Back when everyone was cutting their cable because no one had one yet, there were things called networks. Only a handful of these networks existed, which meant people couldn’t stop watching the same things. Sometimes there would be a very important thing, and almost everyone who could would sit down to watch.
The Beatles’ debut on The Ed Sullivan Show February 9, 1964 was the first seismic event in American television history. The Americans had gotten married on their sets last November, following the assassination of John F. Kennedy, but there had been no event like this, which people knew about. he was going to arrive.
So people gathered together. And gathered. People of all ages. Children tended to be frantic about something fresh and new, as they always were. While members of the older crowd seemed determined to show tolerance for the follies of youth and set a good example, or perhaps bring up an anecdote about how things were better in their day.
Some things will just never change. However, popular culture – and, indeed, the world – changed on that winter night when most of America met these four young men from Liverpool.
The Beatles had landed at New York’s Kennedy Airport two days earlier. Only one of them – George Harrison – had ever been to America. These were guys who loved American culture. This was where the gods, they believed, came from: Buddy Holly, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard and, most importantly, the god of gods, Elvis Presley.
Think about it for a moment: you arrive in this place, all eyes are on you thanks to one of the most successful and buzz-generating marketing campaigns in history. You’ve never played a note in this new country, and then you appear on television to perform in front of everyone in four dozen states.
We know what happens next. The Beatles became as big as any entertainment group in history, although they wouldn’t have done so without being able to deliver the goods – never underestimate the endurance of those whose both are given a chance and are capable of delivering the goods.
Here’s a question that rarely gets asked: how good were the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show?
There were three first appearances. This first on February 9, a second on February 16 and a final performance broadcast on February 23, until the Beatles returned to the program in August 1965.
George Harrison was suffering from tonsillitis when the band arrived in New York, which meant that during rehearsals on February 8 and the morning of February 9, road manager Neil Aspinall took Harrison’s place so that the adjustments cameras can be determined. This February 9, in front of two different audiences, the Beatles played a total of eight songs. The three from the afternoon shoot were then used for the February 23 performance. The February 16 performance was recorded at the band’s hotel in Miami.
An estimated 73 million people saw The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, and though they couldn’t have known it, they were experiencing a band that had become the confident, driving beast of a unit born of beer- and vomit-splattered clubs, constant gigs and we don’t know how. -lots of rehearsal time.
The final, indispensable piece of their puzzle – drummer Ringo Starr – had been put in place only a year and a half before, but if ever four people were born to make music together, here they are, and you can play the music over and over again on which they did The Ed Sullivan Show just like a real album.
They begin with “All My Loving,” one of Paul McCartney’s early landmark compositions, but with a tricky rhythm guitar figure requiring those very fast John Lennon triplets with virtually no respite. Lennon nails the role, and of course you want McCartney front and center to win these Yankees over. Harrison plays the country and western infused guitar solo to perfection, while Starr – who can’t get too much credit for what he brought to this band – keeps them all going.
The Beatles made beat music, hence the play on words in their name. And it was like they were making sure here that no one would forget him, not to mention that everyone was just getting to know each other.
“Till There Was You” served as a romance and charmer to those who thought these “boys” might otherwise be too wild with that hair passing over their collars, and then we have “She Loves You.”
Arguably, there is no Beatles song or rock’n’roll song more beautiful and better written by anyone. It’s mostly in the second person. Do you know a lot of songs like that? It’s a song about finding a friend, one with wisdom that will never go out of style. And it happens to start with a breathtaking chorus and a transition into the verse that can honestly be one of your most exciting moments of your existence the first time you hear it.
You can’t beat “She Loves You” for musical energy and it was with this song that The Beatles took America by storm. You can identify this event. Today, they might have been forgotten six months later if the Beatles hadn’t done what they were capable of doing, but here in the winter of 1964, this country was practically not theirs.
After a break, the Beatles returned for two more songs: “I Saw Her Standing There” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” Rock ‘n’ roll, which had largely disappeared from the American scene in the early 1960s, was back, but it was different. Rock was a driving musical language; what the Beatles instead presented was an alternative musical world of chords and chord changes that created a unique sense of the euphonious. Yes, they had power, but they had something beyond finesse. It was theirs, and no one else’s.
Much has been made of America’s need for what the Beatles offered after Kennedy’s death. The Beatles certainly had many gifts, but one of them – as their producer George Martin said – was not of their choosing, and it was their timing.
The Beatles were ambitious. Lady Macbeth could have looked at all four of them and felt intimidated. The Ed Sullivan Show it was a start, a first step, and it had been a success. It’s no coincidence that Lennon and McCartney took their songwriting to another level after that first American visit. It was time to leave. Things were happening.
You can’t fault anyone who watched that first appearance on American television and thought it was the best we’d ever see from these guys. While the Beatles themselves would have thought: “We’ve only just started, mate. » We listen now to those performances from February 9, and what we hear is not just the sound of a departure, but the sound of guys who were already well on their way.
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