“Now yesterday and today our theatre’s been jammed with newspapermen and hundreds of photographers from all over the nation, and these veterans agree with me that the city has never witnessed the excitement stirred by these youngsters from Liverpool who call themselves The Beatles. Now tonight, you’re going to twice be entertained by them–right now and again in the second half of our show. Ladies and gentlemen, The Beatles!”
(And just in case you weren’t sure, those really big arrows are pointing to THE BEATLES.)
February 9, 1964. A mere 79 days following the assassination of President Kennedy. Just two months earlier “Dominique” by The Singing Nun had been the number one single in the United States for four (!!!!) weeks straight. And a performance of five songs, with a total stage time of not even fifteen minutes, by these four ridiculously charismatic and talented long-haired Liverpudlians was all it took to change the musical and cultural landscape forever.
People remember watching this performance, a performance that signaled the beginning of the musical reign of The Beatles, a group who would mingle commercial success with artistry, musical experimentation, and pure talent like no other artist has managed to do since. But you do not have to remember watching The Ed Sullivan Show live on February 9,1964, and you do not even have to fully understand the musical and historical context of the time to recognize how seminal this performance was.
They–and their music–are buoyant, bursting with life, something the country sorely needed then (and more than likely has always needed and still needs). Just look at them! Aren’t their energy and smiles infectious? The answer is yes, yes, they are! And I want to dance around in my underwear because this music is so exciting and energetic and ALIVE!!
Okay, maybe not everyone would admit to feeling the latter, but I know ya’ll feel that way.
So here are a few of my favorite things about this performance, its cultural significance aside.
1. Meet the Beatles!
I love how each Beatle is introduced, how we are supposed to want to learn their names, and how their individual personalities shine through. And I also love how Tom Hanks replicated this in That Thing You Do!, replete with the warning, “Careful, girls: he’s engaged!” under Jimmy’s name. And then I love how Jimmy bursts into the dressing room after the show and demands, “Which one of you BUTTS said we were engaged?” And I will have to talk about That Thing You Do! another time because I really, really, really, reeeeeaaally love it. Okay.
It’s so appropriate that Paul is singing “Till There Was You,” one of those old-fashioned, cheesy sort of songs that he loved to integrate into the Beatles’ repertoire that lost its cheesiness and became oddly endearing once they put their stamp on it. It’s also appropriate that his eyebrows intermittently disappear under his hair because he’s raising them as he sings, melting millions (yes, millions) of girls. Not just melting girls’ hearts. He’s melting them entirely. That’s just the Macca way, ya’ll.
I love how Ringo is initially so calm, cool, and collected, seemingly unaffected by the screaming girls, and then he just bursts into his big, contagious smile. Don’t you just love Ringo? I do. I really, really do.
George! His smile is also contagious. And he just plays the guitar so effortlessly. And he just looks so effortlessly cool while doing so. But you don’t get the impression that he thinks he is so great (even though he is). He’s just….George! And would you believe that just earlier that morning he was too ill to attend rehearsals for the show? (Neil Aspinall filled so that cameras and lighting could be set up. Don’t believe me? See for yourself.)
Awwwww. My precioussssssss! I know you’re married, but I just want to put you in my pocket for safekeeping.
2. The way Paul sings “I’ll aways be true-uh” in “All My Loving.”
And how darn big his smile is while doing so.
3. Yeah, she loves you. And you know you should be glad. Whoooooo!
Oh, I love it when they do that. Because I’m actually twelve years old.
Kenny Lynch, singer who toured with The Beatles in early 1963 said: “I remember John and Paul saying they were thinking of running up to the microphone together and shaking their heads and singing, ‘whoooooooo.’ It later became a very important, terrifically popular part of their act when they sang ‘She Loves You.’ But at the time they were planning it, even before the song was written, I remember everybody on the coach fell about laughing. I said, ‘You can’t do that. They’ll think you’re a bunch of poofs.’ I remember John saying to me he thought it sounded great and they were having it in their act.”
And millions of girls screamed. And millions of records were sold.
4. This little moment in “She Loves You”:
Right before another chorus of “Whooooo” and “Yeah, yeah, yeah!”, John turns to George, and George breaks into this huge grin, and we see John begin to grin, too, as he turns back to the microphone. This just might be my favorite moment of the performance. I’m not sure why–maybe because it shows the camaraderie and affection between them, maybe because (once again) their smiles are just so dang infectious, or maybe because it is just another illustration of how adorable and precious this band is.
5. How the camera goes to Ringo during “And when I touch you, I feel happy inside…” during “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”
It’s just so appropriate. And oh so romantic. And so embedded into my being that I cannot listen to that part of “I Want to Hold Your Hand” without seeing the camera inch closer and closer to Ringo. That’s normal, right?
Oh, and then the camera totally goes to me in a former life:
Yeah, that is so me. I feel that way every time I listen to this band. And by “that way”, I mean HAPPY! EXCITED! GLAD TO BE ALIVE!
In The Beatles Anthology, George remembered: “Later they said, there was the least reported–or there was no reported crime. Even the criminals had a rest for like ten minutes while we were on.”
I don’t know how accurate that report was. But I think it’s a fitting reflection of what the Beatles and their music partly represent–an escape from the ills and worries of the world into pure bliss. And they made millions of people feel that way 49 years ago today as they performed on a really big shew (translation: show, not shoe).
P.S. Davy Jones, Monkee-to-be, also performed on the very same show as part of the cast of Oliver! (He was The Artful Dodger.)
Jones later said: “I watched the Beatles from the side of the stage, I saw the girls going crazy, and I said to myself, this is it, I want a piece of that.” I think he got his wish. Can you believe it’s almost been a year since Davy passed away? We miss you, Davy!