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. 

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Members have made 63 comments.

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  1. Profile photo of Stephen Dawson Thatcher

    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?)

    • #1
    • February 9, 2013 at 4:57 am
  2. Profile photo of Fred Cole Member

    Youtube is a hell of a thing.

    • #2
    • February 9, 2013 at 5:28 am
  3. Profile photo of Paul A. Rahe Contributor

    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.

    • #3
    • February 9, 2013 at 6:10 am
  4. Profile photo of Percival Thatcher

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

    • #4
    • February 9, 2013 at 6:49 am
  5. Profile photo of Severely Ltd. Member
    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.

    • #5
    • February 9, 2013 at 6:51 am
  6. Profile photo of John Murdoch Member

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

    • #6
    • February 9, 2013 at 7:01 am
  7. Profile photo of EJHill Member
    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

    • #7
    • February 9, 2013 at 7:49 am
  8. Profile photo of Blackford Oakes Member

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

    • #8
    • February 9, 2013 at 7:53 am
  9. Profile photo of Aaron Miller Member

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

    • #9
    • February 9, 2013 at 7:55 am
  10. Profile photo of Steven M. Member

    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. 

    • #10
    • February 9, 2013 at 7:57 am
  11. Profile photo of Pigboy Inactive
    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.

    • #11
    • February 9, 2013 at 8:12 am
  12. Profile photo of Severely Ltd. Member
    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.

    • #12
    • February 9, 2013 at 8:17 am
  13. Profile photo of Steven M. Member
    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. 

    • #13
    • February 9, 2013 at 8:31 am
  14. Profile photo of EJHill Member
    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.”

    • #14
    • February 9, 2013 at 8:51 am
  15. Profile photo of tabula rasa Member

    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.

    • #15
    • February 9, 2013 at 8:52 am
  16. Profile photo of Man With the Axe Member

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

    • #16
    • February 9, 2013 at 9:01 am
  17. Profile photo of Steven M. Member
    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…

    • #17
    • February 9, 2013 at 9:12 am
  18. Profile photo of Severely Ltd. Member
    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.

    • #18
    • February 9, 2013 at 9:16 am
  19. Profile photo of Cal Lawton Member

    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%).

    • #19
    • February 9, 2013 at 9:19 am
  20. Profile photo of EJHill Member
    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.

    • #20
    • February 9, 2013 at 9:52 am
  21. Profile photo of Michael Fuller Inactive

    A significant by-product was Davy Jones’ appearance on the same show http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Davy_Jones_(musician). This may have began the modern music industry; started as an alternative supply to a market demand for a limited commodity. Or this might have started the democratization of musical entertainment, which has reached a zenith in RAP (stands for: Rhythm And Poetry – requires no musical ability).

    • #21
    • February 9, 2013 at 10:37 am
  22. Profile photo of Jim Brown Inactive

    The claim that the Beatles first appearance on American television was on the Ed Sullivan show is incorrect. They first appeared in an ironic “what will they think of next?” clip on the Huntley-Brinkley Report news show on NBC. They got wry smiles and remarks from Chet and David.

    • #22
    • February 9, 2013 at 10:47 am
  23. Profile photo of Yeah...ok. Member

    Dang. Now I feel too old to care about the Beatle’s goat ranking.

    Certainly I am biased and it’s too soon to write history; but I think the 60’s changed the culture in a many varied and more profound ways then any subsequent decade.

    • #23
    • February 9, 2013 at 10:51 am
  24. Profile photo of Jude Member

    Thanks Blue Yeti. A delight. I’ve often thought that the Beatles were a kind of Rorschach Test for attractiveness. I can see liking Paul, but Ringo?

    • #24
    • February 9, 2013 at 11:17 am
  25. Profile photo of Keith Preston Member

    I give many seminar classes in the summer for my school and one of the most popular was a short history of the Beatles. Their’s is an amazing cultural story that’s probably a once in a millennium as far as the impact on a generation.

    For a short time, my wife and I were houseparents in a girls’ dorm in 2007-2008. Often, we needed the girls to spend some time working to clean the hall, and they always requested music to be played while they worked. They argued over the choice (from hip-hop to pop to musical theater). In the end, the one choice EVERYONE approved of was…Beatles. I don’t remember ever feeling that way about ANY of the music of my parents.

