SANDPOINT — Fifty years ago to the day, one television appearance changed the direction of popular music and set a new course for an entire generation of young musicians.
On Feb. 9, 1964, a Sunday evening, The Beatles hit the stage on the Ed Sullivan Show. More than 73 million Americans were glued to their sets at 8 p.m., watching in black-and-white as these four band mates from Liverpool casually conquered the New World. It was then, and remains today, the most-watched single television show in U.S. history, according to Nielson ratings.
I was 9 years old at the time and already into music. By the time that show ended, I had seen my future calling played out before my eyes. I convinced my parents to buy me my very own “Meet the Beatles” album — no, I could not share my older brother’s copy. As I listened non-stop to the songs, I played air guitar on a tennis racquet and practiced posing like the various Beatles. It took some doing, but I finally succeeded in getting my folks to buy me a Beatles wig from the local department store.
With my mop top in place, I rounded up three Cub Scout friends and pressed them into a series of grueling, after-school rehearsals until we could lip-synch and mime “I Want to Hold Your Hand” to perfection. We signed up for the talent segment at the next pack meeting and stood on a tiny stage behind a closed curtain, our wigs meticulously groomed and our handmade, cardboard replicas of The Beatles instruments at the ready.
When the pack leader finished his Ed Sullivan impersonation and announced the “surprise guest artists,” the needle dropped onto the record, the curtains parted and the crowd went nuts. For those two minutes and 24 seconds, the elementary school lunchroom rocked and we were transported to unimaginable heights as faux performers. We were, for that brief moment of glory, The Beatles themselves.
As the 50th Ed Sullivan appearance anniversary approached, conversations with a few local and regional musicians and music lovers revealed that watching the same TV show sparked similar reactions in their lives. What follows is a series of memories of how the Fab Four affected them as both artists and lifelong fans.
“I was a senior in high school and had formed my first band, Doc and the Interns, when The Beatles landed in New York City. Up until that time, my inspiration came from the Beach Boys, Jan & Dean and all the ‘50s doo-wop groups. Elvis was great, but never tripped my trigger.
The Beatles, however, had a profound effect on me with their appearance and style of music and delivery. The way the girls reacted got my attention also. We played a school assembly and were set up behind the curtains in the auditorium. We were bent over at the waist, heads looking at the floor as the curtains opened. I said, ‘1,2,3,4!’ as we straightened up sang ‘I Saw Her Standing There.’ It was my first experience of hearing several hundred girls screaming at the top of their lungs. After that rush, it was an
onwards push to have that happen at every performance.”
“After seeing that show, I was in awe with their performance and couldn’t stop singing the tunes they did. I remember opening the bedroom window and turning the radio up full blast for all the neighbors to hear. I then went out and bought myself a pocket-sized transistor radio and would have it playing in my pocket constantly for fear of missing that next Beatles tune. I started to take on delivery of the paper to make money to buy my first guitar — a Silvertone from Sears Roebuck and Co. It was a sunburst, hollow-body guitar that came in a case with its own speaker mounted in it. It was ‘Yea, Yea, Yea!’ from then on, brother!”
“I vividly remember watching The Beatles’ first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. I was 7 years old and hooked. I also recall the day my father walked in the door with an impish grin on his face and both hands behind his back, hiding something. He asked me, ‘Okay, which hand do you want?’ I chose one, and he handed me Louis Armstrong’s new album, ‘Hello Dolly.’ He then held out the other album hidden behind his back, ‘Meet the Beatles,’ hugged it and exclaimed, ‘Mine! All mine!’ I was so upset I threw a crying tantrum and ran down the hall and slammed my bedroom door. He traded me the Beatles album for Satchmo’s. Dad loved ‘All My Loving,’ and I went on to develop a darn good impersonation of Louis Armstrong singing ‘Hello Dolly.’”
“Lonesome” Lyle Morse:
“I watched that Sullivan broadcast. I was 12 years old and impressed by The Beatles’ casual stage presence, smiling at each other, sort of like ‘this is no big deal.’ Their music was like a breath of fresh air in the middle of a somewhat stalled American music scene at the time. What I really remember, though, is that when their appearance was over, I walked away from the TV, went to my room, picked up the guitar my parents gifted me at Christmas and never looked back.”
