Thursday, 13 May 2010

Beatlemania: In the Beginning there was the Scream

“The images persist: four guys in suits or smart raincoats being chased by hundreds of fans, girls frenzied at their merest glimpse, sloping bobbies-arms linked, teeth gritted, straining to hold back the throng.”

Mark Lewisohn’s evocative description of one of the key images of the 1960s helps to focus attention on the phenomenon that was Beatlemania. While hysterical scenes had surrounded male stars before The Beatles (Valentino in the 1920s, Frank Sinatra in the 1940s, Elvis and Johnny Ray in the 1950s) and has subsequently (Rollermania and T.Rexstasy in the 1970s, boyband frenzies in the 1990s), Beatlemania remains, this paper will argue, the yardstick: an alliance between fans, the media and a cultural phenomenon unlike any other in UK pop history. The paper will argue that it is through Beatlemania that The Beatles were established as a global entity and that all that followed-their transgression of traditional expectations about the role of the male pop star, their role as men of ideas, their impact on the cultural landscape of the 1960s and their symbiotic relationship with the decade-stems from this. No Beatlemania - no Revolver or Sgt Pepper. The paper will explore the nature of Beatlemania in an attempt to explain why it remains the ultimate expression of fan worship. This includes discussion of the relationship between The Beatles and their fans, Xmas shows and flexi-discs, their appeal in terms of gender fluidity, early song lyrics as a form of communication with fans, the influence of 1960s girl groups and manager and mentor Brian Epstein’s role in creating a fan-friendly “product”. Differing perspectives on Beatlemania – from Paul Johnson’s damning Marxist critique to Barabra Ehrenreich et al’s claim that “the scream” personified second wave feminism as women found a voice in the early 1960s-will also form part of the discussion. The paper will also examine The Beatles’ first feature film, A Hard Day’s Night (1964) - which had a working title of Beatlemania - as a text through which to read both the joys and dangers of fan worship.

Martin King, Principal lecturer, Manchester Metropolitan University