"It was twenty years ago today...." Well, actually, it was 46 years ago today, and it was one of the most talked about moments in television history: the Beatles' first appearance on the Ed Sullivan show.
The group's first British albums, Please Please Me and With the Beatles had been released in rapid succession in 1963, keeping the group at the top of the British charts for a remarkable 51 straight weeks. In America, it had taken a few months for Beatlemania to catch fire, but once it did in early 1964, the group became an unstoppable force. When they landed at JFK on February 7, 1964, "I Want to Hold Your Hand" had just reached the top of the Billboard charts and a crowd of 3,000 screaming fans greeted them. (The fact that 3,000 was considered a crowd seems almost quaint.)
Two days later, on February 9, the Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan. Like Elvis's appearance before them, it was a crucial moment in introducing the band to a larger audience and a record 73 million people tuned in to watch them perform "All My Loving," "Till There Was You," "She Loves You," "I Saw Her Standing There," and "I Want to Hold Your Hand."
[73 million people equaled about 40% of the TV audience that night. We've often wondered: what were the others watching? Well, thanks to the obsessive folks at tvtango.com, we found out it was The Wonderful World of Disney, The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters (starring a 12-year-old Kurt Russell), Imogene Coca in Grindl, and Arrest and Trial, the forerunner to Law & Order.]
On February 11, the band played its first U.S. concert at the Coliseum in Washington, D.C., then returned to New York for two shows at Carnegie Hall. (The shows ran a mere 35 minutes each!) The group appeared for a second time on Ed Sullivan on February 16, playing live via satellite from a hotel in Miami where they had retreated for a little r&r. Though they were only in the States for less three weeks, the trip had a lasting impact, unleashing the "British Invasion" and forever changing the face of pop music.
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Interested in more Rock and Roll history? Take our NYC Rock and Roll audio tour -- hosted by famed DJ Ken Dashow -- and produced by our partners at CityListen.com
Read more about New York in the 1960s in Inside the Apple: A Streetwise History of New York City.