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The Beatles & The Impact Of The Ed Sullivan Show
Reviewed By
on
jazzy (Gareth)
Tue, February 17th, 2004. 05:14 am

We Love Them (Yeah Yeah Yeah!)

- The Beatles & The Impact Of The Ed Sullivan Show

Gareth Oughton

A quick glance back in time to February 1964 sees the world in a state of disarray. A Cold War-era planet, ravaged by global tensions in Cuba and beyond. Add to this the recent assasination of John F Kennedy and you can see why the US was looking for some kind of solace. Along come The Beatles and the rest, as they say, is history. But who in February 1964, could have predicted the lasting legacy four young men from Liverpool would make on popular culture even in the twenty-first century.

The Beatles were already one of the most popular groups in the UK at the end of 1963 with even Conservative newspapers like The Times referring to them as ‚??the greatest composers since Beethoven‚??. Their fanclub had almost 100,000 members and their forthcoming single, ‚??I Wanna Hold Your Hand‚?? had received over 700,000 advance orders in the UK alone. Despite the fuss in the UK though, few people elsewhere had really had of the Fab Four, especially those on the other side of the pond.

Modern popular culture it can be argued, changed the day Ed Sullivan was about to step onto a plane back to America having paid a flying visit to the UK. The Beatles were just returning from a quick tour of Sweden and several hundred screaming fans were there to greet them. Sullivan, not knowing who the hell The Beatles were, decided to investigate further. Liking what he‚??d heard of them, he decided to make a brave move and book them for three nights on his show in early 1964, despite nobody in the US knowing who the band was.

The band‚??s American label Capitol were reluctant to push the band in the States, telling Beatles producer George Martin that ‚??they‚??ll never get anywhere‚?Ě and ‚??we know our market better than you‚?Ě. How wrong they were.

When a Washington DJ started playing an import copy of I Wanna Hold Your Hand that he had got hold of, numerous other US stations started following suit. Capitol now had no choice but to promote the band in the States and by the time of the single‚??s release on 10 January, 1964, all 1,000,000 copies of the record sold out within days. Beatlemania had hit the US.

On 7 February, the band got a huge send off from several thousand UK fans as they flew off to crack the USA and over 3,000 Americans were waiting for them at JFK airport on their arrival.

As Beatles documentary maker Albert Maysles said: ‚??Nobody knew whether it would be 50 people or 5,000. I think it was five or 10 thousand that showed up at the airport. After the Kennedy assassination, the country needed some kind of a morale pick-up and these guys turned out to do it.‚?Ě

Then on the evening of 9 February, the Fab Four took to the Ed Sullivan stage, playing to a studio audience of 728 and - more significantly - a television audience of 73 million, a defining moment in popular culture was forever framed: The Beatles were on Ed Sullivan.

It was the scream heard 'round the world. Not a single, solitary scream, but something resembling a sustained national shriek - the sound of millions of teenage girls expressing their budding pop-idol consciousness.

The fuss was about the young Scousers the Americans saw on the television screens - Paul McCartney, 21; John Lennon, 23; George Harrison, 20; and Ringo Starr, 23 ‚?? four young men who made music that took all the basic elements of rock 'n' roll and transformed them into transcendently catchy ear-candy.

They were the symbols of a new generation destined to rock the world, literally and figuratively speaking.

The American debut of The Beatles noted the arrival of television as a mass medium of unestimable power and influence. And it marked the birth of a television-fuelled celebrity culture - for better or worse.

Without The Beatles on Ed Sullivan, there would have been no Janet Jackson at the Super Bowl or maybe even no MTV, the global music power that seems to dictate what music we do and don‚??t buy.

The Beatles' debut performance on Ed Sullivan kick-started the defining musical movement of the '60s: the invasion of the Brits. The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Who and other bands would all go onto achieve success largely off the back of the four cheeky Scouse chaps.

Just a few years prior to the Sullivan show, the group was playing cellar clubs in Liverpool and seedy nightspots in Hamburg. But by the spring of '63, the Beatles had started making a run on the British charts; America fell in step a few months later, thanks especially to Capitol's savvy campaign, which included the distribution of mop-top wigs and "The Beatles Are Coming" stickers ("Put them up anywhere and everywhere they can be seen," said a company memo). Compared to the contemporary marketing campaigns of today‚??s popstars this might not seem especially revolutionary but back then this really was something ‚?? something that kick-started the power of marketing, sometimes to the detriment of the music.

The emergence of The Beatles in America also give birth to a phenomenon we now have to bear at any gig with attractive young men ‚?? screaming. The screaming began with that airport arrival, when "rows of fans" greeted the group and it continued throughout the next couple of days, when crowds stood outside The Beatles' New York hotel. By the day of the show, the Sullivan staff, which received an unprecedented 50,000 requests for tickets, had realized they were in slightly over their heads.

"There were 5,000 kids outside the studio, just screaming and crying and yelling. I said, 'Uh oh‚?Ě, recalls Vince Calandra, a former assistant on the Ed Sullivan show. Calandra had gotten a taste of the madness on Saturday, when the Beatles had to fight the mob to attend a rehearsal at the studio - a rehearsal in which Calandra had to serve as a visual stand-in for George Harrison, who had laryngitis and had to stay in bed for the first part of the visit.

The band wanted to do all sorts of things while they were in New York, like visit the Playboy Club, which was only a block away, but they couldn't get out of the hotel without being mobbed, a cross that any megastar these days has to bear.

As my parents commented on the decay of society's youth that these long-haired Englishmen seemed to be ushering in, something clicked inside of me for the first time. Let's see, the grown-ups are upset by them, the girls love them. I like this!" he recalls, adding that the next day he began "seeking out older musicians in the neighbourhood, who showed me how to play I Saw Her Standing There."

The TV audience, the largest in history to that point, represented a huge chunk of the U.S. population -- more than one-third by census figures. For those gathered around the 20-inch console screens that were the centrepiece of many American homes, the night became a milestone, an event recalled years later. Even if you couldn't remember the details of the performance, you could remember where you were.

Did The Beatles sense the significance of the occasion? Members of the group always remarked that playing Ed Sullivan was the "big one," as Harrison once put it. "On the plane to New York they kept saying, 'We're going to meet Ed Sullivan, Ed Sullivan.' He was like the pope to them," said Brian Epstein, the legendary Beatles Svengali.

But part of the joy of watching the quartet was that they never seemed to take anything too seriously. The Beatles accepted each gig as another day's work -- a hard day's night, but a fun one all the same.

And they didn't need more than voices, guitars and drums to sell their infectious songs. Too many artists mistake the trappings of their American debut for the real cause of the excitement.

On Feb. 9, 1964, The Beatles served up youth in an unspoiled package at a time when America -- and the world -- needed it most. As the years passed, their music would become more sophisticated, even darker, to suit a decade that would turn ever more complex.

Sullivan always promised his audience "a really big show." One Sunday night four decades ago, four young musicians from Liverpool gave them the biggest of all ‚?? one that changed the face of modern music as we know it today.

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The Beatles & The Impact Of The Ed Sullivan Show jazzy 17-2-2004 1 12421
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