The Beatles became a part of U.S. history 50 years ago today with a heavily watched appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” The foursome from Liverpool performed their no. 1 hit “I Want to Hold Your Hand” to a throng of screaming girls, ushering in the Beatlemania and British Invasion phenomenons to the states.
Prior to guesting on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in early 1964, The Beatles were already well-known in the United Kingdom with the 1963 albums “Please Please Me” and “With The Beatles.” As they moved across the map to promote their records, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr watched country after country fall to the Beatlemania craze. America was the final frontier in the band's quest for global domination.
The U.S. was late to The Beatles party because the band's American label Capitol Records refused to release their music. Indie labels managed to put out The Beatles' first few singles in the states but with very little promotion. Capitol finally decided to take a chance on the group in late 1963 with the release of the single “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” The Lennon-McCartney-penned love song took the country by storm, hitting the no. 1 on Billboard in Feb. 1, 1964 and it stayed there for seven weeks. The stage was set for The Beatles' first visit to America.
American audiences got a preview of Beatlemania mayhem on Feb. 7 when Paul, John, George and Ringo touched down in New York City's Kennedy Airport with a legion of screaming and crying girls awaiting them. According to Ringo in “The Beatles Anthology” book, Ed Sullivan witnessed the guys in a similar situation before at London's Heathrow Airport which led him to booking the band for his show.
The Beatles' highly-anticipated appearance on CBS' “The Ed Sullivan Show” took place on Sunday, Feb. 9, 1964. Over 73 million people in the U.S. discovered the band that night. It was the most watched program in history at the time with 45.3 percent of households with televisions tuned in. Sullivan went on to introduce the band with this message:
Now yesterday and today our theater's been jammed with newspapermen and hundreds of photographers from all over the nation, and these veterans agreed with me that this city never has witnessed the excitement stirred by these youngsters from Liverpool who call themselves The Beatles. Now tonight, you're gonna twice be entertained by them. Right now, and again in the second half of our show. Ladies and gentlemen, The Beatles! Let's bring them on.”
In spiffy suits with their signature mop tops, The Beatles opened with the song “All My Loving.” Paul, John, Ringo and John leisurely played their instruments and bopped along as the girls and women in the studio lost their minds. They slowed things down a bit for “Till There Was You.” The cameraman identified each band member for the audience at home with John Lennon's message reading: “Sorry girls, he's married.” “She Loves You” later inspired some more wild dancing from the crowd. In the second half of the show, The Beatles ended with “I Saw Her Standing There” and their then-current hit “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” which drew the most excitement that night.
Following their “The Ed Sullivan Show” appearance, The Beatles had become bona fide superstars in the U.S. and they gained many new fans, including Elvis Presley and his manager Colonel Tom Parker. The band's debut album on Capitol Records “Meet The Beatles!” hit no. 1 on Billboard shortly after with the unauthorized record “Introducing... The Beatles” concurrently sitting in the runner-up spot. The guys also took over the top two spots on the singles chart for awhile before completely occupying the top five in April.
With the U.S. under their power, The Beatles achieved global domination as a rock group. Since launching with “Meet The Beatles!,” they have sold over 177 million albums to date, the most than any other artist in the states. In terms of singles, The Beatles hold the record for the most trips to no. 1 on Billboard's Hot 100 with 20 songs from “I Want to Hold Your Hand” to “The Long and Winding Road.”
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