The Fab Four first arrived on these shores 38 years ago, heralding the British pop invasion.

By Chris Willman
Updated February 08, 2002 at 05:00 AM EST

When the Beatles first touched down on an American tarmac, it was the second-most momentous landing of the ’60s—maybe the first, if moon shots don’t count. Ten thousand hooky-playing fans were waiting at New York’s JFK International Airport as the moptops’ plane approached on the afternoon of Feb. 7, 1964. Transistor radios blared alerts passed along by local station WMCA, which acted as Paul Revere for these British Invaders: ”It is now 6:30 a.m., Beatle time. They left London 30 minutes ago. They’re out over the Atlantic Ocean heading for New York. The temperature is 32 Beatle degrees…”

Beatle time. Beatle degrees. America never did throw over Eastern Standard Time or the Fahrenheit system in honor of the Fab Four, much less the Christian calendar, but there was a sense that everything was different A.B. ”At that very first press conference at JFK, their self-deprecating wit had such an impact because we were used to pop stars being so monosyllabic, like Elvis,” says Beatles historian Martin Lewis, who’s producing a new A Hard Day’s Night DVD for Miramax, due later this year. ”This exuberant embracing of life wasn’t just a ray of light in…post-assassination America, it was like morning again. And this bolt of energy was coming from the Old World, when it was still hard to fathom England producing anything fresher than bowler hats.”

Two nights later, their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show drew a then-record 73 million viewers. ”Throughout America not one major crime was committed [that night] by a teenager,” claimed Beatles biographer Hunter Davies. ”It was like a surge of adrenaline as soon as they started playing,” remembers rocker Marshall Crenshaw, who was 10 at the time. ”Afterward, kids used to gather around in groups of four and pretend to be the Beatles. I remember standing in somebody’s yard in Detroit with three other kids, in formation, singing…”

The little girls understood too. ”That night was completely life-changing for me,” sighs filmmaker Allison Anders (Grace of My Heart), who was 9 when her mom announced they had to watch Sullivan that night. ”When the Beatles came on screen, something crazy and transforming happened. I loved the sound, the looks and personalities of each Beatle, the camaraderie with other screaming girls, the feeling that something incredible was happening and I was part of it. I was high on it. And I’ve been a junkie for it ever since.”

One small step for the Beatles, one giant leap for Fabkind.