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How the Beatles Took America: Photos of the Historic 1964 Invasion

A closer look at Rolling Stone’s cover story tracing the biggest explosion rock has ever seen

The Beatles

Bill Ray/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images

Fifty years ago, the Fab Four landed in a country mourning the death of John F. Kennedy – facing media disdain and a record label that barely understood them. Rolling Stone's cover story told the true tale of the biggest explosoin rock has ever seen.

As the Beatles disembarked from their flight to America, McCartney glimpsed the tumult and asked, "Who is this for?" The Beatles stopped on the plane's stairway and took in the sight – 4,000 exhilarated young people, waving jubilantly, amassed behind plate-glass windows, hanging over airport terminal balconies, clustered atop buildings, holding large signs that welcomed the band, as policemen formed lines to hold back the surging crowd. Tom Wolfe – who was covering the Beatles' arrival for the New York Herald Tribune – reported that "some of the girls tried to throw themselves over a retaining wall."

AP Photo

The Beatles and Muhammad Ali

The Beatles visited Miami  Beach (5,000 fans greeted them at the airport) to tape their final live 1964 appearance for Sullivan, at the Deauville Hotel. More significant, in some ways, than that performance was something else the Beatles did while in town. Heavyweight boxing champion Sonny Liston and challenger Cassius Clay were preparing for a fight at Miami Beach's Convention Hall. Liston – a foreboding, seemingly indomitable man – was heavily favored, while Clay, who was loud-talking and disrespectful of his opponent, was expected to be brutally overpowered. Photographer Harry Benson arranged for the Beatles to meet Clay at his training gym – an atypical kind of summit, except that both the Beatles and Clay were regarded as flaming comets of the moment, renowned as anomalies. Clay was late for the meeting, and the Beatles grew irritated. "Suddenly," wrote Lipsyte, "the door bursts open and there is the most beautiful creature any of us had ever seen. Muhammad Ali. Cassius Clay. He glowed . . . he was perfect. . . . And then – if I hadn't known better I would have sworn it was choreographed – he turned and the Beatles followed him . . . out to the ring and they began capering around the room. They lined up. He tapped Ringo. They all went down like dominoes. It was a marvelous, antic set piece." Clay and the Beatles reveled in the joy of their irreverent ascendancy. Benson's photos capture an early moment of a new history and its new heroes.

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