On Christmas Day 1963 - practically no one in the US had ever heard of them.
By Sunday February 9th 1964 interest in the Beatles was so intense that a world record audience of 73 million viewers tuned in to see the group's debut on The Ed Sullivan Show. I found a website that (except for neglecting to credit NBC's Jack Paar TV show with showing the first footage of the Beatles on US TV) takes us through all of the coincidences that gave life to this astonishing rock act. [Click here to read the detailed report]
On this day in 1963 The Beatles' "I Want To Hold Your Hand" began a five week stretch at number one on the UK record charts, replacing their own "She Loves You".
The Beatles were unknown in the US. They did make two appearances earlier in the year on American television, but those appearances went pretty much unnoticed. VeeJay records also released "Please Please Me" early in 1963 which became a very minor hit in a few big cities. One month from today in 1964 the Beatles were the most popular rock act in the States since Elvis. Talk about "in your wildest dreams!" To make a long story short, an airline stewardess brought a copy of "I Want To Hold Your Hand" to the US in December 1963 and gave it to her boyfriend who was a DeeJay at a Baltimore-Washington region radio station. The rest is history!
Founded in 1953, Vee Jay Records was the most successful Black owned and operated record company before Motown. Vee Jay had one of the hottest acts of the century in it's hands: The Beatles! According to Vee Jay's Calvin Carter, "At the time, we were pretty hot. We had the Four Seasons and we got a lot of airplay. There was a #1 record over in England at the time, and our lawyer, who represented us in other countries, was Paul Marshall. Trans-Global (an EMI affiliate), a company over there had a #1 record and they asked us if we wanted it, and of course we wanted it. It was 'I Remember You,' by Frank Ifield. We took the record, and as a throw in, they had a group and asked us if we would take them, too. The group turned out to be the Beatles, and we got a five-year contract on the Beatles as a pickup on the Frank Ifield contract."
The Beatles recorded 'Love Me Do' in September 1962, a few weeks after the deal that contracted the group to Vee Jay, and the single hovered in the twenties of the English charts from November to January. The Beatles' next single, 'Please Please Me' / 'Ask Me Why', hit #1 in March 1963. When it hit #2 in early February, Vee Jay decided to release the single in the US, which they did on 25 February 1963 (VJ 498). The song did get some airplay from Chicago top 40 giant WLS, and was placed on their top 40 charts for two weeks, making it the first local top 40 appearance for the group in the US. The group was such an unknown that their name was misspelled "Beattles" on the record label and the top 40 charts.
The single slipped into obscurity soon after its release. .
EMI, the British record company with ties to the U.S. Capitol label, approached Vee Jay in Summer 1962 after Capitol had used their right of first refusal to turn down a couple of artists EMI had offered. The Beatles at that time had yet to record 'Love Me Do', which was their first real British hit, and the decision to pass them up was made on the strength of several German recordings with Tony Sheridan, and a few items like 'Ain't She Sweet' and 'My Bonnie'.
Vee Jay records released "Introducing The Beatles," twice in America. The first release on July 22, 1963 did not do well, as most Americans had not yet learned of The Beatles. Upon Capitol Records releasing "Meet The Beatles," on January 20, 1964, Beatlemania ensued, and to capitalize on this success, Vee Jay re-released the album on January 27, 1964.
What did Capitol Records do that made the Beatles International Superstars? Some say the shooting of President John F. Kennedy played a role in ensuring the Beatles' American success. While that may be true, in late 1963, Capitol Records launched the largest promotional campaign in music history. The company is said to have spent $50,000 in the New York City area alone. "The Beatles Are Coming" was plastered everywhere, causing the public to wonder who the Beatles were. Anyone even remotely involved with the campaign received Beatles Kits containing wigs, photographs and buttons proclaiming “I like the Beatles!” With this massive campaign underway, how could a teen avoid hearing about the Beatles? This hype was enough to get the teens excited, but still shrouded in a bit of secrecy, therefore it was a very effective marketing venue for the Beatles and Capitol Records. 'I Want To Hold Your Hand' / 'I Saw Her Standing There' (Capitol 5112) was released on 26 December 1963. The latter song was one already in possession of Vee Jay, since it was on their album. 'I Want To Hold Your Hand' hit the #1 spot in all three charts on 13 January 1964.. Source: dermon.com
My point? It happens ALL the time. "Overnight Success" is mostly a matter of luck and timing. You can plan for it up to a point, but the external world outside your influence is where recognition and appreciation come from --- sometimes quite unexpectedly!