Music History

Prepare for a New Onslaught of (Completely Justifiable) Beatles Hype

The next big event from the rock’n’roll almanac is the 50th anniversary of the Beatles arrival in America, specifically their appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964.  There will be plenty of hype and product centered around this date–and, if you ask me, it’s entirely justified. This single TV appearance chanced rock and pop music forever.

Some 73 million people–more than a third of the US population–tuned in to CBS that Sunday night to see what all the fuss was about.  Just about every kid who saw the show went out an bought a guitar the next day. Nothing was the same ever again.

Over the last 50 years, much has been written about the effects of that performance and why it had such a profound effect–and more will be written in the coming months.  Vanity Fair looks ahead at what to expect.  And not with just the Beatles, either.  We’re heading into a period of multiple fifty-year anniversaries.

O, you poor Generation Xers, Generation Yers, and Millennials (bent under the load of student debt as if it were a brick-filled backpack), how I pity thee. Thanks to us Baby-Boomers, the demographic bulge that refuses to budge, the remainder of this dec­ade looms like a commemorative rerun of a show you late arrivals didn’t see the first time. It will be a Ferris wheel of golden anniversaries, a rinse cycle of 60s nostalgia nourishing the collective narcissism of Boomers, who held the title of most coddled generation until the unholy rise of hipster parenting. The 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the subject of my previous dispatch, is succeeded by the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ invasion of America, in 1964, the subject of the column before you. And we’re just getting started, so save your groans until the end.Lying ahead are the half-century retrospectives of Bob Dylan’s going electric (1965), the debut of Star Trek (1966), the flower-power Summer of Love crowned by the release of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967), the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, and the riots at the Democratic convention in Chicago (1968), then, capping this cavalcade of last hurrahs, the Woodstock festival, the Manson-family murders, and the moon landing (1969). As any fan of Mad Men knows, the deeper we move into this dec­ade, the darker the events being memorialized and the more nihilistic the fury, with even the mud bath at Woodstock shadowed by the violence months later at the free concert at the Altamont Speedway, where pool cues wielded by Hell’s Angels came whaling down.

At least the anniversary of the Beatles’ arrival and their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show is one of unalloyed joy. The touchdown of Pan Am Flight 101 at J.F.K. Airport on February 7 that brought the Beatles to America set off a thunderclap of euphoria heard round the world and proved to be no temporary flash of mass hysteria or passing fad but the re-start of the 60s after J.F.K.’s funeral procession. John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr were the heralds of America’s spring awakening, a puberty rite writ large.

There’s more, so keep going.

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 37921 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

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