Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Beatles: Ed Sullivan Show

The most important television show The Beatles ever played on was of course, The Ed Sullivan Show.  But, Ed Sullivan needed to be convinced that a British band that had mediocre record sales with “She Loves You” was worth hiring on for a major televison show.  Of course, this was prior to “I Want To Hold Your Hand” hitting the number one spot in America.  “Brian [The Beatles’s manager]…got an appointment with Ed Sullivan, whose TV show is the biggest of its kind...[Sullivan’s] talent scouts had passed on…The Beatles’s success in Britain.  After a lot of discussion, Ed Sullivan agreed to book the Beatles for two of his shows” (Davies 237).  
But for the biggest band in Britain, just booking the show was not enough.  The smart and savvy Brian Epstein (The Beatles’s manager) never allowed the band to be anything but the headliner.  “Brian insisted that they should get top billing on both shows…[Sullivan] agreed in the end, but his producer later [said] that Sullivan had said it was ridiculous to give a British group top billing when a British group had never made it big in the States before”  (Davies 237).  But the States had never met The Beatles before.  
And soon enough the buzz of the British invasion hit mainstreet America.  “Five million ‘The Beatles Are Coming’ posters were plastered throughout the States” (Davies 239).  With all this hype (including a countdown in “Beatle Time”), the group’s reputation preceded them.  And so, “Ed Sullivan couldn’t cope with the demand for tickets – 50,000 applied for 728 seats.” (Davies 239-40).  And with this mania came merchandise and profit.  “It was estimated that in 1964, 50 million dollars worth of Beatle goods was sold in the States.” (Davies 243).  With all of this demand to be in the presence of The Beatles, of course came the screaming fans of full-blown American Beatlemania.  “On February 7, 1964, The Beatles were greeted at Kennedy Airport, New York, by hundreds...Beatlemania was now a global phenomenon.” (Blaney 58).
With this newfound American mania, the band took The Ed Sullivan Show stage and then took on the world  “before a television audience of 73,000,000 people” (Miles 209).  And while rock ‘n roll had appeared on television before, though not nearly as saturated as the country was for The Bealtes’s performance, it was Ed Sullivan’s stamp of approval that really solidified rock ‘n roll’s place on television.  Ed Sullivan was a upstanding citizen and a presenter of good taste through the very prevalence of his television variety show.  The country was so captivated by The Beatles appearing on his show, that it wasn’t so much a show, as an event.  In fact, “in New York, during the show, not one hubcap from a car was stolen.  Throughout America, so it was reported, not one major crime was committed by a teenager” (Davies 241).  This tidbit may seem trivial and perhaps circumstantial, but it illustrates how effective The Beatles were in enchanting an audience and how monumental this appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show really was.  In an interview for The Beatles Anthology documentary film, George Harrison claims, it was the “least reported crime [period], even the criminals had a rest when we were on! ” (Anthology).  
But besides this, the show legitimized not only The Beatles as a band, but rock ‘n roll as an art form worthy of time on mainstream television.  This illustrated by Ed Sullivan’s introduction of The Beatles on his show and his comments about them as individuals.  Ed Sullivan states in archival footage from The Ed Sullivan Show:
Thank you very, very much, thank you!  Well its very nice to be here…and now this has happened again, last Sunday on our show in New York, The Beatles played to the greatest TV audience that’s ever been assembled in the history of American TV.  Now tonight …again The Beatles face a record busting audience ladies and gentlemen, here are four of the nicest youngsters we’ve ever had on our stage…THE BEATLES! (Anthology).
And again, Ed Sullivan reiterates the upstanding qualities that these young men possess,  “these youngsters from Liverpool, England, and their conduct over here, not only as fine professional singers but as a group of fine youngsters, well they leave an imprint with everyone over here who’s met ‘em” (Anthology).  
            Clearly, this unabashed endorsement of The Beatles went a long way in helping The Beatles gain a following.  But also, Ed Sullivan’s support of The Beatles implies that he is saying to the over-40 set in America that rock ‘n roll is really not all that bad, look at these youngsters with their clean suits and clean lyrics!  This proclamation and the show itself propelled The Beatles as bonafide rockstars and allowed them to saturate the USA with their records and their charm.  And then, The Beatles paved the way for more rock ‘n roll groups to appear on The Ed Sullivan Show like The Rolling Stones and The Who.  The relationship between television and The Beatles proved to be beneficial for all involved.  

Check out this video of The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show!

-The Beatles Anthology, Dir. Kevin Godley
-Blaney, John.  John Lennon: In His Life.
-Davies, Hunter. The Beatles.
-Miles, Barry.  Paul McCartney: Many Years From Now.

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