By Jon Gallagher
I recently wrote about remembering the Kennedy assassination that took place 50 years ago. It bothered me a little bit that I could actually remember something that happened 50 years ago. But I understand something that had such an impact on history could do just that. It stood out because of its significance. Most of those who were involved with that day are now gone themselves.
That’s why this next memory goes even further to make me want to break out the Bengay and WD-40.
February 9, 1964; exactly 50 years ago today. It was a Sunday. I was sicker than a dog. I was so sick that I missed Sunday school for the first, and probably only time, during my childhood. My older brother came home with some news he thought I might be interested in hearing. Since he was 13 years older than me, he heard stuff that I didn’t have a clue about.
“Be sure and watch The Ed Sullivan Show tonight,” he told me. “He’s going to have a band from England on.”
By the time Sullivan made it to the airwaves, I was feeling much better. I remember gathering around the dilapidated old black and white set that we had (the show was broadcast in black and white so having a color set wouldn’t have mattered one bit) with my mom, dad, sister and I believe my brother dropped by as well.
What I remember is quite different from what actually happened. Or maybe what happened was so much different than what had ever happened before that we weren’t used to it yet. Thanks to YouTube, I’ve seen footage of that broadcast and thank goodness for being able to see it again.
What I remember is that they were introduced and we saw these four guys, jumping around the stage, shaking their heads, and gyrating, their long hair flying all over the place as they screamed into mics over the din of teenage girls who were screaming their lungs out. I remember my dad walking out of the room shaking his head. I remember the Beatles singing something about “Yeah, yeah, yeah.”
In reality, Sullivan introduced the Beatles, the teeny-boppers screamed, and the Beatles did a song called “All My Loving,” a song that was pretty tame, even by the standards we’d seen early in the rock era. The four mop tops didn’t have hair that was long and wild; it was simply combed down over their foreheads rather than having it plastered down with “greasy kid stuff.” Their earlobes, in fact most of their ears, were showing. They wore matching suits and ties, had two guitars, a bass, and a drum kit, and they all smiled while they sang.
And they turned the country on its ear.
The second song they did was “She Loves You,” the song that did have the “Yeah, yeah, yeah” in it. Watching it today, I find the vocal harmonies amazing, something neither of my parents seemed to notice 50 years ago.
The next day at school, the Beatles were the only thing anybody wanted to talk about. Little boys, like me, might have been sent to school with their hair combed back, but it got combed down as soon as I hit a restroom. Suddenly, you couldn’t go anywhere without seeing young boys copying one of the four.
Someone made a boatload of cash on their marketing too. I had forgotten how much went into all the Beatle memorabilia that came out at the time until I started doing some research. I remember having a lunchbox with John, Paul, George and Ringo on it. Here were pencils and notebooks, dolls, plastic guitars and plastic drumsticks. Four or five record labels had demo tapes that the Beatles had sent to then and every one of them were producing 45s as fast as their factories would press them because fans, both male and female, were buying them faster than the record stores (anyone remember them?) could put them out.
In my life since, I’ve tried to always appreciate the music my two older daughters enjoyed. I even took them to an 'N Sync concert once, and found that I probably enjoyed it as much, if not more, than they did! It would be years before my dad finally came around to appreciating their music (I caught him humming “Let It Be” once not knowing it was a Beatles’ song). That night, 50 years ago on The Ed Sullivan Show, was the defining point in the generation gap for me.