Ed Sullivan Presents The Beatles
First Appeared at The Music Box, December 2003, Volume 10, #12
Written by John Metzger
In rock ’n‘ roll, timing is everything. Consider this most famous example: The Beatles’ first attempts at breaking into the U.S. market were utter failures. After Capitol Records declined to introduce in America the group’s first two British singles (Love Me Do and Please, Please Me), The Beatles was relegated to the Chicago-based Vee-Jay label, a financially-strapped outfit that specialized in gospel and R&B recordings. It’s no wonder, then, that Please, Please Me, which was released in February 1963, sold a mere 5,000 copies while the group’s second U.S. single From Me to You, issued in May 1963, fared only marginally better. Subsequently, Vee-Jay ran into serious financial problems and virtually forgot about The Beatles.
Cut to November 22, 1963. On that day, The Beatles released its second British album (With the Beatles), John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and America was plunged into one of the most tumultuous eras of its history. The time was ripe for change, and Beatlemania was about to cross the Atlantic. In January 1964, The Beatles’ first two full-length albums (Vee-Jay’s Introducing The Beatles and Capitol’s Meet The Beatles!) were released to the U.S. market, and this time, Capitol was serious, granting a promotional budget to the initial single (I Want to Hold Your Hand). The rest is history as America fell under the spell of The Beatles, snatching up the group’s albums as fast as they hit store shelves.
It was in the midst of this mayhem that The Beatles made its debut on The Ed Sullivan Show, and as a result, February 9, 1964 became an important date in the history of pop culture. In advance of the group’s appearance, more than 50,000 ticket requests were made, but only 703 people were granted admission to the small theater in the heart of New York City. That Sunday night, America came to a standstill as 73 million viewers turned on their television sets, tuned in to CBS, and watched The Beatles perform five songs All My Loving, Till There Was You, She Loves You, I Saw Her Standing There, and I Want to Hold Your Hand. This was the first of three consecutive appearances by The Beatles on the program, and it further pushed the group toward its unprecedented stardom.
All three of these episodes, plus an appearance captured on September 12, 1965, appear in their entirety on Ed Sullivan Presents The Beatles. The DVD features no additional material, nor does it offer any historical perspective, but it doesn’t really matter. These programs are legendary, if only because they highlight the rise of the Fab Four from awkward youngsters to pop superstars. Indeed, the band seemed wholly humbled by the crowd’s fanatical reaction during its debut on the program, and just a week later the quartet was playfully polished, taking the insanity in stride. By the 1965 appearance, the group obviously was far more comfortable with the craziness, and its members were able to be their silly selves, cracking jokes and taking advantage of the opportunity to market Help!, its new album and movie.
Musically, The Beatles’ performances were full of youthful exuberance, with subtle nuances — a harmony here, a guitar lick there — being the only differences between the concert and recorded versions. Then again, one wouldn’t — and shouldn’t — expect much more than that, though the 1965 show revealed the band’s increasingly free-spirited attitude. As for the rest of Ed Sullivan Presents The Beatles, it features a hodge-podge of other largely forgettable acts from the comedy of Frank Gorshin, Soupy Sales, and Allen and Rossi to the music of Tessie O’Shea, Mitzi Gaynor, and Cilla Black. Only the goofy commercials from Pillsbury, Lipton, Anacin, Aero Shave, and others as well as performances by jazz vocalist Cab Calloway and illusionists Frank Kaps and Fantasio are of marginal interest, and these merely serve the purpose of making The Beatles appearances all the more special.
Of Further Interest...
Ed Sullivan Presents The Beatles is available on DVD
from Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2003 The Music Box