In what became one of the most important moments in rock history, The Beatles performed on The Ed Sullivan Show for the first time on February 9, 1964. A record-setting 73 million people and 45% of television households tuned in for the Fab Four’s first U.S. televised live performance. ES
The group had been hyped for weeks prior to their arrival. “I Want to Hold Your Hand”, one of the songs they performed that night, had already sold a million copies ES and was the #1 song in the country. The group also performed “All My Loving”, “Till There Was You”, “She Loves You”, and “I Saw Her Standing There”.
The Beatles became a sensation in their native England nearly a year before with the release of their debut album, 1963’s Please Please Me. The story goes that Ed Sullivan learned about the Beatles when arriving at London’s Heathrow airport with his wife on Halloween that year. Sullivan was curious why thousands of youngers were there. It turned out the Beatles were returning home from a tour in Sweden. It has been reported that once in his hotel room, Sullivan looked into booking the group for his show, ES a notion which Sullivan himself has purported. BA
The more accurate story would seem to be that the incident peaked Sullivan’s curiosity, but that it wasn’t until later that he actually followed through. Peter Prichard, a London theatrical agent who was employed by Sullivan and good friend’s with Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein, recommended Sullivan book The Beatles. While interested, Sullivan still wanted an angle to promote the group. Prichard said the group were the first “long haired boys” invited to appear before the Queen of England and Sullivan was convinced. BA Epstein then secured a deal for the Beatles to perform on three shows in 1964. Sullivan agreed to pay them $10,000 and cover transporation and lodging. When they arrived in New York at Kennedy Airport on February 7, 1964, three thousand fans greeted them. Beatlemania had reached a feverish pitch.
The February 24, 1964, issue of Newsweek panned the performance, saying “Musically, they are a near-disaster: guitars and drums slamming out a merciless beat that does away with secondary rhythms, harmony, and melody. Their lyrics (punctuated by nutty shouts of ‘yeah, yeah, yeah!’) are a catastrophe…the odds are they will fade away, as most adults confidently predict.” ES
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