It was 49 years ago on tomorrow night (February 9th, 1964) that the Beatles made their American debut on The Ed Sullivan Show. Seen by over 73 million viewers, the show has gone on to become one of TV's most iconic moments, much like Neil Armstrong's 1969 walk on the moon. The Beatles performed twice, both opening and closing the program.
Here's Ed Sullivan's legendary introduction from that night's show: "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 the 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! (screams)"
The group performed a total of five songs that night: "All My Loving," "Till There Was You," "She Loves You," "I Saw Her Standing There," and their then-current Number One hit "I Want To Hold Your Hand." One of the more memorable parts of the show was during "Till There Was You," when the screen dimmed as each Beatle was highlighted with his name appearing on the screen. John Lennon didn't know it at the time, but an additional caption saying "Sorry Girls -- He's Married" was added under his name.
What many people don't know is that their legendary Sullivan appearance was actually their second of the day. Prior to the live February 9th broadcast, the Beatles taped a future segment for Sullivan's February 23rd show. After that, the audience was cleared for the live broadcast.
Up until the group's break-up in 1970, they continued to send promo clips of their latest singles to be aired on The Ed Sullivan Show -- including "Paperback Writer," "Strawberry Fields Forever," "Hello, Goodbye," and "Let It Be."
Ringo Starr recalled that the group was sweating over getting the sound right for the show --- right up to the last minute: "The main thing I was aware of when we did the first Ed Sullivan Show was that we rehearsed all afternoon. Y'know, TV was such bad sound, so we would have 'em, like, tape our rehearsals, and we'd go up and we'd mess with the dials, y'know, that they had in the control booth. So we'd sort of got it all set with the engineer there, and we went off for a break, and -- the story has it, 'cause we didn't see it -- but the cleaner came in (laughs) while we were out, and she came to clean the room and the console, and thought, 'What are all these chalk marks?', and wiped them all off. So then we had a real hasty time trying to get some sound."
George Harrison said the Beatles' appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show even kept the streets safe for the hour that the show was on: "Later, they said that there was the least reported, or there was no reported crime. Even the criminals had a rest for, like, 10 minutes, while we were on."
Paul McCartney said that after all these years, the Beatles' Sullivan Show appearance is usually the first thing fans bring up: "I still get people talking to me about it now. Y'know, it's like, 'Where were you when Kennedy was shot?' Saying, 'Oh, yeah man, I remember -- Sunday night. We didn't know what had hit us.'"
During Bruce Springsteen's recent keynote address at Austin's South By Southwest festival, "The Boss" explained what a cataclysmic event the Beatles hitting America in 1964 was: "This was different. 'Shifted the lay of the land; four guys, playing and singing, writing their own material. There was no longer going to be a music producer apart from the singer, a singer who didn't write, a writer that didn't sing. It changed the way things were done. The Beatles were cool, they were classical, they were formal and created the idea of an independent unit where everything could come out of your garage."
In 2010, The 4 Complete 'Ed Sullivan Shows' Starring The Beatles was reissued on DVD. The collection includes the full uncut shows from February 9th, 16th, and 23rd, 1964 as well as the Beatles' September 12th, 1965 return appearance, which was actually taped on August 14th, 1965 -- the day before their historic first concert at Shea Stadium.