Remembering The Beatles’ First Live TV Appearance in the U.S.

The night the Beatles first appeared live on U.S. TV, America went bonkers.

To understand the utter pandemonium surrounding the Beatles’ first live TV appearance in the U.S.—“The Ed Sullivan Show,” Sunday night, Feb. 9, 1964—it helps if you try to insert yourself into the context of those times. In our current world of instant communications— of having at our fingertips information about virtually anything we want at any given moment—it’s hard to imagine what it was like when there were just a handful of TV channels and the radio. No YouTube or Twitter. No Facebook or Instagram. No email. Almost nothing.

But that was the state of affairs when John, Paul, George and Ringo hit New York for their appearance on Sullivan’s hourlong variety show, one of America’s most popular weekly broadcasts. Long before the Beatles took the stage that evening, Americans were crazy for them. The “Moptops,” as they were sometimes called because of their haircuts, had been creating sensational news for several weeks, following the release of two albums, “Introducing The Beatles” and “Meet the Beatles!”

Spreading like wildfire, a groundswell of hysteria seemed to explode as soon as the group’s plane touched down at New York’s Kennedy Airport Feb. 7.

The fever pitch of anticipation at Sullivan’s New York studio was described by many who were present as being palpable, like electricity crackling in the air.

In addition to about 700 lucky people in the studio audience that evening, an estimated 73 million Americans were crowded in front of their TVs at home to watch the black and white telecast.

When Sullivan lifted his arms and said, simply, “Ladies and gentlemen, the Beatles!” a breathless din filled the theater, a rapture that continued through the five songs the group performed that night.

To watch that seminal performance on YouTube or elsewhere is truly a few minutes well spent, a fascinating journey down a uniquely musical memory lane.

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