When four young rock ’n’ roll musicians from England arrived in the United States on Feb. 7, 1964 on their way to changing the world forever, the first place they stepped foot in was Queens.
Landing at the newly renamed Kennedy Airport at about 1:20 p.m., John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr were somewhat surprised at the size of the adoring crowds that greeted them. But, always cool, they stepped right up to the microphones and bantered with the reporters awaiting them.
Asked if they would sing on the tarmac, they declined.
“There’s some doubt that you can sing,” a reporter then called out.
“No, we need money first,” Lennon replied, cementing his reputation as “the funny one.”
Two days later, The Beatles performed on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” the famed variety program, and had an instant impact on untold numbers of people across the nation.
Here in Queens, two of the many youngsters glued to their families’ black-and-white TV sets were Joe Fuoco, who was 9, and Jeanette Piccininni, who was 7. Both Ridgewood residents, they didn’t know each other then; they’d fall in love years later at Christ the King High School.
But that day they each separately fell in love with the Fab Four.
Fuoco was with a group of about 25 kids his mother, Margaret, had brought together to watch the show in her parents’ basement on George Street.
“You never heard anything like it,” Fuoco said. “In the basement, all the girls were screaming and the guys were saying, “They’re wigs, they’re wigs.”
How odd it seems now that The Beatles’ hair was so long in 1964 that it would prompt arguments about whether it was real.
“Right after that show I went down to Byhoff Brothers records store and I bought ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand,’ and I got ‘She Loves You’ with the black label,” Fuoco said. “I remember going to school the next day, and it was all ‘The Beatles,’ ‘The Beatles,’ ‘The Beatles!’
“That was a different time,” he added. “In those days all the kids were home Sunday night watching TV, not on the internet with all that crazy stuff like today.”
And that rare “black-label” copy of “She Loves You” even came with a message stamped on it for the kids: “Don’t drop out,” as in, of school.
Jeanette watched the broadcast with her family in their dining room on Menihan Street. She already had been given a copy of the group’s first American-released album.
“The way I got introduced to them, I was sitting on the floor with my Victrola, and my father walked in with the album, ‘Meet the Beatles,’” she recalled. “The big thing was, who was singing what song? And of course all the girls loved Paul.
“When they came on that night, I stood in front of the TV. It was magic.”
“It was magic,” her husband agreed.
Though they never got to see the band perform, the couple did see each member but Lennon play during their solo careers. And they did see him too — he and Yoko Ono were sitting two rows in front of them during a club gig they saw in the 1970s.
Both Joe and Jeanette became musicians, and for many years they have owned Joe Fuoco’s Music Center. They run the shop together, they perform together, and they teach people how to play music together.
And, Joe emphasized, The Beatles turned out to be not just great performers but amazing songwriters. He noted how when he was studying at Queens College, all that was available in the music library was classical, and just a little jazz.
And The Beatles, which demonstrated for him the respect they had attained.
Across the borough, 14-year-old Theresa Nabel watched the Ed Sullivan performance at her home in Flushing.
“From the moment they touched down in New York until their appearance on the show seemed like an eternity to a young girl,” recalled Theresa, now Terry Nusspickel, the Queens Chronicle’s production manager. “My sister, 13 at the time, and I were so excited. On Monday morning in school this is all the girls were talking about.
“After school I remember going with my friends to Woolworth’s to buy the single (45 rpm) of ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand.’ I didn’t have enough money to buy the album and I remember saving to get it ASAP.”
These Queens residents were just three among the countless fans The Beatles generated in those few days 50 years ago. And ever since. How fitting that the penultimate song on the final album they recorded, “Abbey Road,” ends with the line, “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”