Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

The First Shot of the British Invasion

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

The First Shot of the British Invasion

Article excerpt

Hours into the invasion, the occupiers met the occupied to discuss terms. A problem emerged. The language barrier.

"It's the gear, baby," Ringo said.

"It's the what?" asked bewildered radio host Murray the K.

"It's the gear," Ringo repeated.

"It's the gear? What does that mean?"

"It's good. It's more than good. It's the best."

"I see!" chirruped Murray the K, happily, to his radio listeners on WINS-AM. "It's the gear! It's the gear!"

Within weeks, every kid in America would know what "gear" meant. Also "fab," "mod," "telly," "daft," "grotty" -- as in grotesque -- "mate" -- as in buddy -- and "bird" -- as in woman.

It was on Feb. 7, 1964, 50 years ago Friday, the very day when The Beatles first stormed the American beaches, that the term "British Invasion" was coined -- appropriately, by veteran war correspondent Walter Cronkite.

"The British Invasion this time goes by the code name Beatlemania," Cronkite intoned on CBS-TV, as The Beatles were arriving at John F. Kennedy Airport. "D-day has been common knowledge for months, and this is the day."

Little did Cronkite - or anyone - suspect that this was the start of a long-term occupation. The British Invasion would be the pop phenomenon of the next four years. After two decades of postwar austerity, the British Empire had returned with a vengeance, but this time with a rock-and-roll beat, and in outrageous primary colors.

"It was the right change for that moment," says Smithereens drummer and rock historian Dennis Diken of Wood-Ridge. "It kind of redefined what cool was. It was no longer slicking your hair back and looking like Elvis. It was a little more chic, and a little more exotic, a little more European."

First it was The Beatles. Then it was the hordes of English bands that followed The Beatles across the pond: Gerry and the Pacemakers, Billy J. Kramer, The Searchers, The Hollies, Herman's Hermits, Donovan, The Yardbirds, The Kinks, The Who, Chad & Jeremy, The Dave Clark Five, The Rolling Stones.

Then it was the fashion: Dutch-boy caps, pea coats, Edwardian jackets, ruffles, crazy polka dot cravats and wide paisley ties, velvet bell-bottom trousers and mini-skirts, shiny Mary Quant raincoats and Vidal Sassoon haircuts.

In a word: "Mod." In two words: "Carnaby Street."

"We all had bell bottoms," says Mark Lapidos of Montvale, founder of the 40-year-old Fest for Beatles Fans, convening its blowout 50th anniversary Beatles Invasion edition Friday through Sunday at New York's Grand Hyatt (Chad & Jeremy, Donovan and Kramer will all be performing at the event; the Smithereens will be re-creating the 1964 Beatles concert in Washington, D.C., at noon Sunday).

"I had an Edwardian jacket," Lapidos says. "I had a Nehru jacket in '68, I think. I only wore it once or twice. I kept taking it out to wear and going, 'Ennnhhhhh. …

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