Music Industry

It was 60 years ago today that The Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show

Think today’s Taylor Swift mania is big. Pffft.

It was a legendary watershed day on February 9, 1964, when The Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show. It was a cultural moment, one that changed music forever. We’re still talking about it.

he Beatles were so completely and utterly different from anything music had seen to that point. The music was different. So was their look, their accent, and their fun-loving attitude. And unlike Elvis’ appearance in 1957 with his swiveling hips, they weren’t seen as dangerous and threatening. They were witty and charismatic.

Sullivan had noticed The Beatles through his booker Jack Babb who had seen them play twice in the UK. On a talent scouting trip to England, Sullivan was at Heathrow when he saw about 1500 fans (mostly young screaming girls) waiting for the band to return from a tour of Sweden. He knew then he had to book them for his show, the biggest TV variety show of the era. A deal was struck with manager Brian Epstein for three appearance in February 1964. The Beatles would be paid a total as US$2400.

The hype of group coming to America grew and grew and grew. Radio airplay of their early singles blew up through November and December 1963 and increased in January 1964. Reporters following their every move on their trip across the Atlantic and arrival in New York. About 5,000 fans were waiting for them. Meanwhile, CBS received 50,000 ticket requests to be in the studio audience for the 728 Studio 50. Compare that to the 7,000 requests for Elvis’ first appearance. Former Vice-President Nixon managed to get tickets for his 15-year-old daughter. Walter Cronkite, the beloved CBS news anchor, failed to get tickets for his daughter.

By the time 8pm on Sunday, February 9, 1964, rolled around, the entire continent was wrapped up in their story. Somewhere around 73 million people had their TVs tuned to CBS that night, the biggest TV audience since coverage of the JFK assassination. And that story was covered by all three networks.

Seventy-three million people worked out to a 60 share, which meant that out of all the TVs in operation that night, 60% of them were tuned to The Ed Sullivan Show. Cutting things another way, 45.3% of all American households (23,240,000 homes) with a TV watched.

The Beatles played five songs that night: “All My Loving,” “Till There Was You,” and “She Loves You” were all part of their first set. The second consisted of “I Saw Here Standing There” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” By April, Beatles singles occupied the top five spots on the Billboard singles charts.

So many lives were changed that night. A young Tom Petty saw the show and decided he needed to play guitar. Johnny Ramone felt the same way. In fact, guitar sales spiked in the days and weeks following that first show. Countless kids got into music because of The Beatles’ appearance. It was also the thing that helped bring America out of the funk that followed the death of JFK.

I didn’t get a chance to see the show, although I was still a few months short of my second my birthday. My father told my mom to keep me out of the living room because he was worried The Beatles would be a bad influence on me. Many years later, I got to that story to Ringo. I guess Dad’s worst fears have been realized.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 37907 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

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