It is hard to believe that the appearance of a band on television could change the world, but on February 9th, 1964, that is exactly what happened. The Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan’s Sunday night variety show on CBS. The program was seen by 73 million viewers and is still regarded as a landmark in the history of both television and music.
It seems odd in retrospect, but early on The Beatles struggled to have their music released in America. By the start of the 60s, rock ‘n’ roll was here to stay, but bands like The Beatles, who were already a phenomenon in Europe, had yet to make the leap to stateside success.
The group had dominated the Euro charts with their debut album Please Please Me in 1963, and their follow-up, With the Beatles, was recorded and released that same year. But despite their undeniable status as a hot property their record company, EMI, didn’t release a Beatles album in America until Meet the Beatles came out in 1964.
The group’s manager, Brian Epstein, and producer, George Martin, were puzzled by the record company’s reluctance to test the US market. Luckily, they found allies in three influential Americans who backed the foppish, upstart band: Sid Bernstein, Jack Paar and Ed Sullivan.
Bernstein, a New York concert promoter, sought to book The Beatles at Carnegie Hall after reading enthusiastic British press reports. Jack Paar, then host of The Tonight Show, actually aired a recording of The Beatles performing “She Loves You” a month before the historic performance on Ed Sullivan. But it was Sullivan’s coup of booking the band in the flesh that is credited with breaking The Beatles in the massive American market.
As is clear from the pitched squealing that immediately followed Sullivan’s understated introduction: “Ladies and gentlemen, The Beatles!” The Fab Four weren’t unknown in the US prior to the show. But that guest spot was the first tremor of a seismic socio-cultural shift that would eventually include massive wealth and fame as well as hard day’s nights, revolutions, knightships and even an assassination.
The Pulse Mixed Media blog will take a look back at this milestone in music all month through interviews, essays and reviews of the reissues and documentaries that examine the anniversary.
Stay tuned at lipulse.com/mixedmedia
The city that played host to The Beatles first American appearance commemorates the 50th Anniversary. Get your fab fix at:
NYC Fab 50
A series of Beatles-themed concerts at some of Manhattan’s most legendary venues. The Apollo will have an r&b tribute featuring Dionne Warwick, the Hudson Theatre will host tribute bands from around the world and John Lennon’s sister Julia. Finally, the Town Hall will present a cavalcade of musicians raising funds for autism.
Ladies and Gentlemen…The Beatles!
February 6-May 10
New York Public Library for the Performing Arts
The closest thing to a time machine: See a teenager’s festooned bedroom, a Woolworth’s window packed with a treasure trove of Beatles merchandise, handwritten lyrics from the boys themselves and more.
The Fest for Beatles Fans 2014
The Grand Hyatt
As much Beatle-ness as can fit in one building. Performances and talks by such Beatles confidants as Peter Asher and Donovan, auctions and sales of authentic items, walking tours and plenty more.