“Yeah, yeah, yeah” – as the New York Times wrote in February 1964 – it was in fact February 7, 1964 that the Beatles arrived for the very first time on our shores. Landing first in New York, the four lads from Liverpool made their historic Ed Sullivan Show appearance two days later.
With most of their time spent performing and being hounded by the press and thousands of screaming teenagers in and around the Plaza Hotel, exploring the artsy Village would likely have been a welcome yet nearly impossible thing for the Beatles to do.
Yet, they apparently did somehow make it down to the Village amid the chaos and mayhem of the early days of Beatlemania.
Okay, it was very brief. According to several sources, including The Beatles Diary, on February 12th (their last night in New York), John, Paul, George, and Ringo eventually made their way down from midtown to the Village. Here they were spotted at the Improvisation coffeehouse. If anyone knows where this coffeehouse was, I’d love to know. Looking through old New York Times articles, Google Books, and some other sources, I couldn’t find it. I wonder if it was somewhere in the vicinity of the bars and coffeehouses on MacDougal Street?
It’s amazing to me that the Beatles even managed to escape the Plaza and to then find refuge in what was undoubtedly a small Village space. As a huge, lifelong Beatles fan who now works intimately with the buildings of the Village, it’s pretty special for me to know they made it down here during that historic first U.S. visit.
The mural at the beginning of this post can be found on the West 3rd Street facade of 125 MacDougal Street. This building is part of the South Village Historic District GVSHP proposed and fought to get designated and sits next to three Federal-era individual landmarks. This photo is a bit dark, so let’s zoom in a bit:
Even though the tiny venues of the Village couldn’t accommodate the kinds of crowds the Beatles were drawing by February 1964, one of their biggest influences, Bob Dylan, famously got his start here. Find out more about Dylan’s connection to this area in past Off the Grid posts and in the designation report for the South Village Historic District.
Another Beatles/Village connection comes in the form of Roger McGuinn, lead singer/guitarist for the Byrds:
I imagined that [the Beatles] were more folk oriented than they really were. I thought they were probably more a folk band that could play bluegrass banjo and mandolin, but they chose to do pop music because it was more commercial.
Turned out not to be the case. But in my imagination this whole thing developed and I started mixing up old folk songs with the Beatles beat and taking them down to Greenwich Village and playing them for the people there. To the point where a guy put out a sign outside that said, “Beatle Imitations.” I was kind of put off by that. –source
In marking John Lennon’s 73rd birthday, Off the Grid also highlighted Lennon’s brief time as a resident of the Village shortly after the Beatles broke up. Living at 105 Bank Street from 1971 to 1972, he and Yoko Ono could actually be considered one of the earliest residents of the Greenwich Village Historic District, which had been created only two years prior in 1969. Find out more about his time in the Village here.
Want more of the Fab Four and the Village? This post dissects the pervasive presence of Villagers in the Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album, particularly the cover. You can also buy some old LPs at Bleecker Street Records.
And in the end, here’s a clip from “The Beatles” cartoon show in which Paul, George, and Ringo desperately want to visit the beatniks in Greenwich Village. Maybe it’s just me, but John not wanting to join in on the mischief seems a little out of character (as do all the voices, especially his!).
Do you have any of your own Beatles in the Village stories to share with us?