I don’t ever remember seeing the Ed Sullivan show though I was alive during its run. A tad young at the time, I wonder if my mom forbade me from seeing it because of its risqué programming. There was the legless Elvis Presley and some real long hairs who sang while playing guitar.
Today I watch some vintage footage and it’s amazing the revolution these four boys from Liverpool must have wrought. Here are The Beatles in all their black and white splendor transmuted today to a shirtless heavily tagged body of Anthony Kiedis performing at the Super Bowl halftime. We’ve come a long way baby.
American media loves to celebrate round number anniversaries and thus we are in the throes of the night the Beatles changed America- February 9th, 1964. Fifty years ago, The Beatles appeared on three consecutive Ed Sullivan Shows dressed in suits and ties with polished shoes and stood plainly strumming highly explicit lyrics like “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.” Sunday at the Super Bowl, the overtly tame multigenerational appeal-ist Bruno Mars sang “Your sex takes me to paradise” and no one seemed to care.
Much credit for the change that occurred over those five decades can be attributed accurately to the Beatles. Granted they had significant help along the way from The Rolling Stones, The Animals and The Kinks just to name the generals of the British Invasion, but the mop tops were that part of the revolution that was televised. When you think about it, the bulk of the Beatles splash was made for TV.
The band that stopped touring in 1966- a mere two years after first Sullivan appearance- became ever more popular by well placed video incarnations. Their “Magical Mystery Tour” was a BBC Christmas special. They made short PR films for songs like “Strawberry Fields” “Let It Be” ‘Hey Jude” and a half a dozen more that essentially were their own MTV promotional vehicles. Even their first full-length movie (read video) was “A Hard Day’s Night” which was oddly about the band preparing for well, a TV show.
And now here we are preparing for a special night of television to once again hear and watch the Beatles. This time we are promised a reunion or in this case a half-union. Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney will be joined by an all-star cast of rock and pop stars who will celebrate the day music changed the world via a television show.
The Beatles remain radio friendly as their songs are played on essentially every conceivable format, but their appeal was strongly fueled by their many manifestations in the visual mediums. A medium that, with Ed Sullivan as one of its pioneers, brought generations together. Grandmas today are sharing Facebook posts about Bruno Mars’ James Brown like dance moves while the kids try to explain Kiedis’ leggings. The Beatles “younged up” an America dominated by the old guard and merged our collective sensibilities to a shared understanding. As Robert Lloyd aptly put it in a splendid article for Tribune Newspapers about the Fab Four “the music has entered the ether. It is something we live in: it has achieved something of the quality of folk music, a thing we know from childhood, and our children, and their children will know as well. It isn’t nostalgia that colors these songs; they are simply ever-present.”
And that is worth celebrating on TV.