Beatlemania Comes to America!
The Beatles are now so established as icons—not just in rock ’n’ roll music but in popular culture overall—that it is hard to imagine a time when they were new and unknown. However, that was the case for most of the then-record television audience of 73 million American viewers who watched the Ed Sullivan Show Sunday night, Feb. 9, 1964. That was the first time the Beatles, who had just arrived from England two days before, appeared live on American television. History was made that night, and music and culture would never be the same.
Looking at film clips of the rapturous members of the Sullivan audience, screaming and swooning at the Beatles’ every word and gesture—as well as the throng packed outside the CBS studio clamoring to get in—it is easy to accept the conventional wisdom that the Beatles were an immediate success in America. For many young people, the Beatles were, no doubt, an overnight sensation. It was not necessarily the same with the mainstream media—its embrace of the four “mop-topped” Britons was not universal.
In fact, as the following six newspaper articles show, many reporters and reviewers were disdainful of the Beatles’ appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. In reading these comments now, in light of today’s acceptance of the Beatles as the greatest rock group ever, it is startling to read such descriptions as “disquieting,” “revolting,” “unkempt, untalented noisemakers,” and “distracting bore.” One of these reviewers certainly got it right, however, with this comment: “some things may never be the same.”
This copyrighted article was printed by the Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington) on Feb. 10, 1964:
And Here Comes the Beatle Bomb!
By C. J. Skreen
Considering the fact that Judy Garland delivered one of the all-time great hours of television last night, it is almost criminal to waste wordage on the worst British affliction since the taxes that produced the Boston Tea Party, but the Beatles can’t be ignored in this enlightened age. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
For those who have been out to lunch the past week, the Beatles—a mop-topped rock ’n’ roll quartet—arrived from Great Britain for their American television debut on the Ed Sullivan Show.
Americans have any number of reasons to be thankful for Sullivan’s contribution to our culture, but the smiling Irishman undoubtedly topped himself last night. Anglo-American relations are not likely to ever be the same.
Only 721 Beatlenuts were able to get into C.B.S.-TV’s New York studio, but it sounded more like the 50,000 fans who reportedly demanded tickets.
The foot-stomping, electric-guitar-playing singers were almost drowned out by the ecstatic screams of their delirious teenaged admirers who rocked back and forth in their chairs to the Beatle bounce.
As for their reaction, the Beatles appeared to be somewhat bemused by the tumultuous reception. Having grossed $17 million even before arriving in P. T. Barnum country, they undoubtedly have a right to be.
The Beatles have relatively little talent, if their Sullivan show performance can be believed, but they appear to be a rather likeable crew in contrast to their American predecessors in our native art form.
Their success seems to be a combination of shaggy locks, skintight suits with velvet collars and a sharp press agent who has made Beatlemania the wave of the future among those groups which educators like to describe as the future leaders of our country.
For those who missed last night’s cultural invasion, all is not lost. The Beatles have two more Sullivan shows to go. The lunacy will originate from Miami Beach next Sunday. Whatever the result, the British can consider the score settled for the Revolutionary War.
This copyrighted article was printed by the Oregonian (Portland, Oregon) on Feb. 11, 1964:
Adult Finds Beatlemania Real Puzzle
By Cynthia Lowry
Associated Press Radio-TV Writer
New York (AP)—Anyone who is not a teenage girl obviously is unqualified to comment on the sight of the Beatles in action.
Heaven knows we’ve heard them enough. It has been impossible to get a radio weather bulletin or time signal without running into “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”
And now, having seen the four performers on Ed Sullivan’s CBS show Sunday night, Beatlemania is even more of a mystery to an elderly viewer.
They sing close harmony, stomp their feet and play electric guitars, but so do a lot of crew-cut American boys in slacks and sweaters, and they cause no riots.
Beatle clothes look about two sizes too small, and I’ve seen Hungarian sheep dogs with more attractive hairdos.
But thousands of squealing young girls get their message. Camera shots of panting youngsters in Sullivan’s audience were disquieting, in fact.
Maybe after two more exposures to the Beatles on television, all of us elderly people will become Beatlenuts, yeah, yeah, yeah, but I doubt it.
This copyrighted article was printed by the Oregonian (Portland, Oregon) on Feb. 11, 1964:
Behind the Mike
By Francis Murphy
…All of us must have had lumps in our throats when Ed Sullivan strode out on the stage Sunday and announced that Elvis Presley and the Colonel had sent congratulations to the Beatles. The audience screamed with amazement for a full 90 seconds. Sullivan raised his hands, palms outward, to quiet them, the same gesture he used the night he sawed Elvis in half. CBS-TV thoughtfully superimposed names on individual Beatles, since they all look obnoxiously similar to the uninitiated.
Their hairdos, apparently uncombed since they left England, were either considerably ruffled in the trans-Atlantic crossing or from their jumps onstage. Actually, what you could hear of the Beatles’ songs through the screams and sighs of the audience, didn’t seem outstanding.
Most interesting segments were shots of the audience, which gave you an idea of the type of individual who listens to KISN. The girls seemed in utter agony, many of them understandably holding their ears. Sullivan paid a closing tribute to the heroic work of the New York police, whose courageous record of protecting Castro and Tito gave them practice for this more overwhelming chore.
