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It was 50 years ago today (almost) ...


I was still in single digits age-wise when the Beatles hit North America 50 years ago on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Those of us from ancient times will recall the famous Sunday night variety show hosted by Ed Sullivan.

He was a man not exactly blessed with charisma: his on-air demeanour on his best day was blandness mixed with an overwhelming sense that he was completely unsuited to his TV host job.

Ed always seemed like a severely introverted network bookkeeper who was forced to take the job because 23 other CBS guys called in sick that day and he was their last hope — every week.

I could never understand why Ed brought in acts like Topo Gigio, the world’s most irritating and non-entertaining puppet mouse.

In fact, Ed’s show was largely a museum for vaudeville acts and Borscht Belt comics well past their shelf life.

But Sullivan’s strong suit every week was a headline celebrity entertainer and he had four of them onstage on Feb. 9, 1964, when the Beatles performed on his show.

There were loud whispers of the Beatles phenomenon over here in North America before their debut on Sullivan.

Even I was aware of them, although I cringed every time I saw what appeared to be a typo in their name. It seemed a little threatening to me at the time because these guys had the audacity to misspell a word and make it their brand name.

I worked hard to get 100 per cent on my spelling assignments and these guys changed the game on me. Worse yet, they had convinced the entire world to buy into their new spelling of ‘beetle.’

The other thing that seemed strange to me was their mop-top haircuts in 1964.

The Beatles were actually fairly well groomed by future, late ’60s standards. But, in ’64, they were a radical departure from buzz cuts and slicked-back DA hair styles on guys.

Their slightly longish hair hid part of their ears and shocked parents back in the mid-60s because they had blazed a new trail of unkempt rebellion for kids of that era. The Beatles were bad guys in the hearts and minds of parents.

My father was no exception and he reacted quite badly when we watched the Beatles perform on The Ed Sullivan Show for the first time in February 1964.

He decided these guys looked like something that was “shot at and hit,” in his words.

It was an expression my father would use a great deal as the ’60s wore on and Ed Sullivan brought a weekly musical act that reflected the evolution of the 1960s style, complete with shoulder-length-or-longer hair on many of the male performers.

The new style started with the Beatles as they performed songs like She Loves You and I Want to Hold Your Hand before a largely teenage, female audience, who screamed loudly enough to drown out the Fab Four’s two sets that night on the Sullivan Show.

The boys from Liverpool could have simply stood on the stage, done nothing and the reaction would have been exactly the same because this was Beatlemania in its loudest form.

I had no idea of the enormous impact the Beatles would have on music while I watched them perform on The Ed Sullivan Show 50 years ago. They were just a side show in my young world and it took one more year for me to take them seriously as a musical force, which will be around forever, long after their noisy debut on Sullivan.

The world of music changed because of the Beatles and even my father liked one of Paul McCartney’s solo hits, It’s Just Another Day from 1971. It is clear now that Feb. 9, 1964, was not just another day for Ed Sullivan or the world.

Jim Sutherland is a local freelance writer.

 
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