In the summer of 1963 the Beatles had some time off and while the other three members of the band went on holiday to Europe, George Harrison became the first Beatle to visit America, when, on 16 September 1963, along with his brother Peter, he went to Benton, Illinois – population, 7,000 – to visit their older sister, Louise.
According to George, “I went to New York and St Louis in 1963, to look around, and to the countryside in Illinois, where my sister was living at the time. I went to record stores. I bought Booker T and the MGs’ first album, Green Onions, and I bought some Bobby Bland, all kind of things.” George also bought James Ray’s single ‘Got My Mind Set On You’ that he later covered in 1987.
When the Harrisons arrived in Benton, George and Louise hitchhiked to radio station WFRX-AM in West Frankfort, Illinois taking a copy of ‘She Loves You’ which had been released 3 weeks earlier in Britain and on the day of George’s arrival in America. ‘She Loves You’ got a positive review in Billboard but very little radio play, although WFRX did play it. According to DJ Marcia Raubach “He was unusual looking, he dressed differently than the guys here. He was very soft-spoken and polite.”
It’s often claimed that in June 1963 Louise took a British copy of ‘From Me To You’ to WFRX that she had been sent by her mother and that Raubach played it. This is probably true but the claim that this was the first time The Beatles’ music was broadcast in America is not. ‘From Me To You’ was released in Britain in late April and then topped the British singles’ chart for seven weeks’. With the Beatles at No.1 in Britain Vee Jay records released their single of ‘From Me To You’ / ‘Thank You Girl’ as VJ 522 on 27 May 1963. The single was made ‘Pick Of the Week’ by Cash Box magazine, but was not a success.
With the Beatles success in Britain in early 1963 Parlophone were anxious to take advantage of their new asset and so contacted their sister label in America, Capitol Records that was owned by EMI. Capitol was underwhelmed by the Beatles records and so decided against releasing any of their records. Instead Parlophone turned to a small US label called Vee Jay, a company started by a husband and wife in Gary, Indiana that specialised in black R & B music.
It was an irony probably not lost on the Beatles who loved and had been influenced by exactly that kind of music. In February 1963, two days after ‘Please Please Me’ made No.1 in Britain, Vee Jay released it as a single in the US. VJ 498 did get some airplay from the major Chicago top 40 radio station WLS and it even made their own chart for a couple of weeks, but nothing happened nationally on the Billboard charts. Not helping the band was the fact that Vee Jay managed to miss-spell the bands name on the record as “Beattles”.