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?