It Was 49 Years Ago Today …

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49 years ago today, one of the most significant cultural events of the 20th century took place: The Beatles debuted on The Ed Sullivan Show. Less than 90 days after the country was horrified by the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the arrival of the Beatles provided a much needed diversion. As quaint as it may seem now, their hair and music was deemed dangerous and controversial and the media ran with it. The event almost singlehandedly broke the nation out of its collective mourning. 

The Beatles first live performance on American television was a watershed event; one of those rare moments in popular culture that millions of people experienced simultaneously and had seared into their collective consciousness (according to Wikipedia, 73 million people watched that night — about 45% of all of the TVs in the country. By comparison, last week’s Super Bowl was seen by a paltry 20%). Countless future musicians were minted watching the black and white images that Sunday night. Everyone wanted to be a Beatle. Further, the appearance marked the end of the relatively pastoral 50s and the beginning of the momentous changes of the 60s that would change the country forever. We can debate the effect that had on our culture and the country, but the fact that the Beatles lit the fuse that night is undeniable. 

The video above is a restored and remastered version of the complete Sullivan show set. Everyone has seen moments — Sullivan’s introduction with his weirdly Frankenstein-like posture, the screaming girls, the Beatles smiling and their mop tops swaying. But do yourself a favor and watch the entire 13 minute video. What is so striking and perhaps now overlooked is that these guys could play. And they were playing – no Beyoncé style lip-syncing going on here. At this early stage in their careers, they were already a great band, due in no small part to the fact that the Beatles had paid their dues. By 1964, they’d been together for close to 8 years, playing the bars of Liverpool and Hamburg. They had the infectious music and charisma to push through the tiny flickering television screens across the country. And as we now know, almost 50 years later, the talent to make them the best band in history. 

  1. Stephen Dawson

    Excellent and interesting remaster, too. Let’s not forget the engineers here. This was almost certainly a mono recording, but a nice stereo mix has been produced from it. The technology, today, that allows such things! (Did you catch Edith Piaf singing in Inception as though she were recorded with modern technology?)

  2. Fred Cole

    Youtube is a hell of a thing.

  3. Paul A. Rahe
    C

    Now I really do feel old. I returned to Denver that evening from a trip up to Winter Park for skiing and saw the show.

  4. Percival

    I forgot there was a Meredith Wilson cover in that set.  Thanks, Yeti.

  5. Severely Ltd.
    Blue Yeti

    And as we now know almost 50 years later, the talent to make them the best band in history. 

    Yeti, you old dog. You’re going for the comment record with this aren’t you? No Fred Cole headline, no Palin or SSM,  just this quiet final sentence slipped in as a statement of fact. You are a media master, you are.

  6. John Murdoch

    I was 5, and watched it at my grandparent’s house.

  7. EJHill
    Stephen Dawson: Excellent and interesting remaster, too. Let’s not forget the engineers here.

    You have no idea. Two inch video tape could be a nightmare to work with. These machines were huge, required an air compressor and if the tape tension wasn’t just right you’d get a venetian blind effect across the screen.

    The Beatles final Ed Sullivan Show appearance was also the last telecast of the show in black and white. Had CBS not been so slow to color (because it meant using RCA/NBC technology) this is what you would have seen:

    531695_487409897963231_1307790014_n.jpg

  8. Blackford Oakes

    What a great way to start a Saturday morning.  Thanks, Yeti!

  9. Aaron Miller

    Music was forever changed once teenage girls could buy their own records.

  10. Steven M.

    It’s still astounding to me just how good the Beatles were. Very few musical missteps, and even some of those widely accepted missteps, I would argue about. 

    In my opinion, the best impact the Beatles had on music was popularizing the idea of a band consciously evolving it’s sound and style. 

    I don’t trust people who don’t like at least one version of The Beatles. 

    Side Note: It’s kind of bizarre how the Velvet Underground’s first album was just 3 years after this. 

  11. Pigboy
    Severely Ltd.

    Blue Yeti

    And as we now know almost 50 years later, the talent to make them the best band in history. 

    Yeti, you old dog. You’re going for the comment record with this aren’t you? No Fred Cole headline, no Palin or SSM,  just this quiet final sentence slipped in as a statement of fact. You are a media master, you are. · 1 hour ago

    No kidding. I was about to pounce on that line until I realized he was baiting us. Clever Yeti.

