The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Opinion

February 8, 2014

A half-century ago, the Beatles made history

ENID, Okla. — I wasn’t tuned in the night of Feb. 9, 1964, when the Beatles made their first American appearance on CBS’ “Ed Sullivan Show.”

I likely was watching “The Wonderful World of Disney,” on NBC, then later “Bonanza.” Or perhaps that was the year my TV privileges were curtailed thanks to my flagging grades, I can’t recall.

My family, it seems, was in the minority. Some 73 million people tuned in that evening, giving that night’s Sullivan show an unprecedented 43.5 rating and a 60 share, meaning that 43.5 percent of households with televisions, including 60 percent of those with the TVs turned on, were watching. That means the Beatles were seen that night in roughly 23.2 million homes, many of them apparently housing my schoolmates, judging by the excited chatter on the way into the building the next morning.

The consensus among the grade school set was that this new band from Britain was the coolest thing on the planet.

Accompanied by high-pitched screams from the girls in the studio audience of 700, they sang five numbers that night, “All My Loving,” “Till There Was You,” “She Loves You,” “I Saw Her Standing There,” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”

Much of America watched the world change that night, though they likely didn’t know it at the time.

And I missed it.

In the early days I had to be somewhat of a closet Beatles fan. My mother didn’t like them, didn’t like their music and their long hair, even though their coifs were pretty tame by today’s standards, as was their dress. In fact they wore tailored suits and ties for their Sullivan appearance. She thought their music noisy and somehow subversive, though “Till There Was You” is a love song from the Broadway musical “Music Man,” written by Meredith Wilson.

Mom wouldn’t let me waste my money on Beatles’ albums, so I fulfilled my passion for the group by listening to the radio and watching the Beatles’ weekly TV cartoon show, which ran from 1965 to 1969 on ABC.

Their music was a sea change from other popular music of the day.

By the end of that year, Beatles’ songs held the top two spots on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “She Loves You.”

In fact, the group held a total of nine spots on the Hot 100 that year. Other tunes in the top 10 in 1964 were an eclectic mix of “Hello Dolly!” by Louis Armstrong, “Pretty Woman,” by Roy Orbison and “Everybody Loves Somebody” by Dean Martin.

But The Beatles’ music was different, all guitars, drums, snappy lyrics and tight harmonies.

Many critics hated them. The week after their first Ed Sullivan gig, a Newsweek reviewer penned the following, “Visually, they are a nightmare: Tight, dandified, Edwardian/Beatnik suits and great pudding bowls of hair. Musically, they are a near-disaster: Guitars and drums slamming out a merciless beat that does away with secondary rhythms, harmony, and melody. Their lyrics (punctuated by nutty shouts of “yeah, yeah, yeah!”) are a catastrophe, a preposterous farrago of Valentine-card romantic sentiments.”

The same reviewer concluded with the words, “... the odds are that they will fade away, as most adults confidently predict.”

Instead of fading away, The Beatles turned out to be the most influential musical group of all time, led by the genius songwriting team of John Lennon and Paul McCartney.

The quartet of mop-tops from Liverpool wrote and performed music that is still selling today.

Recent statistics show that besides selling 209.1 million albums in the U.S. the lads have sold 585,000 albums and 2.8 million singles on iTunes, proof their appeal has carried over to the iPod, iPad and iPhone set.

Their music was ground-breaking, timely and yet timeless. Fifty years have passed since they burst onto the American music scene on Ed Sullivan’s stage, yet the Beatles’ music remains the soundtrack for a generation and beyond.

John was the smart one, Paul the cute one, George the quiet one and Ringo the funny one. Fifty years ago today they made history. Likely their musical influence will still be felt a half century from now.

Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at jmullin@enidnews.com.

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