Skip to main content

Flashback: The Day The Beatles Took America

It was fifty years ago tonight that a cultural phenomenon took full hold in the United States.  The Beatles made their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show.

It's not that the Beatles didn't already have fans in the United States. I Want to Hold Your Hand had already been number 1 for two weeks. They just weren't as big as they were in their homeland.  Beatlemania had been in full swing in Britain for almost a year with five major hits including three number 1's (From Me to You, She Loves You, I Want to Hold Your Hand) before the beginning of 1964.

The excitement over the Beatles in the U.K. had not gone unnoticed for Sullivan who saw hundreds of fans welcome the Fab Four home from a trip to Sweden. He thought the excitement was very similar to what he had seen with Elvis and wanted the group for his show. Sullivan's initial offer to Brian Epstein was one show but Epstein had a better idea. The band would take a smaller fee but would get to both open and close on three programs.

Their first appearance on February 9, 1964 set a record for television audience size with 73 million people tuning in. At the opening of the show, Sullivan said "Now yesterday and today our theater's been jammed with newspapermen and hundreds of photographers from all over the nation, and these veterans agreed with me that the city never has the excitement stirred by these youngsters from Liverpool, who call themselves The Beatles. Now tonight, you're gonna twice be entertained by them. Right now, and again in the second half of our show. Ladies and gentlemen, The Beatles. Let's bring them on."

McCartney counted it down and the group launched into All My Loving and followed with Til There Was You from The Music Man and She Loves You. They returned later in the show to perform I Saw Her Standing There and I Want to Hold Your Hand.

The group would return to the show the next two Sundays. On February 16, they performed six songs, She Loves You, This Boy and All My Loving during the first half and I Saw Her Standing There, From Me to You and I Want to Hold Your Hand later in the show.

Their February 23 appearance had actually been taped before their first show on February 9, opening with Twist and Shout and Please Please Me and closing with, once again, I Want to Hold Your Hand.

For the three appearances, the group received a total of $10,000, an amount that Sullivan paid the biggest stars for just one show. It was the investment of time, foregoing the money, that was responsible for the true launch of the Beatles era in the U.S.

Beatlemania was on the upswing in the U.S. as was evidenced on the Singles chart for the week ending February 15, 1964. The Fab Four were at both number 1 and 3 with Leslie Gore wedged in between.

Two weeks later, the group would have three songs in the top 20. Three weeks later it would be four and in five weeks it would be five leading to the chart of April 4 where the Beatles would have the top five songs in the nation.
  1. I Want to Hold Your Hand - Beatles
  2. You Don't Own Me - Lesley Gore
  3. She Loves You - Beatles
  4. Hey Little Cobra - Rip Chords
  5. Um, Um, Um, Um, Um, Um - Major Lance
  6. For You - Ricky Nelson
  7. Out of Limits - Marketts
  8. Anyone Who Had a Heart - Dionne Warwick
  9. Java - Al Hirt
  10. What Kind of Fool (Do You Think I Am) - Tams
  11. Dawn (Go Away) - Four Seasons
  12. Talking About My Baby - Impressions
  13. A Fool Never Learns - Andy Williams
  14. California Sun - Rivieras
  15. Surfin' Bird - Trashmen
  16. Stop and Think It Over - Dale and Grace
  17. Hooka Tooka - Chubby Checker
  18. There I've Said It Again - Bobby Vinton
  19. Daisy Petal Pickin' - Jimmy Gilmer and the Fireballs
  20. Southtown U.S.A. - Dixiebelles
The week ending February 15 was also when the Beatles had their first U.S. number 1 album as Meet the Beatles made the summit. It would stay there for eleven weeks, to be replaced by The Beatles' Second Album