February 9, 1964, the Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show in front of a near-riotous live audience and to over 70 million home viewers, marking their first performance in the U.S. That night has become one of those experiences where people remembered exactly where they were when they hit the stage; not unlike the JFK assassination, which had occurred just over two months prior. This event was a welcome reprieve for many American viewers.
The weeks leading up to their first appearance, Beatlemania spread even faster, infecting listeners of all ages, with their hits playing nonstop on the radio waves and endless merchandise like their signature moptop wigs flying off the shelves countrywide.
That evening was very well-documented with all the biggest sources covering the story and chiming in with their opinions. Remastered copies of all Beatles appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show can even be purchased from the show site. One notable review I’m particularly fond of, which appeared in the February 24th edition of Newsweek, confidently predicted that the Beatles would surely ‘fade away’ with their tight suits, moptops, and “guitars and drums slamming out a merciless beat that does away with secondary rhythms, harmony, and melody.” Unfortunately, Newsweek archives aren’t extensively digitized so I couldn’t view the original, full article. But the power of hindsight makes this writer’s sure opinion of this assured ‘fad’ all the more entertaining.
As I hurry to write and get this short-turned-longish blurb out on time, I’m at a loss of anything significant to say that hasn’t already been covered, I mean it’s THE Beatles. As I mentioned, hindsight, while dangerous when analyzing history, can be fun too. You have all this seemingly common knowledge that the people then did not. But honestly, all I can think of right now is my huge classic rock fan of a dad telling me once that he didn’t like the Beatles when they were popular, he didn’t care for the silliness that they were so known for. It’s weird to me since they are such a name in music, a band people claim to love so they sound like a ‘true music lover.’ Granted my dad was in his early ’20s and I feel like their main, more-spirited demographic was a little younger. Anyway, I’ll leave you with this exaggerated image I have in my head of a group of screaming teenagers welcoming the Beatles at the airport and my beanpole, 6’7” father in the back with his arms crossed, grimacing, and being occasionally elbowed by a girl with tears in her eyes clutching a copy of ‘Please Please Me.’
Side note: On February 11, there will be a discussion at the National Museum of American History in DC at 6:45pm looking into the impact of America on the Beatles and their impact on American music. Afterwards, Smithsonian curators will be showing select rarely seen objects related to the Beatles.
(picture: screencap from Big Picture’s Google Research project)