This copyrighted article was printed by the Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio) on Feb. 11, 1964:
Shades of Elvis!
Beatles on TV? Quick Henry, the Flit!
By Bert J. Reesing
Television viewers were taken from Sunday night’s usual calm to completely ridiculous pandemonium in the short space of an hour. The upsetting element was the heralded telecast of England’s Four Beatles on the Ed Sullivan drag, after a month-long buildup. Their appearance was so far-reaching in influence that Jack Paar resolved a long-standing feud with Sullivan to get two tickets, “front-row, center,” for his daughter Randy.
If young Randy is the levelheaded young lady Jack has had on his own show, perhaps today he’s sorry he made the move. She was surrounded by hundreds of addle-brained spectators if she made the scene.
Perhaps it’s a dangerous mission for anyone older than 16 to offer an account of the initial mop-topped TV appearance of the Beatles. Shades of Elvis! The mass hysteria by Sullivan’s teenaged girl audience was nothing short of revolting.
Let’s hope the show is not chosen as a typical TV offering for display in Europe. It would point up the decadence that seems to have become a force with a portion of America’s youth.
This reporter, however, feels there were planted shills in the audience—one “youngster” looked to be about 30 year old—leaders to spark the shrill moans and groans of the young intelligentsia attending the telecast. A defense for the audience’s behavior may be claimed that there were only 700 or so in the theater. But there were 50,000 more outside. They were clamoring to witness the performance where a twist of a hip or a shake of a shaggy head was enough to trigger some of the glassy-eyed audience into a group of dervishes.
My 17-year-old daughter interrupted this corner’s discourse on unstable teenagers in general and the group of squealing girls in particular to comment: “For goodness’ sake, Dad. Don’t think that those kids represent the average teenager. I know hundreds of girls who would rather drop dead than make a spectacle of themselves over any entertainer.”
We’ve all heard the foot-stomping group’s recordings. In fact, it’s been nearly impossible to escape them on radio. But to see them in clothes too tight and sheepdog hair too long, and hear them sing not so good in their specialty number, “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” was a distracting bore.
I missed their second appearance of the evening on the Sullivan hour. Their cavorting and the fits of ecstatic moaning by panting young persons in the audience didn’t hold my hand. I switched the dial…“yeah, yeah, yeah.”
This copyrighted article was printed by the Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas) on Feb. 10, 1964:
Beatlemaniacs Squeal as Shaggy Kings Sing
New York (UPI)—Ed Sullivan turned his television show over to England’s Beatles Sunday night, and the British rock ’n’ rollers sent the predominantly teenage audience into squeals reminiscent of the World War II Frank Sinatra era.
The virtually all-girl studio audience rocked, bounced, whistled, screamed and wept with joy when the mop-topped Britons opened the show.
“Beatlemania” prevailed when the group swung into “She Loves You (Yeah, Yeah, Yeah).” At intervals during their rendition of the song, the Beatles, reaching a high note, lean together and shake their shaggy heads. The squeals drowned out the lyrics.
In introducing the newly crowned kings of rock ’n’ roll, Sullivan noted they had received a telegram from Elvis Presley “wishing them success in this country.” More squeals.
Kathy O’Neal, 16, in a moment of calm during a commercial, said “We love them.”
“Simply fabulous,” volunteered a seat mate.
It was the first time the English quartet appeared live on American television. The audience took Sullivan literally when he said they could shout and scream while the Beatles were on, provided they behaved during the other acts.
Police afoot and mounted were hard put to control the throng which gathered in the street outside the Columbia Broadcasting System studios during the afternoon.
The four singers, preceded by a flood of publicity, arrived from England Friday for a 10-day visit, which is to include two concerts in Carnegie Hall next Wednesday. Seventeen public relations men are with them here.
In Queens, meanwhile, a rabbi addressing a youth group inveighed against the “deplorable, immature adoration showered on the…four unkempt, untalented noisemakers” and pleaded for a return to behavior “that does not border on the fringe of lunacy.”
This copyrighted article was printed by the Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio) on Feb. 10, 1964:
It’s Hairesy! Beatle Fans Steal Show
New York (AP)—The Beatles—four British lads who sing when they are not busy running away from barbers—made their American television debut last night—and some things may never be the same.
The seats in the Columbia Broadcasting System studio where they appeared live on the Ed Sullivan variety show were given more of a workout by jumping and squirming teenage girls than were the singers in their fast-moving routine.
The four mop-topped entertainers, who came here Friday from London, provided their own musical background with string and percussion instruments.
Throughout their two appearances during the show, the 721 members of the audience—mostly young girls—kept up a steady stream of squeals, sighs and yells.
The four British imports, appearing for a total of about 20 minutes on the hour-long show, may well have ended up with second billing.
Camera crews were lavish in their shots of the audience, showing young girls leaping from their seats, throwing their arms into the air and staring bug-eyed. Some appeared as if on the verge of coma, staring open-mouthed.
At one point before the program, there was some doubt that the four singers would be able to make their way into the studio through the masses of teenage fans trying for a glimpse of their idols.
But hundreds of Manhattan police, including mounted officers, shoved back the eager fans and cleared a path for the four entertainers.
For more information, visit the official Beatles website.
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