Get ready for the second coming of Beatlemania. The 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ American debut on the Ed Sullivan is coming on February 9, and their sound will again invade the airwaves. The performance by the two surviving Beatles, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, during the 2014 Grammy Awards whet fans’ appetite for the anniversary telecast, which promises to be special.
CBS carried the Beatles’ first live televised performances in the United States on The Ed Sullivan Show. So, it is only fitting that the network is celebrating the anniversary with a commemorative special.
CBS will devote Sullivan’s old time slot — 8 p.m. (7 p.m. CST) — to The Night That Changed America: A Grammy Salute to the Beatles. The show will feature a concert taped in Los Angeles the day after the Grammys. The event featured several generations of musicians who grew up on the Beatles performing their songs. Being edited down for the two-hour television special, the concert included performances by the Eurythmics, Dave Grohl, Alicia Keys, Ed Sheeran, Katy Perry, Keith Urban, John Legend, John Mayer, Stevie Wonder, Brad Paisley, Maroon 5 and many others. Monty Python founding member Eric Idle, a Beatles associate, narrated video biographies on each Beatle for the show. As they did during the Grammy telecast, McCartney and Starr performed in the tribute, with the families of John Lennon and George Harrison enjoying the spectacle. The television special will also include footage of the Beatles’ 1964 appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show.
There are several other shows and events that will celebrate the Beatles in the next week. For example, the Late Show with David Letterman, which is filmed in the old Ed Sullivan Theatre, will feature artists singing Beatles songs every night the week before the anniversary.
Why the hoopla? It is hard for people today to appreciate the impact the Beatles’ appearance had and why they will invade again on the 50th anniversary. First, one must realize that The Ed Sullivan Show was a national institution in 1964. Most families had one television set and made it a tradition every Sunday night to watch the show together. An estimated 45.3% of U.S. households with televisions watched the Beatles on February 9, 1964. More than 73 million people, or one in three Americans then, watched. Most people do not remember that they were on the show three weeks in a row! By the end of the month, they had seduced the country and transformed the culture with their haircuts, wardrobe, British humor and, of course, timeless music.
The Beatlemania explosion changed the music industry forever as acts began writing their own songs, playing their own instruments and catering to the American teens. Before then, there were crooners and the King – Elvis Presley – but they didn’t write or play most of their songs. Black artists did, but they did not have mainstream appeal then.
As the 50th anniversary approaches, it is amazing to again realize that the Beatles continue to invade and capture America’s attention. Generations have grown up loving the Beatles music. As Grohl noted in the Los Angeles Times, the Beatles were his mother’s favorite band, his and now his daughter’s. The Beatles’ songs are covered regularly in movies, on shows like The Voice or by other recording artists. There is the Love Cirque du Soleil show in Las Vegas. There have been several movies, such as Across the Universe, that used their music. Paul McCartney even played the Super Bowl half-time show in 2005 and sang Beatles songs. They have not lost their appeal after 50 years.
By Dyanne Weiss