that there was never any malice. The people running after us just wanted to see us, just wanted to say hi, just wanted to touch us.”

There were some adventurous fans, however, who tried whatever they could to sneak into their rooms. And when the band visited the British Embassy in Washington, DC, someone cut off a lock of Ringo Starr’s hair.

The Beatles had experienced fame in England, but nothing could prepare them for the hysteria they faced once they landed in New York. There were people lining the streets and highways just to catch a glimpse of them.

It was the clearest sign yet that they had made it.

“America was without question the big prize, where most, if not all, of the music we loved came from,” McCartney wrote. “This was true for films, too, and it was the American movies that attracted not only my generation but my dad’s as well. Even the singing stars, long before Elvis, were all American.”

When the Beatles made this trans-Atlantic trip, it was a month after their first albums were released in the United States. Their hit songs then included “Love Me Do,” “Please Please Me” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”

It was also just a few months after US President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated.

McCartney said he and his bandmates didn’t realize it at the time, but they were witnessing more than just a shift in the music industry.

“We were in the vanguard of something more momentous, a revolution in the culture, especially as it affected the youth,” he wrote.

McCartney’s photos show the craziness of “Beatlemania” but also some of the quieter moments from a three-month period that included stops in Paris, London and the band’s hometown of Liverpool.

Some of the more relaxed shots came from Miami, where the band members would often be poolside to take advantage of blue skies and warm temperature they weren’t always accustomed to. McCartney switched over to color film to reflect the city’s vibrancy.

“McCartney’s pictures document the in-between times when the Beatles were not performing or recording music, as well as those rare moments when they were alone,” wrote Rosie Broadley, a senior curator at the National Portrait Gallery in London. “These are often images that, in his own words, ‘nobody else could capture.’ They also bring into focus an extended cast of characters usually overlooked in other visual records of the Beatles.”

McCartney would sometimes hand off his camera to managers or roadies or even his bandmates to take pictures, and these shots are also in the book and in the exhibition.

After the Beatles’ trip in Miami, which included another “Ed Sullivan Show” appearance and a famous meeting with boxer Muhammad Ali, they headed back to England with their world officially changed.

They continued shooting scenes — and recording songs — for their debut film “A Hard Day’s Night,” which premiered in July 1964, just after McCartney turned 22 years old. They began a 27-day world tour that included stops in Australia, Denmark, Hong Kong, the Netherlands and New Zealand. They returned to the United States in August for a 30-concert cross-country tour.

McCartney remembers flying home from that first US trip, excited to get his photos developed. “But, of course, when we landed, the whole world swept us up and wanted something from us and we were happy to oblige,” he wrote. “The photos sat patiently waiting, nearly forgotten, and it’s taken a while to finally get around to showing them.

“I think it’s been worth the wait.”

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