Boomers Met The Beatles

It’s hard to believe, but here we are! It’s been 50 years since The Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, forever changing popular culture for boomers and beyond.

The Beatles were already a successful band in the United Kingdom before they ventured into the American market. By 1963, Beatlemania was in full swing “across the pond.” At the time, Capitol Records in the U.S. was a subsidiary of EMI, which was The Beatles’ record company. With limited press exposure and no records readily available in the U.S., Capitol didn’t see much future for the four lads from Liverpool.

As word of Beatlemania in the UK spread into the U.S., the band’s first U.S. TV exposure came from a news interview by Edwin Newman for The Huntley-Brinkley Report on November 18, 1963. CBS Morning News followed up on that interview by broadcasting a piece about Beatlemania on November 22, 1963. Ironically, the report was scheduled to repeat on the evening news that day, but that afternoon, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. Thus did two of the most influential forces of boomer youth cross paths. Walter Cronkite did eventually air that story again on December 10, 1963.

On November 29, 1963, EMI released I Want to Hold Your Hand in the UK, with advance orders topping the million mark. The U.S. coverage of Beatlemania, mass appeal of the band in the UK, the leaking of the record onto American radio — first in Washington, DC, then in St. Louis and Chicago — started a snowball rolling. Band manager Brian Epstein was able to successfully book The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show, prompting Capitol Records to agree to release I Want to Hold Your Hand in the U.S. in January of 1964, to coincide with their appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. Since the record was already being played on American radio in several markets, though, Capitol decided to rush the release and made it available with a B-side of I Saw Her Standing There on December 26, 1963. It was an instant hit. In the first three days alone, a quarter million copies of the 45 rpm records had been sold in the U.S. Beatlemania had arrived on U.S. shores, establishing a beachhead for the subsequent British Invasion.

The Beatles boarded Pan Am Flight 101 at London’s Heathrow Airport on February 7, 1964, heading for the newly rechristened John F. Kennedy Airport (JFK) in New York. Idelwild Airport had been renamed for the late president after his assassination just three months earlier. An estimated four thousand fans greeted The Beatles on their arrival. It was the largest crowd airport security had ever seen, and it was all for a rock ‘n roll band from England.

The Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show on Sunday, February 9, 1964, which aired at 8 p.m. EST. Of the 189 million people living in the U.S. at the time, over 73 million tuned in to hear the Fab Four — an estimated 45% of all households with a television set! The band performed All My Loving, Till There Was You and She Loves You in the first half of the program, then later in the show added I Saw Her Standing There and finished with I Want To Hold Your Hand.

Mister Boomer’s family was among the multitudes. Ed Sullivan was a Sunday night fixture in Mister Boomer’s home, so the family wasn’t tuning in just to see The Beatles. Yet Mister B and his siblings were excited to see what all the hoopla was about with this band from England and their kooky hairstyles and mode of dress. Mister B recalls wondering why the girls were screaming so loudly, and remarked that they should let the band play. While The Beatles launched into their final number, Mister B went off to run a bath. It was a school night and, as a pre-teen, bed time was fast approaching.

Ed Sullivan brought the band back on his the show for the next two Sundays for an unprecedented three-weeks-in-a-row of appearances. The second, on Sunday, February 16, 1964, was broadcast live from the Napoleon Ballroom of the Deauville Hotel in Miami Beach. The third appearance was actually taped before their first appearance on February 9th. One week later, The Ed Sullivan Show began broadcasting in color. Those epic performances by The Beatles were to be preserved only in black & white.

It wasn’t long after their appearance that Mister B’s aunt gave the family her daughter’s hand-me-down record player. The Boomer family was out shopping one night when Brother Boomer picked up a package of 45 RPM records — six for 99¢. Visible through the clear plastic window was a record by The Beatles: She Loves You. The first rock ‘n roll record in Mister Boomer’s house was going to be by The Beatles.

Mister Boomer has chronicled the influence of The Beatles on boomer culture over these past few years, from their hair (Boomers Loved That Beatles’ Hairstyle) to the “Paul is dead” conspiracy (Boomers Thought Paul Was Dead) and many references to their music in between. Now, five decades later, the grandchildren of boomers are discovering their songs and are purchasing them for their own digital collections. Mister Boomer’s introduction to The Beatles, like many other boomers his age, began with their appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show fifty years ago.

