On this day in history, 1964 to be exact, the Ed Sullivan show had been in it’s 16th year. An appearance on the weekly television prime-time hit was often a sure-fire route to instant success for musical talents and February 9th, 1964, was no exception.
Cut back to late 1963, Ed Sullivan had that first taste of Beatlemania while visiting London and had booked the British rock band to perform on his show for three consecutive weeks, starting on February 9th. By February 1, 1964 “I Want to Hold Your Hand” had hit number one on the charts, and the excitement over the Beatles first U.S. performance had peaked.
The Ed Sullivan Show scheduled the Beatles to perform at the beginning of the February 9 show, where they played “”All My Loving,” “Till There Was You” and “She Loves You,” and again at the end of the show, playing “I Saw Her Standing There” and that #1 single “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” Seventy-three million Americans sat glued to their television sets for an hour. B.F Henry from the Washington Post was quoted as saying: “during the hour the Beatles were on The Ed Sullivan show, there wasn’t a hubcap stolen in America.” While this is an obvious hyperbole, it does speak volumes to the extent of fascination with the British sensation. The Beatles first two appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show still ranks in the top-50 most watched TV shows of all time. At the time (in 1964), with 73 million viewers, it was the most watched show ever.
Ed Sullivan was often known for having a cold disposition with his musical guests, it was once said “he could brighten a room just by leaving it.” Famous incidents include when Bo Diddley made his appearance on the show and performed different songs from what Ed wanted, Ed told him he would never be on television again. When Bob Dylan was told he couldn’t perform “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues” he walked off. And, my personal favorite, when the Doors lead singer, Jim Morrison, wouldn’t change the line “girl we couldn’t get much higher” from their song “Light My Fire,” Ed told them they would never be on the Ed Sullivan Show again, to which, Morrison famously replies, “Who cares? We just did Ed Sullivan.” But Ed’s relationship with the Beatles was much better. The group would often record special videos to premiere new songs exclusively on the show.
Fifty two years later, this iconic band’s music has spanned generations. My grand mother loves them, my mother loves them, I love them, and because of that, my children will grow up loving them. A testament of how timeless music can be.