  12. Severely Ltd.
    Steven M.: Side Note: It’s kind of bizarre how the Velvet Underground’s first album was just 3 years after this.  · 6 minutes ago

    This is very interesting. Things accelerated very fast after this. And what a diversity of styles and sounds. Herman’s Hermits to Hendrix to CCR to Donovan and on and on. The youth movement of the sixties was a largely self-indulgent tantrum, but as with anything so large and sweeping, there was some good mixed in. Some of the music fits in the latter category for me.

  13. Steven M.
    Severely Ltd.

    Steven M.: Side Note: It’s kind of bizarre how the Velvet Underground’s first album was just 3 years after this.  · 6 minutes ago

    This is very interesting. Things accelerated very fast after this. And what a diversity of styles and sounds. Herman’s Hermits to Hendrix to CCR to Donovan and on and on. The youth movement of the sixties was a largely self-indulgent tantrum, but as with anything so large and sweeping, there was some good mixed in. Some of the music fits in the latter category for me. · 7 minutes ago

    A lot of musicians like Lou Reed, started bands because of Buddy Holly and Elvis. But it was the Beatles who broke open the record industry and made it possible for the Stones, VU, and many more to get signed. 

    It’s equivalent to the cotton gin, or the internet, in terms of what those innovations did for their industries. 

  14. EJHill
    Steven M.:  I don’t trust people who don’t like at least one version of The Beatles.

    Proud to be in your distrust. I listened to all of their stuff because I had an older sister and never came away impressed with any of it.

    On the other hand, I know that I have a great deal in common with John Lennon. He was a huge Bing Crosby fan. Elliot Mintz, Lennon’s friend and publicist recalled in a TV interview:

    “Yoko gave him this old-fashioned jukebox and John stocked it with Bing Crosby records. People kind of expected him to have rock ‘n’ roll records in there, but it was almost totally Crosby stuff. There were 3 songs which John played over and over. I still remember them. They were Crosby with a jazz quartet from the 50′s, I think. He would banter and talk in the songs and John thought that was just the end. The songs were Whispering, I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter and Dream a Little Dream of Me. Yeah, those were the songs, I can still see John listening to them.”

  15. tabula rasa

    Like Dr. Rahe, I am of an age where I too have a vivid memory of this episode of the Ed Sullivan show.  Beatlemania was real.

  16. Man With the Axe

    “She was just 17.  You know what I mean…”  Bob Menendez

  17. Steven M.
    EJHill

    Steven M.:  I don’t trust people who don’t like at least one version of The Beatles.

    Proud to be in your distrust. I listened to all of their stuff because I had an older sister and never came away impressed with any of it.

    I never trusted you anyway…

  18. Severely Ltd.
    Steven M.: A lot of musicians like Lou Reed, started bands because of Buddy Holly and Elvis. But it was the Beatles who broke open the record industry and made it possible for the Stones, VU, and many more to get signed. 

    It’s equivalent to the cotton gin, or the internet, in terms of what those innovations did for their industries. 

    Yes, and Motown was already cranking out great stuff before this. The breadth of music played on my local station WKKO, doesn’t happen today. They played Rockabilly, Soul, British invasion, Sinatra (Frank and Nancy), psychedelic rock,  novelty pop, country, nothing was out of bounds.

    I don’t really listen to anything now that they played, but what an education in American popular music. And the diversity within the genres then was very broad also.

  19. Cal Lawton

    I wonder what CBS made, in 2013 dollars, in ad revenue for that episode.

    Blue Yeti

    The Beatles first appearance on television was a watershed event. One of those rare moments in popular culture that millions of people experienced simultaneously and seared into their collective consciousness (according to Wikipedia, 73 million people watched that night — about 45% of all of the TVs in the country. By comparison, last week’s Super Bowl was seen by a paltry 20%).

  20. EJHill
    Cal Lawton: I wonder what CBS made, in 2013 dollars, in ad revenue for that episode.

    That would have come in the next two weeks. That was the first of three consecutive weeks that The Beatles were on Ed’s show.

    I looked for some historical network rate cards and came up empty.

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