Last week, we took a nostalgic look back on The Beatles’ last show ever. This week, we remember and celebrate another major event in their career — arguably the Fab Four’s most important, and a milestone in music, pop culture, and TV history — their monumental debut on CBS’s Ed Sullivan Show.
This week marks the 50th anniversary of this legendary appearance, one that had 700 Ed Sullivan Theater attendees screaming bloody hell (simply because that’s all the venue could hold), and one that easily pulled in a whopping 73 million home viewers across the country, a record during that time.
While people across the pond were already going crazy for the Liverpool group, it wasn’t until they landed on American soil and graced American TV screens for the first time that Beatlemania was truly in full effect. When the band arrived at New York City’s JFK airport, hoards of fans and reporters alike crawled over one another just to greet and catch a glimpse of them. When it was announced they’d be playing on Ed Sullivan, over 50,000 ticket requests were sent in from folks all over the country.
It was pandemonium like the music world had never seen before, and, frankly, a sweeping sensation that, despite their current Billboard hits, the music industry in the US had not anticipated.
Ironically enough, it’s said that The Beatles came to appear on the Ed Sullivan stage somewhat by chance. As the story goes, Ed Sullivan found out about the band while walking through London’s Heathrow airport one day sometime towards the end of 1963. There, he happened to witness throngs of devoted fans anxiously awaiting the British group’s arrival following a trip to Stockholm. The commotion was enough to hook and convince Sullivan, and before he knew it, he was in talks with Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein regarding the quartet them for an upcoming show over in the States.
Sullivan supposedly wanted to book the band for one big show and was more than willing to pay the big bucks to do so. But Epstein, more concerned with getting exposure for The Beatles in the US market, pushed for multiple shows (where they’d open and close the hour) at a lower fee. After negotiating, it was all set: the band would play three Ed Sullivan shows, with the first set for February 1964. Total cost for this slice of history? $10,000.
On Sunday, February 9th, 1964 at 8pm, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Ringo Starr, and George Harrison took the stage, with the eyes of millions of Americans closely watching their every move. The four-piece kicked off the historic hour with a trio of songs, “All My Loving,” “Til There Was You”, and “She Loves You”. As cameras and lights panned across the stage, the audience roared on. One particular moment captured on screen featured John Lennon and a caption that read: “SORRY GIRLS, HE’S MARRIED”. Later, The Beatles appeared again, closing the show with “I Saw Her Standing There” and “I Want To Hold Your Hand”.
Revisit and celebrate that momentous night below: