That rock 'n' roll incursion was the start of what is known to this day as the British invasion, spearheaded a half-century ago by a band called the Beatles. You might have heard of them.
It was 50 years ago tonight, on Feb. 9, 1964, that America was formally introduced to the Beatles by Ed Sullivan on "The Ed Sullivan Show" on the CBS television network. The four lads from Liverpool – that, of course, would be Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, George Harrison and John Lennon – sang five of their songs for us that night.
I was glued to my chair in front of the TV that evening, ready to enjoy the really big "shoo," when Ed announced the band. "Ladies and gentlemen, ... the Beatles!" And the boys did not disappoint. They performed live, giving us "All My Lovin'," "Til There Was You" and "She Loves You."
After enduring an Anacin commercial and magician Fred Kaps' act – Kaps was a really good magician but just picked the wrong night, poor guy – we got another round of the Beatles with "I Saw Her Standing There" and "I Wanna Hold Your Hand." The teenage girls in the studio audience yelled like crazy throughout the lads' sets, while I thoroughly appreciated the show at home – along with about 73 million other viewers.
The historical evening will be observed tonight, same time, same place, but 50 years after Sullivan made history by hosting those four Brits with the flop-mop tops. This evening's big show is titled "The Night That Changed America: A Grammy Salute to the Beatles," or something like that.
Paul and Ringo will be there, and some of today's most popular artists will perform Beatles songs. Should be a blast.
The invasion really began Feb. 7, 1964, when the Beatles landed in New York for the start of their first American adventure, but we began knowing them in a way through their first U.S. single, "I Wanna Hold Your Hand," released here in December 1963. It hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 on Jan. 17, 1964.
The group went on to produce more than 200 songs in their six years together. If you're as old as I am, but most of you most likely are not, songs by the Beatles probably represent memorable times in your life, maybe even very important times. That old cliché about "the soundtrack of my youth" perfectly fits many Beatles fans of yore. The group's tunes really can tune in to some peoples' pasts – times and places that cannot be forgotten. They even wrote a song, "There Are Places I Remember," that elude to that phenomenon:
There are places I remember, all my life, Though some have changed, Some forever, not for better Some have gone, and some remain.
All these places have their moments, Of lovers and friends, I still recall, Some are dead, and some are living, In my life, I loved them all.
It's odd, I think, how old songs not only can carry you back to people and events, but they can retrieve feelings and reflections, almost as if you can touch the textures and emotions of your life's past moments in time and place.
When I hear "I Wanna Hold Your Hand," I can see myself standing in the lunch line at school a long, long time ago and one of my fellow students, David Pfeffer, asking me about what I thought of that new English group, the Beatles. I can see myself wearing a green plaid shirt and green corduroy pants, saying I thought they were pretty cool. Of course, I'm probably pretty full of soup, but that's how I remember it, and it seems like only yesterday.
A more textured and rather romantic remembrance always accompanies the hearing of "A Hard Day's Night." I think back to a girl I was sweet on in my innocent youth – yes, I was very naive and innocent in my youth – and certain feelings of that time and that brief relationship kind of wash over me. It's weird, and I don't know why. After all, who wants to feel like a 16-year-old pinhead again? I sure don't. But when I hear that song, I recall giving her the "A Hard Day's Night" album and taking her to the "A Hard Day's Night" movie.
What is the most memorable Beatles song and its memorable time in my life? That would have to be "Sgt. Pepper" in Vietnam, during the Vietnam War. In 1968, my commanding officer had sent me from Phu Bai down to Da Nang on a special assignment. While at the battalion headquarters at Da Nang – it was actually in the northern outskirts of Da Nang – one of my fellow jarheads introduced me to the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" album. Even though it had been released a year earlier, in 1967, I had not heard it. I listened almost exclusively to Detroit and Memphis soul music then, but how could I have missed a year's worth of the Beatles?
I listened to the "Sgt Pepper" album and could not stop listening. To this day, when I listen to that record, I'm taken back to that time and place in Vietnam. It's weird.
Weird or wonderful, I feel great when listening to the music of those four chaps from Liverpool. I'm not alone, as millions of people around the world feel the same way, just as they did back in 1964.
The Beatles appeared on "The Ed Sullivan" show again on Feb. 16, 1964, live from Miami. This time, they played six songs for us, and if Americans weren't sold the first time, most were after the second show. By April 4, the boys owned the top five spots on the Billboard Hot 100. At No. 1 was "Can't Buy Me Love," and at that time I was sweet on the "Can't Buy Me Love" girl who, of course, came before the "Hard Day's Night" girl. Ah, memories.
You don't need to hear about my silly memories. You can tune in tonight to CBS and hear some fantastic, melodic and wonderful Beatles music, performed by some great artists. Sounds like we're in for some outstanding entertainment.
Hey, lovely Rita, Rocky Raccoon, Jude, and everybody now, let's all come together, turn on our TVs tonight and let it be, because she loves you.
P.S. I love you.