The celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Beatles three appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show in February 1964 brought a flood of memories, not the least of which is that it didn’t start with Ed Sullivan.
The Beatles were already hugely popular in America before they appeared on Ed Sullivan. I Want to Hold Your Hand had been released by Capitol Records in December and by the middle of January had sold a million copies in this country, a huge number of sales in a very short period of time.
Early in 1963, Capitol Records had refused to release any Beatles recordings. So a Chicago label, Vee-Jay, secured a contract to release several songs. But the first Vee-Jay single, Please Please Me backed by Ask Me Why, tanked. Some radio stations played the record, but the best it could do was rise to number 35 on WLS in Chicago.
Later, in September, another label, Swan, tried the same thing with She Loves You. Swan even succeeded in getting the record played on American Bandstand’s rate-a-record segment. The teenage panel decided the song was a loser and a photo of the mop top Beatles drew giggles from the audience. Host Dick Clark concluded the group was going nowhere.
However, if you lived along the Canadian border as I did, you had been hearing the Beatles on the radio for a year before their Ed Sullivan appearance. Love Me Do / P.S. I Love You was released by Capitol Canada early in February 1963. By the summer, Please Please Me / Ask Me Why and From Me to You / Thank You Girl were out. In the fall came She Loves You / I’ll Get You.
Then at the beginning of December, Capitol Canada released an entire Beatles album, “With the Beatles,” which contained It Won’t Be Long; All I’ve Got to Do; All My Loving; Don’t Bother Me; Little Child; Till There Was You; Please Mister Postman; Roll Over Beethoven; Hold Me Tight; You Really Gotta Hold On Me; I Wanna Be Your Man; Devil in Her Heart; Not a Second Time; Money.
Stripped across the top of the album was the word “Beatlemania” and I thought that was its title. While this was the first Beatles album released in Canada, it was their second U.K. album.
About the time of the Ed Sullivan Beatles appearance, Capitol Canada issued a second album titled “Twist and Shout.” It contained Anna (Go To Him); Chains; Boys; Ask Me Why; Please Please Me; Love Me Do; From Me To You; P.S. I Love You; Baby It’s You; Do You Want To Know A Secret; A Taste Of Honey; There’s A Place; Twist And Shout; She Loves You.
The Canadian issued Beatles songs played on Canadian radio stations that millions of American kids like me could hear, and we did listen. As 1963 passed, a few DJ’s in American radio stations acquired Canadian and British releases and also began playing them. It was, in fact, an Iowa radio station’s unauthorized (by Capitol) playing of I Want to Hold Your Hand that caused Capitol to move up the release date of the single by a month.
By the fall of 1963, American media had begun to take note of the Beatles phenomenon unfolding in Britain. Publications like the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Time Magazine, and many others, did major stories. On November 18, NBC-TV’s evening newscast, the Huntley-Brinkley Report, presented a four-minute story on the Beatles, which is a very long TV news piece. Four days later, CBS Morning News with Mike Wallace did a Beatles story. The network had planned to run the same story again on the evening news that night, but the assassination of President John F. Kennedy occurred the same day. The piece, also four minutes, finally aired on December 10.
The Beatles first appearance on American television was not on Ed Sullivan but on NBC’s late night Jack Paar Show, which ran a filmed performance of She Loves You on January 3, 1964.
About the same time, Vee-Jay tried again and released Please Please Me as a single. This time the B-side was From Me to You and this time, the record hit, quickly selling more a million copies. By the time the Beatles showed up in America, they had already sold more than two million singles. Between January and March of 1964, they would account for 60 percent of all record sales in America.
I remember gathering with my friends that cold Sunday night in February to see the Beatles on a show most of us normally didn’t watch. We knew their names and the instruments they played. We knew the words to the songs but we couldn’t hear very well because of the screaming. Seventy million people tuned in with us and Ed didn’t quite understand what was going on.
But we did.
The adults had finally noticed a raucous generation, and we were already changing the world.