60th Anniversary: The Beatles Usher In Cultural Revolution With US Television Debut On ‘Ed Sullivan’

Watch the Fab Four perform “I Want To Hold Your Hand” from the momentous event.

By Nate Todd Feb 9, 2024 4:02 pm PST

Today marks 60 years since The Beatles made their U.S. television debut on CBS variety program The Ed Sullivan Show and ushered in a cultural revolution that in many ways is still taking place today.

While Beatlemania had already taken hold of America before the Fab Four performed on Ed Sullivan on February 9, 1964, The Beatles coming into tens of millions of homes — the broadcast had a record setting 73 million viewers — turned a light bulb on for millions of young people who would subsequently don the moptop, form bands and look at the world in a different way, a new way.

Bruce Springsteen said of watching The Beatles on Ed Sullivan:

“This was different, shifted the lay of the land. Four guys, playing and singing, writing their own material … Rock ‘n’ roll came to my house where there seemed to be no way out … and opened up a whole world of possibilities.”

Here’s Billy Joel:

“That one performance changed my life … Up to that moment I’d never considered playing rock as a career. And when I saw four guys who didn’t look like they’d come out of the Hollywood star mill, who played their own songs and instruments, and especially because you could see this look in John Lennon’s face — and he looked like he was always saying: ‘Fuck you!’ — I said: ‘I know these guys, I can relate to these guys, I am these guys.’ This is what I’m going to do — play in a rock band’.”

As noted above, Beatlemania had already gripped America before the momentous television spot. The Beatles’ single “I Want To Hold Your Hand” was leaked to radio stations ahead of its planned release by Capitol Records. Attorneys for the label were unable to stop DJs from spinning it causing Capitol to cave and release the record early on December 26, 1963.

As per the Ed Sullivan website:

The record sold 250,000 copies in the first three days. By January 10, 1964 it had sold over one million units and “I Want to Hold Your Hand” was the number one song on the Billboard charts by month’s end. In the weeks leading up to The Beatles’ performance on The Ed Sullivan Show, Beatlemania went viral. Radio stations played the band’s music nearly non-stop; teenaged fans sported “Beatle” wigs, and bumper stickers across the country warned, “The Beatles Are Coming.”

John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr touched down at New York City’s John F. Kennedy Airport on February 7th, 1964 and were greeted by a crowd of screaming fans. At a subsequent press conference at JFK, The Beatles showed off perhaps their most endearing quality next to the music: their wit.

When asked: “Are you a little embarrassed by the lunacy you cause?” Lennon replied. “We like lunatics.” He also had a great response to a reporter questioning if they could sing. “No, we need money first,” Lennon quipped.

When asked if they were going to get hair cuts, the so-called “Quiet Beatle” George Harrison replied, “I had one yesterday.”

But it was Ringo who stole the show when asked, “How do you find America?” “Turn left at Greenland,” Starr replied.

Two days later, The Beatles finally took The Ed Sullivan stage where they performed an initial three songs: “All My Loving,” McCartney leading the group on Meredith Willson’s “Til There Was You” from The Music Man and “She Loves You.” The Fab Four closed the program with ““I Saw Her Standing There” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”

Watch The Beatles perform “I Want To Hold Your Hand” from the world-changing performance below:


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