Love ‘em or loath ‘em, The Beatles forever changed the pop music and culture when a flight from London to New York City brought them to American soil on February 9, 1964 for their first U.S. television appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
“There will never be another Beatles,” said Chad Clifford of regional band, The Crawpuppies, whose sound is owes much to The Beatles. “The fragmented, disposable structure of the music business, radio and media today has made another Beatles impossible. When there were only a few network channels and a few major radio stations, a group like the Beatles could have an impact. It was popular music’s ‘perfect storm’ we will never see again.”
Storm is a perfect word for it. “Beatlemania” as it came to be called hit American shores like a hurricane 50 years ago this month when four lovable Liverpudlians – John, Paul, George and Ringo -- in matching suits and sporting mop top haircuts enticed 73 million people to tune in CBS-TV to watch “The Ed Sullivan Show.” That’s 12 million more than had watched Elvis Presley’s first performance on the same program just 8 years earlier.
“I watched Ed Sullivan that night,” recalled Marty Mardirosian, drummer and co-founder of Chicago rock perennial, M&R Rush. “I was 7 years old and had just started playing drums. I remember wanting a drum set like Ringo, except blue. It took me 5 years to get it, but I finally did for my 8th grade graduation. My Dad being a jazz drummer said he (Ringo) was holding the drum sticks wrong (doing a match grip) and told me to keep holding them with a traditional grip. Now, 50 years later I still play using the traditional grip.”
Scott Wielgos of the local band Got Issues was 9-years-old when he witnessed the Beatles TV debut. “I was immediately addicted,” he said, adding he still includes early Beatles hits in both his band and solo performances. “They had a fresh new musical sound with melody and harmonies that grabbed you. The audience reaction was entertaining as well.”
“My sister was a sophomore in high school in 1964 and had a party at our house a little while before the Beatles were on the Sullivan Show,” recalled John Carpenter, guitarist of The Nomad Planets band and owner of Hammond’s Thunderclap Recording Studio. “One of her friends brought ‘Meet The Beatles’ to our house and they played it over and over. I was 10 at the time and mesmerized. I stared at the high contrast black and white LP cover of their faces popping out of the black background while this exciting new music played. When the Beatles were on the Sullivan show a few weeks later I can remember vibrating with excitement and anticipation. It was the definitive beginning of how important music would become in my life.”
“I was smitten. I thought they were fabulous,” recalled Chicago pop icon Mimi Betinis of Pezband fame. “My mother liked them but my father did not! It was a combination of things that made them succeed so quickly. The sound, the looks, the songs and the absolute visceral delivery they gave every time they recorded and preformed. Simply put, they were the originators. There was the Beatles and then there was everyone else.”
Unlike Mardirosian, Wielgos, Carpenter and Betinis, Chad Clifford was affected indirectly and second-hand by The Beatles.
“I wasn’t born yet in 1964, but their appearance on Ed Sullivan had a profound impact on my father and mother,” said Clifford, who now owns the popular Front Porch Music retail store and school. “My dad went out the very next day and bought a drum set. His love of the Beatles and of rock ‘n’ roll was handed down to me at age 5. The Beatles were a breath of fresh air after the terrible winter of 1963 and the death of JFK. They were huge in Europe and they had nearly three albums of great material in the vaults to unleash on a hungry public. They were managed well and it was marketed brilliantly.”
The Beatles fired the first shot of the British Invasion when they warbling through five songs on “The Ed Sullivan Show” -- “All My Loving,” “Til There Was You,” “She Loves You,” “I Saw Her Standing There” and “I Want To Hold Your Hand” – and took a collective bow. Less than 48 hours later, the Beatles performed their first concert on U.S. soil in Washington, D.C.
Sixties American pop singer Tommy Roe was witnessed the developing Beatles phenomenon firsthand and on February 11, 1964 opened for them in front of 8,000 screaming fans in our nation’s capital.
“It was a pretty magical evening,” recalled Roe who performed only two songs that night, “Shelia’ and “Everybody.” The Beatles set opened with “Roll Over Beethoven” and ended eleven songs later with “Long Tall Sally,” clocking in at just over 30 minutes. Tickets cost $2.
“My history with the guys began in 1963 when I was headlining my first tour of England with Chris Montez (of “Do You Wanna Dance” fame). The Beatles were a featured act on our tour,” said Roe. “That’s when I saw Beatlemania take hold. In 1963 nobody really knew who Beatles were outside of Liverpool (and Hamburg, Germany). Ringo had just joined the group a few months prior to our tour and their manager Brian Epstein who was a genius had started building the Beatles a fan base by the time Chris and I got over there to tour. Epstein had these groups of fans follow the tour from venue to venue and just go hysterical whenever the Beatles would play. We were the headliners, but it soon became impossible for us to follow them on stage because of all the chaos. So just a short time into the tour, the bill got flipped around and the Beatles closed the show. They went from opening act to headliner in a couple of weeks.”
