It was February 9, 1964- a Sunday. 8 o’clock EST. And most of America- one of the largest viewing audiences ever- turned to The Ed Sullivan Show. (for my family, that was the CBS affiliate Channel 27- WKBN in Youngstown, Ohio. I include that information only to warn you of the abundance of minor minutiae with which my mind bulges and may threaten at times to overwhelm unaware readers. )
We had been hearing a lot about the Beatles (“Haha! Are they buggy?” “What’s next, the Spiders?”). We knew, from the 6:30 Huntley-Brinkley Report (Channel 21, WFMJ, NBC) that these four had long hair. It’s hard to believe that those two words, when used in connection with a male, were once considered oxymoronic. Long Hair..my goodness, what was wrong with us? Had World War II, followed by fifteen years of full employment, constantly pregnant mothers, and Senator McCarthy-shaped grey flannel suits lulled us into utterly unimaginative stupidity? Were these moments of making fun of long-haired boys and (horror of horrors!) long-haired men, the true birthdays of the really screwy right-wing in America? (not to be confused with the concurrent but not screwy right-wing Barry Goldwater, who, I’m almost positive, was also watching Ed Sullivan this night, without making lame long hair comments). Was it making fun of long hairs which evolved into the hating of gays, lamenting liberated women, shooting gooks with glee, and being afraid of all darker-than-Caucasian humans?
“C’mon, now..here they are- they’re on now. Hurry!” we hollered from the TV room to the adults who were pretending indifference in the living room but proved by their crowding into the doorway that they really were curious-as-hell, too. “Shhhhhh…here’s Ed Sullivan ‘blah, blah, blah…and now youngsters from Liverpool that call themselves the Beatles..blah, blah..Ladies and Gentlemen, the Beatles!'”
“All my lovin’, I will send to you..” Those are the first Beatle words we heard- live- in America. Later in the song, names were superimposed over the screen: Paul, George, Ringo, and (ohmy) John-sorry girls, he’s married. Really!
“She loves you, yeah yeah yeah..” would become the signature we knew the Beatles by that first year. “Yeah, yeah, yeah” sang kids wearing mop-wigs on high school stages. “Yeah,yeah,yeah” drew editorial cartoonists trying (usually in vain) to understand wtf was happening. “Yeah, yeah, yeah” we 14 to 19 year olds sang with our 49 cent singles and 3.99 LPs, by the millions.
The Beatles sang happy; we wanted to be happy like that. We wanted to forget the drums of Pennsylvania Avenue from just three months before. We wanted something- anything, please God- besides another night of Mitch Miller or Lawrence Welk.
“..and when I touch you I feel happy, inside; it’s such a feeling that my love, I can’t hide,
I can’t hide..
I can’t hide..!”
It’s odd now, very odd but amazingly fun, to think about the impact the Beatles were to have on us after this night as we listened to each one of many (thank God for all of them!) new songs. Ever gotten tired of hearing Baby Boomers tell anyone who will listen where they were when they heard President Kennedy had been shot? Ask one of us instead where we were the first time we heard “Hey Jude.” Listen instead to us try to explain our first encounter with clean and sober consciousness-expanding as we listened to the White Album. Go ahead and giggle at our efforts to properly explain; we can’t. But most of us wouldn’t change a moment of those times, either. (Just for a moment, you 48-65 year olds, remember the absolute thrill- the thrill you have never experienced to that degree since then when opening a package of anything- the thrill of running your thumbnail down the cellophane of new and pristine Sgt.Pepper’s or Abbey Road or Magical Mystery Tour. Sweet, huh?)
Wow! Forty-five years ago, right about now.
“C’mon, now..here they are- they’re on now. Hurry!”
Close your eyes, listen..hear them? Of course you can. I can, too.
Yeah, yeah, yeah..
3 thoughts on “It was 45 years ago today: the Beatles on Ed Sullivan; “behold! old things are passed away; all things become new!””
Thank you so much for sharing this! I remember when I first discovered the four lads from Liverpool and I think my excitement was just as palpable as what you described above – even if it was almost 30 years later!!
What a wonderful recollection! My dad played me the Beatles when I was in second grade. From that day on I was the kid listening to only the Beatles while everyone else was listening to whatever was popular in 1987 and on. I know it’s not the same, but I still remembering opening my cd’s of the White Album, Abbey Road and so on. It is wonderful that I can have a somewhat similar experience with all the years in between! Thanks for your thoughts!
Barry, I don’t mind admitting that I am old enough to remember that day, 45 years ago. Back then kids sat on the floor, which is where I was, sitting in front of the tv, with my parents and their friends sitting behind me, on the couch. You really nailed your description – “feigned indifference” oozed from behind me, and eventually congealed into a sort of off-balance hostility. “What are they, girls?” I could feel the heat building behind me as the songs started.
Meanwhile, I am thinking, “Now, this is different! This is the real deal.” From that moment on I knew the meaning of the term “generation gap.” The Beatles kicked ass that night, and the world was changed forever. No hype.
Thanks for reminding me of that night. You captured it beautifully.