This was the date of The Beatles’ record-breaking first live appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, at Studio 50 in New York City.
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.
It was very important. We came out of nowhere with funny hair, looking like marionettes or something. That was very influential. I think that was really one of the big things that broke us – the hairdo more than the music, originally. A lot of people’s fathers had wanted to turn us off. They told their kids, ‘Don’t be fooled, they’re wearing wigs.’
A lot of fathers did turn it off, but a lot of mothers and children made them keep it on. All these kids are now grown-up, and telling us they remember it. It’s like, ‘Where were you when Kennedy was shot?’ I get people like Dan Aykroyd saying, ‘Oh man, I remember that Sunday night; we didn’t know what had hit us – just sitting there watching Ed Sullivan’s show.’ Up until then there were jugglers and comedians like Jerry Lewis, and then, suddenly, The Beatles!
George had tonsillitis and didn’t go to rehearsals for The Ed Sullivan Show. I stood in for him so that they could mark where everyone would stand, and I had a guitar strapped round me. It wasn’t plugged in – nobody was playing anything – and it was amazing to read in a major American magazine a few days later that I ‘played a mean guitar’.
— The Beatles (@thebeatles) February 8, 2014
That afternoon The Beatles recorded Twist And Shout, Please Please Me and I Want To Hold Your Hand, in front of a different audience to the one that saw their live debut that evening. This set was broadcast on 23 February as the group’s third Ed Sullivan appearance, after they had left the US. Before the recording, Sullivan introduced the group thus:
All of us on the show are so darned sorry, and sincerely sorry, that this is the third and thus our last current show with The Beatles, because these youngsters from Liverpool, England, and their conduct over here, not only as fine professional singers but as a group of fine youngsters, will leave an imprint of everyone over here who’s met them.
Other guests on this third-show recording were Gordon and Sheila MacRae and The Cab Calloway Orchestra.
The main thing I was aware of when we did the first Ed Sullivan Show was that we rehearsed all afternoon. TV had such bad sound equipment – it still has today, usually, but then it was really bad – that we would tape our rehearsals and then go up and mess with the dials in the control booth. We got it all set with the engineer there, and then we went off for a break.
The story has it that while we were out, the cleaner came in to clean the room and the console, thought, ‘What are all these chalk marks?’ and wiped them all off. So our plans just went out the window. We had a real hasty time trying to get the sound right.
The live show
The Beatles’ record-breaking live debut, broadcast from 8-9pm, was witnessed by just 728 people in Studio 50, but seen by an estimated 73,700,000 viewers in 23,240,000 homes in the United States. It comfortably smashed the record for television viewing figures up until that point.
We were aware that Ed Sullivan was the big one because we got a telegram from Elvis and the Colonel. And I’ve heard that while the show was on there were no reported crimes, or very few. When The Beatles were on Ed Sullivan, even the criminals had a rest for ten minutes.
At the start of the hour-long programme, Sullivan announced that a telegram had been received from Elvis Presley and his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, wishing the group luck. It read:
Congratulations on your appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show and your visit to America. We hope your engagement will be a successful one and your visit pleasant. Give our best to Mr Sullivan. Sincerely, Elvis & The Colonel.
The Beatles had been given the telegram half an hour before their stage appearance. After reading it, George Harrison deadpanned: “Elvis who?”
The Beatles performed five songs on their Ed Sullivan Show live debut. They sang All My Loving, Till There Was You and She Loves You, in the first half of the programme, followed by an advertisement for Anadin. Ed Sullivan’s other guests – Georgia Brown & Oliver Kidds, Frank Gorshin, Tessie O’Shea – followed, after which The Beatles performed I Saw Her Standing There and I Want To Hold Your Hand.
While Paul McCartney sang the ballad Till There Was You, the cameras panned to each of the Beatles in turn, with their names captioned on the screen. When they got to John Lennon, an additional caption appeared, saying: “Sorry Girls, He’s Married.”
After the show radio DJ Murray The K took John, Paul and Ringo to the Playboy Club. With a police escort they walked several blocks to 59th Street where they were ushered into the club’s Penthouse lounge for dinner.
They later went on to the Peppermint Lounge, where they danced the twist until 4am.