The Beatles on TV, Live in Your Living Room

IMG_9260The musical dam was already breaking when The Beatles stepped onto The Ed Sullivan Show stage on February 9, 1964.

On Billboard’s charts, the group had the country’s top single (I Want To Hold Your Hand). A pair of albums were on their way to the number one and two positions (Meet The Beatles; Introducing The Beatles).

Within two months, they would occupy the five top spots in the Hot 100 (the week of April 4), with Can’t Buy Me Love, Twist and Shout, She Loves You, I Want To Hold Your Hand, and Please Please Me). It was a never-to-be-duplicated chart triumph.

Yet it was television that made the difference.

Live, on The Ed Sullivan Show, The Beatles put down their markers to two very different groups: kids and adults.

For young fans drinking it all in, the dreamy images and sexy smiles of John-Paul-George-Ringo came to life from the still photos in news coverage and record sleeves. The on screen graphic at one of John Lennon’s close-ups teased: “Sorry Girls, He’s Married.”

In the intimate medium of live television, young fans at home could also see and share the uninhibited ecstasy of the screaming teens there at the theater, members in the already growing Beatles fan club.

Adults at home shook their heads in disbelief at the audience behavior, and tsk-tsk’d the “long hair,” yet many were also positively struck by the charm and joy of the four young men on stage. The group’s second song that night was the mainstream ballad, Till There Was You, from the Broadway hit The Music Man, with a sweet Paul McCartney lead vocal. (“They should do more like that!” was a typical parent response.)

Most important for the older generation, The Beatles were given the stamp of approval by Ed Sullivan, the respected host to family fare since the beginning of television. The medium itself was now in its rambunctious teen years, but Sullivan could still be counted on to introduce these new kids with welcoming reassurance.

Sullivan would reinforce that image again, and again, over the next two weeks, as The Beatles turned the month of February 1964 into their extended “hello” via the living room TV screens throughout the U.S.

Appropriately, later in 1964, the hook of A Hard Day’s Night, their first feature film, was to follow the fictional tale of the group’s appearance on a television variety program, from rehearsals to their final bow.

An implicit nod to an unforgettable debut.

© 2014 Walter J. Podrazik

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