March 4, 2024

Brighton Journal

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How the Beatles Met Their Moment on Ed Sullivan

How the Beatles Met Their Moment on Ed Sullivan

In the days before everyone cut cable because no one had cable yet, there were things called networking. There were only a few of these networks, which meant people could only watch the same things. Sometimes something was so big, everyone who was able to sit down watched.

The Beatles' first appearance on… The Ed Sullivan Show On February 9, 1964, it was the first seismic event in the history of American television. Americans were committed to filming locations last November in the wake of JFK's assassination, but there was no event like this, one that people knew was coming.

So people gathered. And they gathered. People of all ages. Children tend to have a frenzied excitement for something new and new, as has always been the case. While the older members of the crowd seemed determined to exercise tolerance for the follies of youth and set a good example, or perhaps conjure up an anecdote about how things had been better in their day.

Ed Sullivan talks with The Beatles on set The Ed Sullivan Show In 1964.

Bateman/Getty Images

Some things simply will never change. However, popular culture – and indeed the world – changed on that winter night when most Americans met these four young men from Liverpool.

The Beatles landed at New York's Kennedy Airport two days ago. Only one of them – George Harrison – had ever been to America. These were men who worshiped American culture. This is where the gods originated, in their view: Buddy Holly, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, and most of all, the God of the Gods, Elvis Presley.

Think about this for a moment: When you get there, all eyes are on you thanks to one of the most successful marketing campaigns in history. She had never played a note in this new land, then appeared on television to perform in front of seemingly everyone in forty states.

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We know what happens next. The Beatles became as huge as any entertainment act in history, although they couldn't have done so without being able to deliver the goods – never underestimate the staying power of those given the opportunity and able to deliver the goods.

Here's a question that's rarely asked: How good were the Beatles? The Ed Sullivan Show?

There were three initial appearances. The first performance was broadcast on February 9, the second on February 16, and the final performance was broadcast on February 23, until the Beatles returned to the program in August 1965.

George Harrison was ill with tonsillitis when the band arrived in New York, which meant that at rehearsals on 8 February and the morning of 9 February, road manager Neil Aspinall took Harrison's place so that camera settings could be decided. For two different audiences on that day of February 9, the Beatles played a total of eight songs. The three from the afternoon filming were then used to appear on February 23. The February 16 appearance was recorded at the band's hotel in Miami.

An estimated 73 million people watched The Beatles The Ed Sullivan Show On February 9, though they didn't know it, they were experiencing a band that had become self-confident, a monster driven by a unit born of sparse clubs of beer and vomit, constant jamming, and who-knows-how – lots of rehearsal time.

The final piece of the puzzle they desperately needed — in drummer Ringo Starr — wasn't put in place until a year and a half ago, but if there were four people born to make music together, here they are, and you can play and replay that music they made. The Ed Sullivan Show Just as you can the appropriate album.

An elevated view of The Beatles performing on an episode of the show

The Beatles performing The Ed Sullivan Show.

Michael Oakes Archives/Getty Images

They started with “All My Loving”, one of Paul McCartney's first famous compositions, but with a challenging rhythm guitar character that required these very fast John Lennon trios with almost no pause. Lennon nails the part, and of course you want McCartney standing front and center to win over these Americans. Harrison plays the country and western-tinged guitar solo to resonant perfection, while Starr – who can't take too much credit for what he brought to this band – drives them all forward.

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The Beatles made rhythm music, hence the pun in their name. It was as if they were here making sure no one ever forgot about it, not to mention everyone was just getting to know each other.

“Till There Was You” was romantic and charming for those who thought those “boys” might be too wild with that hair flowing down their collars, and then we have “She Loves You.”

It can be said that there is no better, better song written by The Beatles or a better rock 'n' roll song by anyone. It's mostly in second person. Know many songs like this? It's a song about finding a friend with wisdom you'll never meet. It happens to start with a chorus to die for and move into a verse that can honestly make for one of the most exciting moments of your existence the first time you hear it.

You can't beat “She Loves You” as far as musical energy goes, and with this song the Beatles conquered America. You can determine this occurrence. Now, they might have been forgotten six months later if the Beatles hadn't done what they were capable of, but here in the winter of 1964, this country was just their country.

After a break, the Beatles returned for two more songs: “I Saw Her Standing There” and “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.” Rock 'n' roll, which had largely disappeared from the American scene in the early 1960s, was back, but this was different. Rock was a driving musical language. What the Beatles offered instead was an alternative musical world of chords and chord changes that created a unique sense of vocal notes. Yes, they had power, but they had something beyond prowess. It was theirs, no one else's.

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Much has been said about America's need for what the Beatles provided after Kennedy's death. The Beatles certainly had many gifts, but one of them – as their producer George Martin said – was not of their choosing, that was their timing.

The Beatles were ambitious. Lady Macbeth could have looked at the four of them and felt afraid. The Ed Sullivan Show It was the beginning, the first step, and it was successful. It is no coincidence that Lennon and McCartney raised their writing to another level after this first American visit. It was go time. Things were unfolding.

You can't blame anyone who watched their American television debut and thought this was the best anyone would see from these guys. Whereas the Beatles themselves would have thought: “We're just getting started, mate.” Now we listen to the shows of February 9, and what we hear is not only the sound of the beginning, but the sound of men who were already on their way.