The start of Beatlemania in America is often thought of as their historic performance on The Ed Sullivan Show on February 9th, 1964…but that’s not right. How is it that we already knew all of the songs The Beatles played that night (and for the next two Sundays)?
Americans first started to become aware of The Beatles at the very end of 1963. It was December 26th when “I Want To Hold Your Hand” was officially released by Capitol Records. Just slightly before that some radio stations were already playing the song by getting copies of the single from England. The single had been released a month earlier there, with “This Boy” as the flip side. The Capitol single had the uptempo “I Saw Her Standing There” as the flip side.
Radio Stations took the unusual step of playing both sides heavily. I remember going to a multi-school teen dance at that time, and the band had done a good job of learning the two songs. The crowd reaction was so strong the group had to play the songs multiple times that night.
The real start of Beatlemania in America wasn’t on television, it was on radio. It was in January of 1964 when all the songs The Beatles had recorded the previous year began airing on nearly every radio station. Besides “I Want To Hold Your Hand” and “I Saw Her Standing There”, songs played included “She Loves You”, “Please Please Me”, and “From Me To You”. Two albums, Meet The Beatles and Introducing The Beatles, were both released in January, and some radio stations dug into those too, playing songs like “All My Loving” and “Twist And Shout” (which later became a single).
This was historic. No other act had ever had so many songs dominate radio airplay. By the time The Beatles’ airplane touched down in New York City, Beatlemania was already raging. That’s the reason 73-million viewers tuned-in to Ed Sullivan that night. That was 52-million more than his regular audience.
And what a night that was! The Beatles started with “All My Loving”, then played “Till There Was You” (mostly because it was a song the parents would know), and they ended the first set with “She Loves You”. Above is the dramatic “arrows” set design for that first Beatles performance. Ed Sullivan cleverly kept us all watching by having The Beatles play again near the end of the show.
The Beatles returned with the excitement of “I Saw Her Standing There” and “I Want To Hold Your Hand”. Set designer Bill Bohnert did a great job…with Ringo up on that stand, the use of a dramatic visual background, and using subdued colors (though we saw it in black and white at the time). It was even used for the cover of the album Something New. Here are a couple more photos taken at that time.
They performed again the next Sunday, February 16th, on The Ed Sullivan Show, but this time the show was on location in Miami. The songs for that second appearance were “She Loves You”, “This Boy”, “All My Loving”, “I Saw Her Standing There”, “From Me To You”, and “I Want To Hold Your Hand”. Here are The Beatles on the set in Miami:
The third Ed Sullivan appearance by The Beatles aired on February 23rd, but it had actually been pre-recorded just prior to the group’s first appearance on the show. Here’s a photo from the taping:
There were only three songs played during that third appearance, “Twist And Shout”, “Please Please Me”, and “I Want To Hold Your Hand”.
The Beatles returned in August of 1965, for their final live appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. They performed “I Feel Fine”, “I’m Down” and “Act Naturally”, then came back later for “Ticket To Ride”, “Yesterday”, and “Help”.
Beatlemania took over the United States in January of 1964. That’s when we heard all the songs on the radio, studied their album covers, saw news reports on television, and read articles in magazines. By February, the young people of America were more than ready for The Beatles to arrive.
After all that exposure at the beginning of 1964, it was up to The Beatles to release music that kept fans interested…mission accomplished.
Just for fun: Hallmark thought enough of how The Beatles looked on the Ed Sullivan Show to put out this 1994 30th Anniversary Christmas ornament set. Yeah, they had trouble getting the faces right, but from a little distance it captures the group’s look. I couldn’t pass it up.