Sullivan and the Beatles Changed America — Surprise?!


by Steve Pauwels

Image via Sergey Goryachev /

I confess to being a tad surprised how much I enjoyed CBS’ recent, 2-1/2 hour retrospective: The Night that Changed America/The Beatles: A Grammy Salute. The tribute to the super-group’s February 9, 1964 maiden appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show was broadcast twice last week — and I was among its audience. Having grown up a non-apologetic “Elvis guy” — yes, I admit the whole “Elvis vs. the Beatles” squabble is a silly one — I didn’t really arrive at musical appreciation of the Fab Four until my younger brother became a vocal fan sometime after I left home. The more he exposed me to the stand-out range and quality of their work, the more I had to concede: whatever else you want to conclude about the lads from Liverpool, they knew there way around a hummable tune (or two or three or…).

As with any prolific act, John, Paul, George and Ringo had their share of underwhelming numbers: the vulgar and lazy “Why Don’t We Do It In the Road”, notorious but simply awful “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”, and musically dispensable “Back in the USSR” come to mind. And I deplore their eventual and unfortunate dalliance with the Maharishi and glamorization of illicit drug use — but there’s clearly no denying their explosive American debut constituted a watershed moment for modern music; and for Western pop culture across the board.

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