The Beatles first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show was on Sunday February 9th, 1964 at 8:00 PM. There were over 70 million viewers that night and my two older sisters and I, my mom and my dad were all part of that momentous TV viewing occasion.
I was 7. Yes, I confess. I’m that old.
It was a night that we had been looking forward to for weeks. The Beatles were just about the cutest, quirkiest and most entertaining group that any of us had ever seen and we were smitten with them.
Everyone was. They were funny, cute, just a little bit sexy and they had that hair. Back in 1964 that was considered long. We called them the Mop-tops and the Fab Four. America was Beatle crazy. It was Beatle-mania all over the United States.
My two sisters and I had this weird little record player that when it closed up, looked just like a suitcase. We played 45’s on it, thick black round 45’s with a needle that dropped down and you’d hear that scratchy noise before the needle hit the groove and then the record would start.
My sisters and I listened to “She Loves You” over and over and over. The three of us knew all the words and would sing them together while we played the records.
We all gathered in the family room that night, in front of our one and only TV in the home, which was black & white, by the way. We watched The Ed Sullivan show together as a family every single Sunday night when I was growing up, it was what everyone in America did and that night it was even more exciting than usual.
Ed Sullivan came out saying, “Well….tonight is going to be a rilly, rilly big sheow,” in his nasally voice, rubbing his clenched hands together and rocking back and forth on his feet.
(For such a popular host, he had such odd mannerisms, it’s a mystery to me how he ever made it in the entertainment industry. I have a feeling he was a son of a bitch, and tough to work for, but that’s not today’s story.)
Then the Beatles came on the stage and the audience went completely crazy.
They started out with a set of three songs: “All My Lovin'” was first, “‘Til There Was You“ came next and they finished with “She Loves You.” The audience was beside themselves; girls were screaming and swooning. Police had to carry some of them out of the theater, their legs kicking and flailing about. It was absolute hysteria but the boys from Liverpool were just so darned adorable and kept right on singing even with all this lunacy going on around them.
During the songs, the camera men zoomed in on each singers face for a close-up and supered their name over them (as if we didn’t know who each one was). When they zoomed in on John, the super read “Sorry girls, he’s married.” We were all kind of scandalized by that, they seemed way too young to be married and it gave John a mysterious air of notoriety and maturity.
Ed brought them back on at the end of the show and they sang two more songs: “I Saw Her Standing There” and “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” The theater went crazy with all that “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah-ing” and all of us in our house were singing along and we would have screamed as loud as those girls on TV if my mother would have let us.
The Beatles became a presence throughout my entire life.
I grew up with them, they colored my grammar school, high school, college years and beyond. In 6th grade I wrote an English paper on “Eleanor Rigby” and had a heated discussion with my English teacher about the symbolism of what the lyrics “keeping her face in a jar by the door” meant.
I remember the day John Lennon died vividly, it felt like the end of the world. I was working in a bookstore at the time, and within a week of his death there were 3 hatchet-job paperback books about his life out on the shelf and I got so depressed at the notion that people would stoop so low as to make a buck off the death of a brilliant, peace-loving musician. He had just released “Double Fantasy” and it all seemed just too sad. I cried for days afterwards.
And then I got married to a fellow Beatle-lover (in fact he likes them even more than I do, which is saying a lot) and we had the chance to share them with our kids.
Every long car ride taking the kids to my parents house or to the Outer Banks in North Carolina would include hours and hours of Beatle compilations that my husband would carefully prepare for the drive. The kids liked them too and would sing along. I loved the Beatles for that.
They were a force of nature, a one in a million anomaly. I don’t think there are any artists out there today that will have the longevity and relevance of the Beatles. Certainly not Justin Bieber (although he is very cute) or One Direction. Not U2, Coldplay or even Justin Timberlake. The difference with the Beatles was that they were the whole package. They wrote beautiful music, gorgeous harmonies AND meaningful lyrics that got better and better as they got older.
We are all lucky to have had the lads from Liverpool in our lives.