It’s hard to pick up a paper or magazine, turn on your TV or radio, troll Facebook or just about any other place on the Internet without being reminded of the fact that this Sunday night, Feb. 9, marks the 50th anniversary of The Beatles first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show.
Pundits are doing what they do and weighing in with just how much of a cultural event this was and is. So, we’re going to leave that part to them. However, since, partly due to our age difference, we both have a little different perspective on that landmark Sullivan show, we thought it might be fun to share some of our individual thoughts about that night and a few other bits of “Beatlemania” that found their way into our lives.
Steve “Saw them STANDING There” …
By 1964 I had already made several records and, as a working musician, I wanted to see what the fuss was all about and, additionally, see if there were any songs or parts of their performance that I might want to incorporate into my own live shows. So, along with 73 MILLION other viewers I made sure I was in front of the TV that night.
It may seem like heresy but, although I was tuned in, it took a while before I got turned on to The Beatles. Honestly, my first reaction to their live performance was that it was OK, but it didn’t knock me out. See, I was used to the gyrations of Elvis, the duck walking of Chuck Berry, the piano bench kicking and piano burning of Jerry Lee Lewis or the splits and jumps of Jackie Wilson and, given all the pre-show hype, I was a little surprised that, for the most part, while The Beatles played they just stood there. Add to that their inclusion of “Till There Was You” from Meredith Wilson’s Broadway production “The Music Man” and I found myself really needing the straight ahead Rock & Roll chaser of “I Saw Her Standing There” to grab my musical palate.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I didn’t like them at first look. It just took a little longer for me to become an absolute FAN. By the release of The Beatles’ Second Album the transformation had taken place, I was paying a lot more attention to their writing and harmony and knew that something special was going on. I guess the “take away” from my introduction to The Beatles is that, while I knew that first TV appearance was important, that appearance, in and of itself, didn’t have the impact on me that it did on most people.
The REAL impact, for me as a working musician, was becoming aware of the incredible musical talent that group contained. It became the norm for me to have my reel to reel tape recorder turned on anytime a new Beatles “exclusive” song was being premiered so I could see where they were going next and try my best to learn what they were doing as quickly as possible.
By August of 1965 I was a full-blown FAN and was in the audience for The Beatles afternoon appearance at Comisky Park. My lasting memories are trying to hear the songs in the midst of the deafening screams that were a constant from the start to the end of their performance. I also remember John Lennon sending the crowd into an even bigger frenzy when, at the end of their performance, while the rest of the group was exiting one side of the stage, he ran to the other as if he was running toward the fans. The crowd went wilder, if possible, and John quickly ran back to join the rest of the group.
Many years later, I got the chance to play a small part in The Beatles’ history. While at WLS, in the 70’s, we started featuring “Got To Get You Into My Life” from The Beatles’ “Rock ‘N’ Roll Music” album. The spotlight we gave that cut helped it to become a major hit. Capital Records showed their appreciation by presenting us with a gold record.
Johnnie’s “Hard Day’s Night” …
Unlike Steve, 50 years ago I wasn’t “tuned” to the radio…I was 8 and busy with my Barbies, Easy Bake Oven, accordion lessons and television. If I wasn’t in church on Sunday nights I was in front of the television for the Ed Sullivan Show.
The week leading up to February 9th I made plans to spend the night at my girlfriend’s house down the street so we could watch the Beatles together. I hurried to Linda’s house before dark already in my pj’s. I’d had dinner at home so, we planned on ice cream and cookies for the “big shew.” We were going to be sleeping on the living room hide-a-bed sofa which was already pulled out and made for us with the television warmed up beside it. We got two big bowls of ice cream and crawled up in the bed as the show was starting. By a minute into the Beatles first performance we were on our knees in the middle of the bed.
Whew…finally a break and the knowledge that they would be coming back for another performance! I leapt off the bed with two glass soup bowls in hand intending to run them into the kitchen. The tail of my gown caught on a bar that extended from the sofa bed. I was yanked back and lost my balance dropping the bowls onto the hardwood floor and I landed on top.
It took a minute to realize all the blood was coming from me. Linda was in the bed bouncing and begging me to hurry, hurry or I’d miss the next song and then…I heard her scream. It was a B-horror movie blood curdling kind of scream! Her dear mother, Alice swept in with a bath towel and quickly wrapped my hand in it all the while begging me to look away. I have a vague recollection of sitting on the closed toilet seat in her lap watching blood soak through the towel while her husband, James, called my parents.
I have few clear memories after that. I remember my Dad being told he shouldn’t look and we had to get to the hospital fast. I must have been in shock because the next thing I remember is my Dad passing out! It seems once I was taken into the ER at Augustana Hospital he followed and looked in the bowl where my finger was floating. My pinky was actually hanging on by a ligament thread.
The amazing thing is 50 years ago a good doctor decided to “try” and reattach my finger using a RUBBERBAND to give it flexibility. It worked!! Of course, I wouldn’t know that until I had completed weeks of physical therapy. But, I look at that little finger today and I’m thankful it wasn’t thrown in the trash and that a doctor who was probably ahead of his time did some inventive surgery. He thought enough of it to save it so, I treasure it and the memory of Linda saying ‘I can’t believe you missed the Beatles singing … “I Want to Hold Your Hand!”‘ Ouch!
“And in the end” ….
So, as you can see, we each have our own, rather unique, Beatles’ souvenirs. Together, one of the highlights of our concert going remains seeing Paul McCartney at the Rosemont Horizon. Being a part of that audience as we all listened and sang along to some of The Beatles’ classics really brought home how wonderfully galvanizing The Beatles music was and is to multiple generations of fans.
The Beatles 50 years on? Yeah, yeah, yeah!!