The Beatles pose with an American flag in a Paris photo studio prior to their first visit to the United States in January 1964

The Beatles
Irrepressible and irresistible, they were — and remain — the world's most astonishing rock-'n'-roll band

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Boomers can be tiresome when they natter on too long about the fun-swollen fabulousness of the 1960s. I mean, I was there: "Flower power"? Patchouli oil? Peter Max posters? Please. But even the mistiest of such geezers is likely to be right about the rock and soul music of that decade: Who could overstate its distinctive exuberance, its heady inventiveness, or the thrill of its sheer abundance? And who could overcelebrate those most emblematic of '60s pop phenomena, the Beatles? For the Beatles were then, and remain to this day, the world's most astonishing rock-'n'-roll band.

I use the adjective advisedly. Unrelenting astonishment is what I clearly recall feeling, as a teenager myself back in the winter of 1964, when "Beatlemania," an obscure hysteria that had erupted in Britain the year before, suddenly jumped the Atlantic and took instant root here. First, in January, came the spine-tingling arrival of I Want to Hold Your Hand — a great, convulsive rock-'n'-roll record that, to the bafflement of many a teen garage band across the land, actually had more than three chords (five more, to be exact — incredible). Then one week later, She Loves You careened onto the charts — wooo! The week after that came the headlong rush of Please Please Me, and by April, the top five singles in the country were all Beatles records. By year's-end they had logged a head-spinning 29 hits on the U.S. charts. It is hard — no, it is impossible — to imagine any of the gazillion or so carefully marketed little bands of today replicating a quarter of that feat. (Even a contemporary English group such as Oasis, which baldly appropriates the superficialities of the Beatles' style, entirely misses the still-magical heart of their music.)

Louis Armstrong
Lucille Ball
The Beatles
Marlon Brando
Coco Chanel
Charlie Chaplin
Le Corbusier
Bob Dylan
T.S. Eliot
Aretha Franklin
Martha Graham
Jim Henson
James Joyce
Pablo Picasso
Rodgers & Hammerstein
Bart Simpson
Frank Sinatra
Steven Spielberg
Igor Stravinsky
Oprah Winfrey

Ed Sullivan, the poker-faced TV variety-show host, having spotted the effervescent moptops in mid-mob scene at London's Heathrow Airport the previous October ("Who the hell are the Beatles?" he'd asked excitedly), brought them over to play his show early on, in February 1964, and 70 million people tuned in. A congratulatory telegram from Elvis Presley, the great, lost god of rockabilly, was read at the beginning of the show, in what might have been seen as torch-passing fashion, and Americans — or American youth, at any rate — promptly fell in love. ("I give them a year," said Sullivan's musical director.)

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Sep. 22, 1967 Dec. 22, 1980 Dec. 10, 2001
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