Beatlemania hit the U.S.A. in full force after John, Paul, George and Ringo played 'The Ed Sullivan Show' on Feb. 9, 1964
It was 60 years ago today… that Ed Sullivan helped the band to play!
The Beatles touched down in New York City for the first time in February 1964, and Friday marks the 60th anniversary of the group’s legendary appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show.
Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr had achieved success in their native England — but after 73 million viewers tuned in to catch their Sullivan set, Beatlemania was in full swing in the States, too.
Two days after they arrived in New York, the Beatles played five songs on Sullivan’s CBS Sunday night variety show, which at the time was one of the most-watched shows in the country.
“Just received a wire, they did, from Elvis Presley and Col. Tom Parker wishing them a tremendous success in our country,” Sullivan told the audience. “Now tonight the whole country is waiting to hear England’s Beatles.”
All eyes were on the four lads from Liverpool as they sang “All My Loving,” “Till There Was You,” “She Loves You,” “I Saw Her Standing There” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand” to rapturous applause. Though music legends now, their faces were new to the millions watching at home, and each Beatle’s first name flashed below his face onscreen, with Lennon’s cheekily declaring, “Sorry girls, he’s married.”
“When we first came here, we’d never seen this kind of thing. TV studios in England were kind of all on one floor… But here is’ like an apartment block!” McCartney reflected to David Letterman in 2009 in an interview filmed in the same space that the Sullivan show was. “The memory of being here is great. It was kind of scary the first time.”
The boys were right to be a bit scared: the performance set TV records, with 45.3% of households with televisions watching the show — and 60% of televisions turned on tuned to Sullivan.
The Beatles first hit Sullivan’s radar in 1963, when his talent booker Jack Babb attended a concert in England at the behest of Peter Prichard, a London-based agent who happened to be friends with the group’s manager Brian Epstein. Sullivan’s interest in the group grew even more months later, when he witnessed 1,500 screaming fans welcoming the Beatles back to England while on a chance visit through a London airport.
Once they’d been booked, word spread that England’s hottest act was coming stateside, and more than 50,000 people requested seat tickets for a venue that could seat just 700.
The performance, of course, was a hit, and before long, the British rock ‘n’ roll invasion had begun. The Beatles appeared on Sullivan’s show a second time on Feb. 16, and a third and final time on Feb. 23.
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