Ed Sullivan: Beatles is a television episode of the Ed Sullivan Show that features The Beatles' U.S. television debut. It aired in February 9, 1964 to an audience of seventy-three million.
The Ed Sullivan Show was a variety show on American television. The show aired on the CBS channel, Sunday nights from 1948 to 1971. The show featured a multitude of performers that families across the country could enjoy. This included various genres of musical performances, comedians, and novelty acts. Ed Sullivan was the show's host and TV personality. It was Sullivan who had the knack of spotting prominent talent, such as, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Dick Van Dyke, Hank Williams, Jr., The Rolling Stones, Jack Benny, Elvis Presley “from the waist up only,” and in this episode, he presented The Beatles.
The Beatles are a British band of four guys who are considered the greatest and most influential band of the rock era. They were based out of Liverpool, England, and known for playing local events and talent shows. Their music featured rock and roll and pop ballads, and they also experimented with other various genres and styles. Ed Sullivan witnessed The Beatles popular reception when he traveled to the U.K. After that, Sullivan decided to book them for the show. Not only were they highly acclaimed by their fans in the U.K., their music was also appropriate for the show’s family audience, contrary to Elvis’ risqué stage-presence that the show previously frowned upon. Their appearance on the show was the start of the "British Invasion," a period of time in the mid-1960s when rock and pop bands from the U.K. became popular in the U.S.
Although there were many great acts on this episode of the Ed Sullivan show, The Beatles were the breakout stars of the show. They opened up with three songs including “All My Lovin’,” “Til’ There Was You,” and “She Loves You.” As they played, camera shots of the crowd were shown. A tremendous amount of young people screamed and cried, as they sang along with Paul, Ringo, George, and John. Each band member was also introduced with subtitles on screen, helping to establish them as personalities and not only musicians. One interesting thing about their performance was how Ringo, their drummer, was placed on a platform higher than the band, instead of camouflaged in the background.
The Beatles - "She Loves You"
Because the Beatles were so positively acclaimed by the audience, it was not unexpected for the following acts to be nervous about performing after The Beatles. Right after the band’s opening, it was a little while before Sullivan could quiet the restless crowd and introduce the next act, magician Fred Kaps. None of the other acts were received negatively by the crowd, however, there was a substantial difference in the audience's reception. Every other performer received applause in the form of claps and maybe a whistle, but The Beatles received loud screams during and after their performance.
One of the acts was Tessie O’Shea. O'Shea was a Welsh entertainer, actress, and singer who performed a medley on this episode. She was known for her song "Two Ton Tessie from Tennessee" and other Broadway-themed music. The highlight of her performance was her amazing banjolele playing. Although, her performance was solo, she had enough talent to hold her own and be a memorable act, that is, if The Beatles were not there. Despite the fact that both acts were great, O’Shea was overshadowed that night by the international popularity of The Beatles. The audiences reception towards her was positive, but not on the fan-crazed level like The Beatles'.
The Beatles returned towards the end of the show to perform, “I Saw Her Standing There” and “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.” The performance was fueled by audience screams and glee just as it was before. In fact, every time Sullivan said the band’s name, screams would follow.
Today's variety shows and late-night talk shows usually do not feature musical guests who overshadow acts. Celebrities have taken that place. For example, Saturday Night Live! will feature a popular celebrity guest, and also feature a popular band. However, the celebrity’s acclaim will be triumphant over the musical guest, unless the celebrity is also the musical guest (there are plenty of exceptions, such as recently, One Direction). Of course, the type of audience also has to be taken into account. The audience who mostly anticipated The Beatles were teenagers, and teenagers rave obssesively for their favorite bands and celebrities more than adults do. Today, shows like The Ed Sullivan Show cater mostly towards adults. Despite the differences this episode may have with today’s culture, Ed Sullivan: Beatles is one for the history books, because the largest TV audience in the States, seventy-three million, tuned in to watch. The significant influence the band had on music thereafter only makes this episode even more tremendous.