    By the way…they knew all the words…unbelievable.

    • #25
    • February 9, 2013 at 11:28 am
  26. Profile photo of flownover Inactive
    Blue Yeti: Paul, you have my envy and respect for being able to witness and appreciate this event (I was a toddler and have no memory of it). In contrast, another beloved Ricochet contributor who shall remain nameless recently mentioned on a podcast that he never “got” the Beatles thing, and instead elected to purchase a Monkees (!) album a few years later. · 58 minutes ago
    Paul A. Rahe: 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. · 6 hours ago
    Edited 46 minutes ago

    Blue Yeti, It’s not necessary to drag Joe Biden into the conversation. He is still trying to catch the Last Train to Clarksville.

    • #26
    • February 10, 2013 at 2:20 am
  27. Profile photo of Demaratus Thatcher

    I think this video is interesting from an historical perspective; but, I don’t get what my parents were thinking in liking the Beatles so much (12 and 14 at the time, and they remember watching this): while the Beatles can play, the music isn’t very interesting at all. Paul and John’s lyrics are the main attraction– and I’ll admit that compared to what we get today they’re actually interesting.

    However, even the highly catchy “I want to hold your hand” is still about the same worn out topics of naive love that rock hasn’t much advanced from in +50 years.

    What will the historians say about the Beatles a century from now? Did they develop anything novel musically or lyrically? Generally speaking, I think not; they just copied what Elvis and Motown had already popularized and applied Paul’s marketing genius lyrics to that structure.

    The Beatles are interesting as a symptom of a culture in the midst of radical change due to continuing technological progress and the effects of modern strains of philosophy (both intertwined of course), not an agent of change in the culture itself. And thus, not worthy of future memorial.

    • #27
    • February 10, 2013 at 2:29 am
  28. Profile photo of JeanVianney Inactive

    My personal recollection of that night was first frustration because of the noise level of the girls in the audience. There was no other subject among my fellow students the next day. Being a Junior High student, I listened to rock on the radio in the mid ’60s, and especially to a DJ named Tom Cole out of WBZ in Boston, whose personal schtick was quite creative. His signal I was able to pull in during the night in Michigan. Nevertheless, he had sponsored a “best of” contest among his listeners in every entertainment field, and the members of the Beatles won in every category. Really, I thought? Oh, well. The Beatles certainly were amazing in their musical evolution through stages of style and substance, seeming to me always on the cutting edge of pop stylistic evolution, yet staying clear of a lot of the negativity and noise in rock music of the late ’60’s. Their end as a group came as abruptly as their beginning, in the last year of the decade. Nevertheless we still hear tasty bits from old Ringo and Paul to this day.

    • #28
    • February 10, 2013 at 2:36 am
  29. Profile photo of RushBabe49 Thatcher

    I was 15, and I remember sitting about 6 inches away from the TV to watch and sigh (no screams). I liked Ringo best. I still have my original vinyl copy of Meet The Beatles, and it’s still playable.

    I was at their concert in Seattle, and was extremely disappointed at their being totally drowned out by the leaping, screaming girls in the audience. I thought that I’d been cheated-I really wanted to hear them!

    And I’m brushing up on the lyrics to “When I’m 64”, since I’m 64 this year.

    • #29
    • February 10, 2013 at 2:39 am
  30. Profile photo of Man With the Axe Member
    Demaratus: 

    What will the historians say about the Beatles a century from now? Did they develop anything novel musically or lyrically? Generally speaking, I think not; they just copied what Elvis and Motown had already popularized and applied Paul’s marketing genius lyrics to that structure.

    The Beatles didn’t stop with “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” They were very inventive, and each year or two put out something the world hadn’t seen before. Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sergeant Pepper, Magical Mystery Tour, Abbey Road, lots of great stuff. They wrote many memorable melodies and lyrics to go with them. 

    What in the works of Elvis or Motown leads to “Eleanor Rigby” or “She’s Leaving Home” or “A Day in the Life” or “Norwegian Wood” or “Good Day Sunshine” or “Strawberry Fields Forever” or “Because?”

    • #30
    • February 10, 2013 at 2:56 am
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