Friday, February 7, 2014

"Ladies and gentlemen ... The Beatles!"

      I am so ready to watch The Beatles' first television appearance in America on Sunday night. Just like 50 years ago -- to the day, to the hour.
      The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show -- all over again.
       I've seen it hundreds of times -- on so many TV specials, on YouTube videos. It's exciting every time I watch it.
      CBS has a 90-minute special Sunday night it is calling The Beatles: The Night That Changed America -- A Grammy Special. I am sure you've seen it promoted a time or two the last couple of weeks.
      Starts at 7 p.m. (Central time) on Feb. 9, just as it did in 1964.
      What a night that was. I fell in love with those four "youngsters from Liverpool," as Ed Sullivan said in his intro, and I've never stopped loving them.
       Which puts me in select company -- with millions and millions of people.
       Here's my opinion: It was the second greatest moment/event in television history. The only one better, a little more than five years later -- July 20, 1969 -- was the night two men first stepped on the moon.
         John, Paul, George and Ringo. Gosh, I love writing that. So familiar to us all ... well, those of us who were kids/teenagers in the 1960s.
        A lot of us -- maybe most of us -- already loved rock and roll, but The Beatles took it out of sight. Suddenly, Elvis -- the king since his own early Sullivan appearances in 1956 -- had challengers for the No. 1 spot in the genre.
         Yes, The Beatles started a revolution ... to use the title of one of their songs from later in the decade.
         Their songs -- with such simple lyrics at first -- were so catchy, so fresh, so upbeat ... so different.
         Best I recall, we began hearing the songs on the radio -- I Want to Hold Your Hand, She Loves You and Please, Please Me at first in late 1963/early 1964.
          By that time, they were already giant stars in Germany and Great Britain. We had never even seen their pictures in the newspaper, but many of the kids at school were talking about the songs and then the word spread: They were coming to the U.S., they were going to be on the Sullivan show.
Here they were -- "these youngsters from Liverpool" and Mr. Sullivan
(Photo Express Newspapers/Getty Images ... taken from
           So there we were on that Sunday night, 73 million of us, watching. And I watched the YouTube video again this week so I could post Ed Sullivan's introduction ...
           "Now yesterday and today, our theater's been jammed with newspapermen and hundreds of photographers from all over the nation, and these veterans agreed with me that this city never has witnessed the excitement stirred by these youngsters from Liverpool who call themselves The Beatles. Now tonight, you're gonna twice be entertained by them. Right now, and again in the second half of our show.
         "Ladies and gentlemen, The Beatles! Let's bring them on."
         But you couldn't really here the "let's bring them on" part for the screaming of the girls in the audience.
          And there they were, with their mop tops -- that hair was SO long for those days -- and their mod suits, and their slightly goofy behavior. And, man, so many adults were just outraged.
           We loved it. We loved them. They were funny, with flippant wisecracks. Who knew how great their talent would prove to be, how much they would change, how serious they were about their music, how John and Paul would prove to be among the world's greatest songwriters.
            It is no accident that the first song they played, All My Loving, was maybe my favorite Beatles song forever.  Plus, I also loved the second one, Till There Was You, which Paul had explained in a Royal Variety Performance in Britain the year before was from The Music Man and "recorded by our favorite American group, Sophie Tucker."
           I could go on and on about that first Sullivan show and their appearances the next two weeks. But if you want more, here's a link:
           I know this: That Monday, The Beatles is about all anyone wanted to talk about at school.  
           For those seven years or so, we relished almost every new song/album they released. The silly A Hard Day's Night and Help! movies were classics, at least to us.
          Actually, I never saw A Hard Day's Night until many years later; I think the reviews were bad and I wasn't that interested. But Help! came out during our years at Louisiana Tech and Ken Liberto -- my great friend and perhaps a bigger Beatles fan than me -- said we should go see it in the theater in Ruston. So we did.
           Ken liked it so much, we went to see it again the next week. He had -- as I've written before -- his own lyrics to some of the songs.
            At home, we must've had seven Beatles albums -- my sister Elsa also loved them -- and the first one was Meet The Beatles (their second album released in the U.S.). But it got scratched up, and there's a story there.
            In high school, I didn't attend dances or plays or many school functions (other than athletics). But for a program at school one night, the cheerleaders needed a Beatles album. For some reason -- I think it was because a cheerleader was the girlfriend of one of our star athletes, Trey Prather, they asked if they could borrow my Meet The Beatles album.
            I must've told Trey about the album and he told Barbara, and so that's how Barbara and another cheerleader came to my house.
            But when they brought the record back the next day, a portion of it was badly scratched ... right on the song All My Loving. I never did tell them about that. So someone let Barbara know she owes me an intact Meet The Beatles album.
            In 50 years, this has never changed: Every time I've seen Paul or Ringo on television, or the clips with John and George -- both of them gone too soon; John gone way too soon -- I've stopped and watched. And I still get a thrill watching them perform or listening to them.
            About John's murder -- Dec. 8, 1980. We were living in Hawaii; I was working at The Honolulu Advertiser. After Lennon's death was announced and it became known that the shooter, Mark David Chapman, had been a Hawaii resident for the past couple of years, the newspaper staff went to work.
              By the next day, they practically had his life story and dozens of angles/stories from people who had known Chapman there. It was as fine a job of journalism as any publication I was associated with in my 40-plus years of newspapering.
               One of Paul's many tour stops in the past couple of decades was at American Airlines Center in Dallas a few years ago. We didn't make that one -- too many people, too high a price -- but we did attend one of the dozen Ringo All-Starr Band tour stops in Grand Prairie in 2006, tickets obtained through a KERA (public television) donation.
              Ringo was not only fabulous, but extremely generous with his touring partners.
               I first heard about this Sunday's show during the Grammys a couple of weeks ago when Paul and Ringo not only had front-row seats, but also performed individually and then -- great thrill again -- together near the end of the show.
               I was thinking during those Grammys of the kids of today ... did they know these guys? Do they really know how big The Beatles were? Do they know they are legends?
               I mean, I had never heard of Bruno Mars before that night and, damn, what about those guys wearing the space suits? Do you suppose that was really Mick Jagger and Keith Richards wearing those helmets?           
              Daft Punk? C'mon. (I had to look up the name, OK. I really wasn't paying that much attention once Paul and Ringo left the stage.)
               But I can tell you one kid -- well, she's not exactly a kid anymore -- who fell in love with The Beatles. Our Rachel became a Beatles expert in the mid-1990s when she was a teenager ... after watching The Beatles Anthology, a six-part series.
              Rachel is an expert on John Lennon. She knows the songs, she knows the history. I know that In My Life is one of her favorite tunes.
              Guarantee you, Rachel knows more about The Beatles than a lot of people, certainly more than her mother and dad.
               But we were there at the beginning. We saw that first Sullivan show. We were watching on the night that changed America. And now, it will seem just like Yesterday, we can see it again ... and enjoy it just as much as ever.
              Yeah, yeah, yeah ... YEAH.


  1. From Kevin Liberto: Great read. Dad was quite the Beatles fan! When I first showed him what YouTube was, he sat there for hours watching Beatles videos, mixing in the occasional Ben Hogan lesson. He was still trying to find the "Hogan secret."

  2. From Pamela Fain: The Beatles are forever etched in our memories!

  3. From Sylvia Pesek: I remember that night, but I wasn't totally convinced until "Rubber Soul." THAT made me a believer.

  4. From Ken Sins: Visited Liverpool last year, did the ultimate Beatles pilgrimage. It's a trip I will never forget. ... The Beatles' fame was spread due to widespread exposure by AM radio. At the time, FM was in its infancy. In the Northeast, rock radio was WLS, WKBW, WABC, CKLW, and many others.

  5. From Tim Looney: I was (and still am) a bigger fan of The King. I didn't care for the mop tops or the mod suits. I later came to appreciate them, but E remained my favorite!

  6. From Michele "Shellye" Abington-Cooper: I agree with Tim. Paul is too critical of America for me to watch anything featuring him. I'll be watching "Downton Abbey" or re-runs of something else.

  7. From Kip Coons: Great post. The line that really hit home for me was how everyone was talking about it the next day in school. I was in the fourth grade in Connecticut, and even teachers were talking about it. The young ones showed interest, the older ones said it was a fad that wouldn't last. Guess they were right.

  8. From Jim Pruett: I heard on TV earlier that nearly 50 percent of America watched the Sullivan show that night. Amazing.
    Still, for the life of me, I can't figure out why anyone would want to shoot a singer/star.

  9. From Cynthia Aillet Murry: I will be watching it, too. I was a young mother when they first appeared, but I recognized their talent from the start. My children loved them, too, almost as much as I did.

  10. From Elsa Van Thyn: My favorite song of all time, "Here Comes the Sun." Spent hours freshman year at LSU, playing the album, Abbey Road backward to figure out if Paul was really dead. Adam (Wellen, her son) also became a major Beatles fan. They are one of the only musical groups that Jim and I both love. (He likes whinny women and men singers, hates Barry Manilow and Barbra Streisand). Some of my best memories of growing up were listening with you and Ken (Liberto) to the Beatles. I remember he would say if I combed my hair in my face, I looked like John. Looking back, not much of a compliment for a girl.

  11. From Sid Huff: I will record the Sunday Beatles show, of course. Another great memory from a time in my life that I'd trade with no one. My mother took me to see Elvis at the Municipal Auditorium in Shreveport when I was a little boy. I have no memory of this, but she and my grandmother both told me about it. We were back in the States for a while when The Beatles landed and I
    remember the songs on the radio. Was it KEEL/710 AM? Thanks for a great piece.

  12. From Andy Sharp: Nice read, Nico. Mark David Chapman, Lennon's murderer, was from Decatur, Georgia. I'd only been in Atlanta a week when it happened. It was not a good introduction to Georgia.

  13. From Glenn Theis: Love your blog. Fifty years ago, I missed them on TV because we were at church. Sunday night, I missed the first of it because I was at church. In between, I was a great fan. I still have all but one album -- The Beatles’ Story -- but all the songs on it are on other albums. I have a number of CDs of them as well. For a long time, I could tell you a particular song was, for example #3, side 2 of whatever album, but that time has long since passed.
    Last year, there was a “Beatles” group come to play at the Dixie Theater in Ruston. They were great. You would have known some of the fans such as Jackson Thigpen, Dean Dick, and Curtis Barham. My wife, Lori, is also a Beatles fan as is our 14-year-old daughter, Lauren. The three of us sung almost every song. Much of the audience did, too. They were so good, the audience clapped them back for an encore. We got to meet them after it was over.
    So far, I have been learning piano (self taught & not good) and I have memorized “And I Love Her” and “Yesterday.” It’s fun.
    Thanks for writing about them. I guess we just took it for granted that all of us back then loved the Beatles. And they deserved our love.

  14. From Tommy Canterbury: The Beatles!!!!!!! Loved them in the 11th grade on their landing and since. Got a 1965 Mustang and Beatles music and one of those Ruston girls, and heaven was in sight. Well, it seemed so.