It’s safe to say The Beatles quickly became a worldwide sensation the minute they set foot in the United States. Back in 1964, nearly 73 million people were watching when they made their iconic first appearance on American television on The Ed Sullivan Show and took over music forever. Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Ringo Starr, and George Harrison arrived fresh from Liverpool, England, and kicked off the first of three Sunday night appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964. The group had already hit number one on the U.S. charts, so the anticipation surrounding their arrival hadn’t been seen around The Ed Sullivan Show since Elvis Presley’s performance in 1956.
The fab four landed at New York’s JFK airport on February 7th, as they were met by screaming fans and reporters begging for autographs. Which is why the Beatles would spend the next two days hidden inside the Plaza Hotel as fans tried to sneak in to catch a glimpse of the band. Footage was captured of the rock and roll group being surrounded by screaming crowds and national television audiences eagerly watched the first show, as they walked out and sang five songs over to set.
From Liverpool to New York
At 8 p.m. on February 9, 1964, history was changed forever thanks to the British invasion of the quartet. At Studio 50 in New York, The Beatles opened their first live performance set with the all-time favorite song All My Loving, Till There Was You, and She Loves You. Later in the show, the band returned to play I Saw Her Standing There and ended up with their number one hits I Want to Hold Your Hand. All of the songs except She Loves You would appear on the group’s first album for Capitol Records. During their set, each member was captured by live television cameras with their names as a caption on the screen. There was even a hilarious moment when the cameras arrived on John Lennon and an extra caption read, “Sorry girls, he’s married.”
Sullivan had seen the excitement around the Beatles when he first visited England during the summer of 1963. Later that year he reportedly met the group’s manager, Brian Epstein, in New York City. Sullivan had agreed to pay the group $10,000 to appear with top billing. If you’re wondering, that would be just over $80,000 today. Taking things to the next level, Epstein agreed the group would appear a total of three times. Because well, three is better than one. More than 1/3 of America’s population witnessed music history that night, and 728 lucky individuals got to see it all go down as part of the show’s audience. The CBS’ studios had reportedly received a record-setting 50,000 requests for tickets to the show. As Paul McCartney remembers, he told Anthology that “Seventy-three million people were reported to have watched the first show. It is still supposed to be one of the largest viewing audiences ever in the States.”
Their long-awaited performance was the group’s first live television performance. But it wasn’t the first time they appeared on U.S. television. On November 18, 1963, The Huntley-Brinkley Report featured the band in a four-minute segment about “Beatlemania” and The CBS Morning News then ran a five-minute segment on the band after they were prepaid to rerun it that night. But on November 22, 1963, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy was played instead. It would eventually run again on December 10, 1963. But, safe to say that February 9, 1964, has become one of the most important moments in live television history. Nearly 50 years later, people still remember exactly where they were the night at The Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show.
Little did The Beatles know, the would become one of the most influential bands of all time and lead the “British Invasion” in the United States. From 1965 onwards, they went on to create successful albums such as Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Beatles (White Album), and Abbey Road. The Beatles are the best selling music act of all time with estimated sales of 600 million and the best selling act in the US with sales of 183 million units. Some of the Beatle’s biggest hits include Penny Lane, Paperback Writer, Let It Be, Please Please Me, Hello, Goodbye, A Hard Day’s Night, Help!, Elenor Rigby, Hey Jude, All You Need is Love, and more.