Friday, 21 October 2016

The Night That Changed American Music: The Beatles On Ed Sullivan

We gathered round to hear the sound comin’ on the little screen
The grief had passed, the old men laughed, and all the girls screamed
’Cause four guys from England took us all by the hand
It was time to laugh, time to sing, time to join the band.

I Saw It on T.V. by John Fogerty

CBS called it 'the Night That Changed America' as 73 million Americans tuned in to watch the Beatles perform on The Ed Sullivan Show. Among those impacted were children and young adults who would go on to define music throughout the rest of the 60s, 70s and 80s. From working musicians like David Crosby, gleaning tips on 'how to hold an electric guitar' to five year old Richie Sambora receiving his life's calling.

Session ace Will Lee who wound up working four nights a week in the same studio the Beatles appeared in as part of his 'day job' on Late Night With Letterman thought
maybe music is gonna be my life from now on
For Rick Nielsen (Cheap Trick) and Robert Cray it was the most potent guitar advert possible
[It] was the beginning. That got me to learn how to play the guitar. 
The girls were screaming at The Beatles, as an 11/12 year old kid, by the time I got the guitar, I wanted that, too.
Worship songwriter Mark Altrogge says
It was electrifying - like watching fireworks for the first time - I'd never seen or heard anything like them.
Eagles guitarist Joe Walsh
I took one look and it was, ‘F**k school. I memorized every Beatles song and went to Shea Stadium and screamed right along with all those chicks

What Greg Kihn calls “the single most important moment in Rock history” had a visceral effect
When it ended the sudden void sucked the air out of my parent’s living room
Chrissie Hynde (The Pretenders) says
I remember exactly where I was sitting. It was amazing. It was like the axis shifted ... It was kind of like an alien invasion.
For Joe Perry (Aerosmith) the experience was
... akin to a national holiday … I wasn’t prepared by how powerful and totally mesmerizing they were to watch. It changed me completely. I knew something was different in the world that night. Next day at school, the Beatles were all anybody could talk about.
Nancy Wilson (Heart) 'heard the call' to become musician
The lightning bolt came out of the heavens and struck Ann and me the first time we saw the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show. … it was a huge event, like the lunar landing: that was the moment Ann and I heard the call to become rock musicians … we didn’t want to marry them … we wanted to be them.
As did 14 year old Billy Joel
the single biggest moment that I can remember being galvanized into wanting to be a musician for life ... all of a sudden there’s this band, and they played their own instruments and they wrote their own songs, they looked like working class kids and I said, ‘That’s what I want to do. I want to be like those guys.’ That one performance changed my life. Up to that moment I'd never considered playing rock as a career. 
And Richie Sambora (Bon Jovi)
One of my earliest memories was sitting cross-legged on the floor … and watching The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show. I was five years old and I remember thinking, 'Wow! That's what I want to do.' I always knew I wanted to be a rock star, and The Beatles set that in motion. 
They were the most incredible thing I ever saw. I couldn't put it into any kind of historical context at the time … but I knew, even at that young age … that I was witnessing something truly life-changing. And not just for me, but for everybody as well.
For Tom Petty it represented escape
The minute I saw The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show – and it's true of thousands of guys - there was the way out. There was the way to do it. You get your friends and you're a self-contained unit. And you make the music. … I really saw in The Beatles that here's something I could do.
Bruce Springsteen says
It shifted the lay of the land ... Rock 'n' roll came to my house where there seemed to be no way out … and opened up a whole world of possibilities.
And for 13 year old Steven Van Zandt (The E Street Band) it was a glimmer of hope
February 9th, 1964, it all began for me. Suddenly, maybe there's hope for my life. Because I didn't fit in anywhere. And I was starting to get concerned! I didn't know that I could actually try and make a living out of doing this, make a career out of it.

This was the main event of my life. It was certainly the major event for many others, whether or not they knew it at the time. For me, it was no less dramatic than aliens landing on the planet.

Steven also points to the instant effect it had
On the day before The Beatles played The Ed Sullivan Show, there wasn't a single rock and roll band in America. And February 10th, everyone had one.
Greg Kihn recalls
In a single weekend everything had changed. … Every kid in school went through the same metamorphosis. … Brylcreem lost a whole generation in a single hour. The direction of our lives shifted as radically as the direction of our hair. It was magic.
Tom Petty remembers
Within weeks, you could drive through literally any neighbourhood in Gainesville and you would hear the strains of garage bands playing ... I mean everywhere. And I'd say by a year from that time, Gainesville probably had 50 bands.
Gary Rossington (Lynyrd Skynyrd) simply states
Like everybody else in our generation [we] freaked out and wanted to start a rock ’n’ roll band.
Gene Simmons (Kiss) acknowledges the debt of many
There is no way I’d be doing what I do now if it wasn’t for the Beatles … It blew me away that these four boys [from] the middle of nowhere could make that music.


CBS News here and here
Greg Kihn 
Rock Cellar Magazine
Ultimate Classic Rock
Music Radar
Austin Chronicle 
Beatles Songwriting Academy 

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  1. I'm guessing Gene Simmons used to sit at the back of the class during Geography lessons.