“The Beatles affected me more than any other band. On Ed Sullivan’s show, their stage delivery was polished, innovative and so pure you could almost see their very spirits and hearts dancing with them onstage. What an unforgettable first show! I must have been ten years old at the time and they easily won my allegiance. That was only the beginning! They were accessible to an ever-growing and diverse audience. Even my Mom agreed on their talents. ‘Here, There and Everywhere’ won her over.”
“My parents had a black-and-white TV in the third floor walk-up on Bleecker Street. We had heard about the fanatic crowds at airports and at the uptown studios. I was 11 and barely allowed to stay up that late. But out of curiosity we were allowed that night. I remember two things: First, that the melodies stayed in my head after a single listen. The second thing was the lyrics. My schoolmates and I argued whether the line (in ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’) was ‘I can’t hide,’ ‘I get hives,’ or ‘I get high.’ At that age, I didn’t know what the latter two were, so it was a mysterious metaphor. Sometimes, when I write lyrics now, I think about how a bit of obscurity makes a song more ‘sticky.’
“I remember the show clearly — interesting how everyone does — and how bizarre it was to see all the screaming and crying from the girls in the crowd. The crying really baffled me. I can’t say it was a major defining moment for me as far as wanting to play music, but looking back I realize that, at the ripe old age of 6, I had already been bit by the love of music and it certainly added to that.”
“I was in 5th Grade and remember, firstly, buying the first Beatles LP, ‘Meet The Beatles,’ with that stark up-front portrait on the cover. I was only halfway into pop music, but loved certain songs on the radio — the way the harmonies blended together and the chord structures moved me. So when I heard the Beatles’ tunes from that LP, I was ready and primed to instantly plug into the music. There was something fundamentally different from American rock and roll and pop that felt attractive to me. I saw them on Ed Sullivan and generally liked it, but was not as moved as simply listening to the music. As I moved into 6th and 7th and 8th grades, I totally moved away from The Beatles. They were too poppy and melodic for my developing taste in heavier, bluesier sounds. But then ‘Rubber Soul’ came out and then ‘Revolver,’ and I was entranced all over again.”
“In June of 1963, wearing hat and gloves, I bid a fond farewell to my very best friend, Jeanine, as she boarded a ship in San Francisco with her grandparents and headed to England for the summer. School had started by the time she returned, but what she missed in the ‘Three R’s’ she made up for with an album she brought back featuring four crazy looking young men called The Beatles. She had seen them in August and convinced her grandparents to purchase their album.
Inhibitions were lost and slumber parties became all-nighters — dancing to their music, choreographing moves and falling in love with Paul McCartney. Imagine our excitement when, a few months later, they were in the U.S. and on the Ed Sullivan Show! We felt quite connected with them, because by the time the show aired, we had memorized all the lyrics and could sing along during their first-ever televised show.
I’ve never quit dancing, became a Beatles groupie and had the good fortune to see them live in San Francisco at Candlestick Park for their legendary ‘Final Concert’ on Aug. 29, 1966. As my ‘relationship’ with them matured, I just couldn’t relate to all the girls screaming and fainting. I still dance and remember the lyrics, but deny 50 years have gone by.”
“I was at the Deauville Hotel in Miami for the Beatles second broadcast appearance on the Ed Sullivan show. I went with Laurie, my first crush and high school girlfriend. Laurie’s dad was a bigwig at a company that owned movie theaters and broadcast stations in Florida and she was how I got in to the show. Before the broadcast started, Mr. Sullivan came out and told us that when he introduced The Beatles, that the more he raised his hands asking us to quiet down, the louder he actually wanted us to scream. That admonition was probably unnecessary, it was pretty darn noisy in there already! The screaming was so loud by the time the ‘mop tops’ came on stage that I actually didn’t hear much more than a muffled din coming from their direction — but what an experience.
That Beatles appearance on the Ed Sullivan show was my first live rock concert. It was a seminal moment in my life and set my music trajectory. Looking back, I can honestly say that my continuing love of music is easily traceable to that first ‘live rock show.’
‘And now, ladies and gentlemen, live on our stage … The Beatles!’ I remember it like it was yesterday.”