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Love still in the air for The Beatles 50 years later

Burr Ridge resident Jim Peterik, who has written hit songs for a variety of artists, including his own bands The Ides of March and Survivor, was influenced greatly by The Beatles. | Provided
It was 50 years ago that The Beatles came to America for the first time and captivated much of the country. | File photo

Burr Ridge resident Jim Peterik was a teenager living in Berwyn when it happened.

Although only 14 at the time, Peterik already had formed his first rock band, the Shondels. He warned the group’s other members their rehearsal on Feb. 9, 1964, was going to be special. It was a Sunday night, and what band members were going to watch together on television was certain, Peterik believed, to have a much larger impact than any actual rehearsing they might do.

“I had seen some really grainy footage earlier of this band from England, The Beatles,” Peterik said. “I told the members of my band that there was this amazing band that was going to change the world.”

Peterik’s band mates were curious and waited for “The Ed Sullivan Show” to come on. The Beatles were making their first-ever live appearance on American television.

“We waited for it in our little rehearsal space; it was like Christmas morning,” Peterik said. “It really was life changing. They looked and sounded so different.”

Peterik and his band mates, who soon became hit-makers The Ides of March, were among the estimated 73 million Americans, then a record number, who watched The Beatles that night.

Feb. 9 marks the 50th anniversary of that appearance, and of the beginning of something that changed the lives of many.

“We were the Berwyn Beatles,” Peterik said. “Prior to The Beatles, we were playing songs by groups like the Ventures, but The Beatles were such a huge influence, especially when we started doing our own songs. There still are a few memories I go back to for inspiration, and The Beatles definitely are a top one.”

Peterik has done quite well in the music business since The Beatles first captivated America. As the main songwriter and lead singer of The Ides of March, he has experienced a number of hits, including the No. 1 chart-topper “Vehicle.”

Peterik also was the co-founder and a major songwriter of the band Survivor, which, among other hits, provided the worldwide smash “Eye of the Tiger” for the movie, “Rocky III.”

Jeff Wirtz, chairman of the music department at Hinsdale Central, was only 4 years old when the Beatles took America by storm, so he has no recollection of the Fab Four’s early days in the U.S.

But as a musical force, Wirtz likened the Beatles to Beethoven and Mozart.

“It’s that same sort of idea; Beatles music stands the test of time,” Wirtz said. “My students listen to the Beatles all the time.”

Wirtz said he believes teens continue to listen to The Beatles 50 years later because there’s something in the sound that really touches people.

Peterik believes the combination of the personalities in The Beatles might have provided the basis for their huge influence.

“It’s like God ordained them,” he said. “The vocals were so amazing, and when John and Paul sang together, it was just incredible. It was the perfect storm.”

Lyons Township High School Principal Dave Franson was only 6 when The Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan, but Franson, who like Paul McCartney is a left-handed bass player, has a few memories of the show.

“What I remember is their haircuts were different, they all wore the same outfits, and everybody was screaming while they played,” he said.

Barb Stepina, 65, a longtime librarian in Clarendon Hills and a LaGrange Park resident, remembers watching “The Ed Sullivan Show” that night. She also saw the Liverpool foursome perform at a 1965 concert at Comiskey Park.

“It was just such a big phenomena; I just got carried away in it,” Stepina said. “They were different and had such singable songs. And, of course, everyone had to have their favorite Beatle. Mine was George.”

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