Like Roe, British teenager Laurence Juber who would one day share the stage with Paul McCartney as a guitarist in the band Wings, was hip to the Beatles early on. “We already had a slow build-up to Beatlemania in the U.K. and by early November 1963 they had become legit and my parents understood enough to buy me a guitar for my 11th birthday a week later,” recalled Juber with hindsight is not surprised how much impact the Beatles had on global culture. “Good timing, great marketing, killer songs, beautifully crafted image, a track record of hits and an audience that was demographically primed to explode. They were woven into the fabric of the zeitgeist, defining and then transcending the era.”
Carl Giammarese, co-founder of The Buckinghams, a Chicago group whose very name reflected their desire to fit in with all the British Invasion bands on the charts in the mid-‘60s, remembers the time well. “I was one of the 70,000-plus people watching Ed Sullivan that night. I was very impressed by their melodic sound and original look,” he said. “Timing is everything and pop music was starting to stagnate.”
The Beatles’ sound evolved quickly from pop to psychedelic. “My favorite is still the early Mop Top-era,” said Giammarese, who was 16 in 1964. “It was so fresh and new. It was where I was at musically at the time, but I embrace all Beatle music, every album they released left all of us trying to catch up. They were always waaaay ahead of everyone.”
John Carpenter agreed. “They were always evolving and never stagnant. They were always exploring musically, lyrically, culturally, emotionally, and taking us all along for the ride,” he said. “Their sound was so new and different at the time, but more importantly they were fun, loose and irreverent, which teenagers could relate to and claim as their own.”
“They looked like they were having the time of their lives when they played the Sullivan show,” added Mardirosian on why kids across the country went out the next day and bought musical instruments. “They showed us those magical moments that come from playing music.”
Gary native Oscar Hamod spent his teenage years during the mid-‘60s recording and touring as the leader of Oscar & The Majestics. “I watched them on Ed Sullivan,” recalled the singer/guitarist who still fronts the original Majestics line-up. “We’d all heard of the Beatles and were excited to finally see them. We liked their sound and harmonies. My dad was not too thrilled with their hair cuts, but all the younger generation soon adopted the ‘mop top’.”
Hamod experienced Beatlemania firsthand in Chicago. “Two of our band’s female fans, who still follow us today, had tickets to the Beatles appearance at Comisky Park and they invited me along. It was wild. The fans were screaming, but you could still hear the music,” he recalled.
Heavy metal rocker turned acoustic troubadour Robert Rolfe Feddersen who now writes music for films and MTV’s original programs was too young to remember Beatlemania, but has watched the Sullivan footage many times. “Great songs, timeless songs,” Feddersen said. “They had perfect chemistry. Paul was melody. John was anger. George was philosophy. Ringo in his own words ‘just hit the buggers" (drums)’.”
Northwest Indiana concert promoter Omar Farag was not impressed by The Beatles after watching “The Ed Sullivan Show.” “I watched them and they were okay but not significant,” he said. “I grew up on the Westside of Gary. Motown, Jackie Wilson, Sam Cooke, those were great singers. The Beatles with their long hair seemed like a joke at first.”
Like the rest of the world the O.M.A.R. Presents founder, ultimately became a Fabs fan. “They eventually developed into great writers. They understood a ‘hook’ more than anybody,” said Farag. “They say the most important piece in any band is the drummer, since he keeps the beat. Ringo is a great drummer in that sense. George was a beautifully melodic guitar player who kept the band spiritually grounded. John was the passionate radical element in the band who identified with the era’s youth. Paul was the glue that kept the band together. Lennon & McCartney became the best song writing duo of their era, creating some of the greatest songs ever.”
“The Beatles changed everything,” concluded Giammarese. “They broke all the rules. The funny thing was they were listening to Elvis, the Everly Bros. Little Richard and a lot of 50's early 60's American artists. It just came out different when they played it. They were the first self-contained band writing their own songs. They presented a new sound and look. The timing was perfect, rock ‘n’ roll had starting to get too contrived and predictable. All of a sudden, the Beatles were there to shake things up. They introduced several time changes in songs with new sounds; eventually using classical string orchestrations on songs like ‘Eleanor Rigby.’ The Beatles took chances. Every new album was a different progression, and everyone was left in the dust trying to catch up. They had unbelievable talent as singers, musicians and song writers."
The four parts never eclipsed the sum, but even today, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr are rocking hard and strong into their 70s. The Beatles are as popular today as they ever were. To quote a line of Beatle lyrics, they are still “here, there and everywhere!”
Email Tom Lounges at firstname.lastname@example.org