It Was Fifty Years Ago Today

The very first appearance of The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show, performing “All My Loving.”

The Beatles, wearing black suits and mop top hair, appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show on Feb. 9 1964, to screaming crowds in what became a seminal moment for the British band, and U.S. television. Nearly 50 percent of American households with televisions tuned in.

Technicians on the Ed Sullivan set 50 years ago gave birth to the “crowd shot” on that night. The teenage audience was so hysterical that a camera was devoted entirely to their reaction, a television first.

But how did the Beatles come to appear on the Ed Sullivan Show in the first place? Hardly anyone knows the story behind one of the most iconic cultural upheavals in history that was launched by that appearance and consequent events.

In late 1963, Sullivan and his entourage happened also to be passing through Heathrow and witnessed how The Beatles’ fans greeted the group on their return from Stockholm, where they had performed on a television show. Sullivan was intrigued, telling those traveling with him that it was the same thing as Elvis all over again.

He soon approached Beatles manager Brian Epstein, initially offering to pay top dollar for a single show but the Beatles manager had a better idea. He wanted exposure for his clients, so Epstein did something unusual, but which was ultimately an act of genius. He proposed that the Beatles would instead appear three times on the show, at bottom dollar, but receive top billing and two spots (opening and closing) on each show.

The Beatles appeared on three consecutive Sundays in February 1964 to great anticipation and fanfare as “I Want to Hold Your Hand” had swiftly risen to No. 1 in the charts. The aforementioned first appearance on February 9 is considered a milestone in American pop culture and the beginning of the British Invasion in music.

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That broadcast drew an estimated 73 million viewers, at the time a record viewership for US television. The Beatles followed Ed’s show opening intro, performing “All My Loving”; “Till There Was You”, which featured the names of the group members superimposed on closeup shots, followed by “She Loves You”.

The act that followed Beatles in the broadcast was pre-recorded, rather than having someone perform live on stage amidst the pandemonium that occurred in the studio after the Beatles performed their first songs. The group returned later in the program to perform “I Saw Her Standing There” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”

The following week’s show, on February 16, was broadcast from Miami Beach. On that evening a crowd of fans nearly prevented the band from being able to take the stage. A phalanx of policemen cleared a path and the band made it to the stage, and began playing “She Loves You” only seconds after reaching their instruments. They continued with “This Boy”, and “All My Loving” and returned later to close the show with “I Saw Her Standing There”, “From Me to You” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”

On February 23 they were shown on tape. This performance had been taped earlier in the day on February 9 before their first live appearance). They followed Ed’s intro with “Twist and Shout” and “Please Please Me” and closed the show once again with “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”

The Beatles appeared live for the final time on Sullivan’s show on August 14, 1965. The show was broadcast September 12, 1965. This time they followed three other acts before coming out to perform “I Feel Fine”, “I’m Down”, and “Act Naturally” and then closed the show with “Ticket to Ride”, “Yesterday”, and “Help!.” Although this was their final live appearance on the show, the group would for several years provide filmed promotional clips of songs to air exclusively on Sullivan’s program such as the 1966 and 1967 clips of “Paperback Writer”, “Rain”, “Penny Lane”, and “Strawberry Fields Forever”.

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