The Beatles’ first Ed Sullivan Show

9 February 1964 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!

As with the previous day, in the morning the group rehearsed for the studio cameras. Again, George Harrison was feeling ill, and so his place on stage was taken by road manager Neil Aspinall.

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’.
Neil Aspinall

That afternoon The Beatles recorded ‘Twist And Shout’, ‘Please Please Me’, and ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’, in front of a different audience from 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.
Ed Sullivan

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.

Last updated: 2 November 2020
Rehearsal for The Ed Sullivan Show
Interviews: Associated Press and CBS News
Also on this day...

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