Yes, I'm actually old enough to remember watching the show that night. A few months earlier, my older brother, then in 7th grade, and I had started mowing lawns to make money and had bought our first transistor radios (10 and 13 year olds mowing lawns for money? Child labor! Call the authorities! - Yes, as the saying goes: I come from the past; it's a different country). We had discovered this new thing called "rock and roll music" on our pocket radios - certainly not on mom and dad's Silvertone. Among the first things we heard was the Beatles' first songs for American radio: "Please Please Me" and "I Want to Hold Your Hand". Cue the scene in Steve Martin's the Jerk where he discovers music that speaks to him.
At 8 o’clock on February 9th 1964, America tuned in to CBS and The Ed Sullivan Show. But this night was different. 73 million people gathered in front their TV sets to see The Beatles’ first live performance on U.S. soil. The television rating was a record-setting 45.3, meaning that 45.3% of households with televisions were watching. That figure reflected a total of 23,240,000 American homes. The show garnered a 60 share, meaning 60% of the television’s turned on were tuned in to Ed Sullivan and The Beatles.
Derek Hall, a millennial-generation writer for Town Hall penned a column I couldn't possibly write, simply because of his age, "It Was 50 Years Ago Today - and It Had to Be the Beatles". I don't want to steal his article, but it does a great job of summarizing the times and the event. You should read the whole thing.
One question I’ve often pondered about this pivotal moment in pop culture history: Could any other British band have led the invasion, or did it have to be the Beatles?I started to play guitar a few years later, and like so many of our generation, cut my teeth learning to play Beatles tunes. There are scores of musicians who have said hearing that music that night started them on the road to working in music for a living. Rock legend Joe Walsh tells of learning the same way, and says it's still a good way to learn. Millions of words have been written about the band and their music. It has created careers for cover bands and at least one parody band. Musical tastes vary, of course. A variety of factors can make any band appealing (or not!) to lots of people. Add in that every generation tends to express their differences by rejecting what their older siblings, or parents, listened to, and the Beatles have become reviled by many. I personally was never impressed by Pink Floyd, U2, Nirvana or a host of other bands that have been big sellers since then. That's fine: we have enough room for all of our tastes.
This past Friday I did a special show on The Beatles and the Ed Sullivan Show and posed that question to music journalist David Wild, British invader Peter Noone of Herman’s Hermits, and Fox News Channel’s and Paul McCartney jam band member (you’ll have to listen to the clip for that story) James Rosen and the decision was unanimous – it absolutely had to have been the Beatles.
Say what you will about the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Who, or any of the bands that came after, The Beatles had to be the tip of that talent-rich spear for a reason. They were special not only for what they did together, but who they were individually.