What if The Beatles never were? Ringo Starr almost moved to U.S. at 18

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By Randee Dawn

Almost 50 years ago, Beatlemania kicked off in America and changed the face of rock 'n' roll. But the whole Beatles phenomenon as we know it — with John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr — might never have happened without some good old-fashioned U.S. red tape.

Starr revealed to NBC News' Kate Snow in an interview that aired Monday on TODAY that while still a teenager, he considered chasing his musical dreams in Texas, not his hometown of Liverpool. 

"All the music we loved came from America," he recalled. "At ... 18, 19 I tried to immigrate to America because of Lightnin' Hopkins, a blues singer," he recalled. "I wanted to go to Texas because that's where he was from."

A factory worker at the time, Starr visited the local consulate to start the emigration process, but the paperwork proved overwhelming. "They gave me a load of forms to fill in. And I filled those in. You know what it's like when you're 18 ... I filled 'em in, took 'em back, and then he gave me more forms," he said. "I gave up." 

And if he hadn't given up? "Well, we wouldn't have been sittin' here, would we?" the drummer chuckled.

Instead, Starr joined the Beatles in 1962, and the group appeared on "The Ed Sullivan Show" in 1964. By then, the fervor had built in America for the "mop-topped" band (whose song, "I Want to Hold Your Hand" had hit No. 1), and 45 percent of American households with televisions watched what would be the first of their three consecutive Sunday appearances on the popular variety show.

"There's a lot of girls screaming at us," recalled Starr, who has had a successful solo career and now has a new children's book based on one of his songs, "Octopus's Garden." "We didn't know what to expect, really. And then the press!" 

Not everyone got on board The Beatles bus right away. The band's shaggy hairdos earned them criticism from older generations and some members of the media. Snow asked Starr if he forgave the naysayers.

"You've come around now," he chuckled.

Many bands get compared to The Beatles even 50 years later, but as Snow told the TODAY anchors, it's not the same as it was back then. "(Bands) get big real fast now, but then disappear real quick — because we move on to the next big thing," she said.

Not so with the Beatles, who still just wanna hold your hand a half century later.

"CBS News, 50 Years Later ... The Beatles at The Ed Sullivan Theater: Presented by Motown the Musical" will air on CBS on Feb. 9, the exact date The Beatles originally played on the "Sullivan" show 50 years ago. Starr's "Octopus's Garden" book will be available on Feb. 4.