Dawn of a revolution
Rock ’n’ roll was born in the United States, but it was four english chaps who took it out to the world.
Beatles manager Brian Epstein in order to secure the band’s appearance on his show, which taped in New York City. Sullivan wanted huge ratings, Epstein wanted maximum exposure for the boys and so they settled on a deal that would feature Beatles performances on three consecutive episodes. In addition, Epstein ensured his band would play at the beginning and the end of the first show.
It turned out to be a brilliant decision, but this idea of “maximum exposure” could have resulted in overexposure for a group that was being introduced to the biggest music audience in the world. After all, when Sullivan first heard about the Beatles, the band was popular in Britain but had barely caused a murmur on the US pop scene. However, in between the fall of 1963 and February 1964, American record label Capitol Records agreed to finally release a Beatles album. On Jan 20, Meet The Beatles! arrived in stores, assembled from parts of the band’s two British albums, as well as some singles. One of those singles was the surging I Want To Hold Your Hand, a hit in Britain that became an absolute smash in America – rising to No. 1 on the pop charts a week before The Beatles were to appear on The Ed Sullivan Show. Talk about perfect timing.
In addition to Hand, The Beatles played four other songs during their first live appearance: All My Loving, Till There Was You, She Loves You and I Saw Her Standing There. The studio audience went crazy. So did kids all over the United States, who pushed Meet The Beatles! to the top of the album charts the next week. Everyone was talking about the band’s music, energy, humour and – of course – the boys’ bushy, mop-topped hairstyles.
Over time, The Beatles on Ed Sullivan has become a touchstone for Americans. In a historical context, the Fab Four’s debut performance is often spoken about in the same breath as the assassination of US President John F. Kennedy in November 1963 – a tragic event that many learned of via television. To paint in broad strokes, the raw excitement of The Beatles and its music helped restore hope and optimism to a nation that was reeling from such a disturbing event.
At the time, rock and roll was only about 10 years old. But by playing with such fervour, The Beatles reintroduced Americans (and the world) to the uninhibited energy of this music.
Many other like-minded British bands – including The Rolling Stones, The Kinks and The Animals – followed in The Beatles’ wake and became part of “The British Invasion” of English groups that took America by storm.
The Beatles would spend the rest of the 1960s changing music and culture in all sorts of other ways (popularising studio experimentation, embracing Eastern mysticism and creating conceptual works that extended beyond the three-minute pop single). But on this night, 50 years ago, 73 million Americans were introduced to the band’s primal, powerful brand of rock and roll. Music would never be the same.
Watershed moment: Most american musicians of the time remember that exact instance when The beatles appeared on their television sets. – aP