Did you watch The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show, boomers?

Boomers Loved That Beatles’ Hairstyle

The 1960s will be remembered for many things in the cultural milieu, and most notably among them is hairstyles. Any discussion of hairstyles of the 1960s would hardly be complete without acknowledging the tremendous influence the hairstyles of The Beatles — John, Paul, George and Ringo — had on a Youth Culture poised to explode.

The Beatles themselves changed hairstyles throughout their tenure as rock ‘n roll kings, but it all started when John spotted a young Norwegian schoolboy in the 1950s who, after swimming, left his hair hanging over his forehead. That look, combined with his fringed hair on the back of his head, was one that John particularly appreciated, and remembered. That boy was Jürgen Vollmer. In late 1961 when the band was playing in Hamburg, Paul and John decided to hitchhike to Paris. As luck (or rather, destiny) would have it, Mr. Vollmer picked the pair up on his way to Paris — sporting the style that John had so admired years earlier. John and Paul remarked how much they liked Mr. Vollmer’s haircut, and asked if he would cut their hair like his when they got to Paris. Thus, John and Paul were the first to receive the style, which became known as the moptop.

The moptop was a medium-length hairstyle, noted for its straight cut at the base of the neck, continuing over the ears and straight across the forehead. George and Ringo followed suit after seeing John and Paul, and the Fab Four took on the additional moniker of the Moptops.

Immediately upon their arrival in the U.S., The Beatles became style icons.

When they were introduced in the U.S. in February of 1964, their moptop hairstyle was an instant hit. It was copied worldwide and spawned one of the first licensed Beatles products: Beatle Wigs, manufactured by the Lowell Toy Manufacturing Corporation of New York. Many companies followed suit making wigs out of plastic and real hair, but only Lowell could claim their wigs as “authentic.”

Soon after arriving in the U.S., the group faced a press conference at the Plaza Hotel in New York. Having never seen their hairstyle before, a reporter asked George Harrison what he would call his haircut. In true Beatles fashion, George responded, “Arthur.” That scene was recreated in the movie, A Hard Day’s Night (1964), when a reporter asks George, “What would you call that, uh, hairstyle you’re wearing?”

In the 1950s, the predominant hairstyles for men were the shorter Crew Cut and Flat Top, while longer styles included the Pompadour and Ducktail. Some say it was President John F. Kennedy who ushered in the era of longer hair being more acceptable by flaunting his locks without a hat as the decade of the sixties began. Nevertheless, the likes of The Beatles’ haircut had not been seen on our shores before the band landed in New York.

As the sixties progressed, so did The Beatles’ hairstyles. It becomes hard to distinguish where The Beatles’ influence on worldwide hairstyles began and where what was happening in the world influenced The Beatles. By the time they recorded Sgt. Peppers in 1967, the group had replaced their moptops with much longer hair and, often, full beards.

Mister Boomer, like so many baby boomers, first saw The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show. He recalls how their appearance shook the boomer world, and was all that was being talked about around school. Girls loved their hair, calling it “cute,” while guys thought it was “cool.” Mister Boomer was somewhat ambivalent about their hair, but did greatly admire their suits — an Edwardian style with black velvet-trimmed collars. His attention was quickly drawn to their music as he developed a preference of “She Loves You” over “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” Hair, for Mister B, was neither here nor there.

Mired in a Parochial School education, Mister Boomer and his classmates had to adhere to rules and regulations regarding dress codes and hairstyles. As soon as the first inklings of this new hairstyle were uttered on school grounds, new regulations expressly prohibiting the moptop hairstyle were adopted, naming The Beatles as the example of what would not be permitted. Parents had no choice but to enforce the rules, despite the pleadings of their children. Since Mister B didn’t care much either way, he never sported the hairstyle, though some friends did eventually acquire a moptop when they got into high school.

What do you remember about The Beatles hairstyle, boomers? Did you have to have a moptop of your own?