It was 50 years ago today.
Long before Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play, back when the idea of a rock band driving any fans into any sort of mania seemed ridiculous, The Beatles turned America upside down on Feb. 9, 1964, when they made their first appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
“That night changed everything,” says Billy Joel, one of countless musicians who was inspired to join a band after seeing The Beatles that night. “I saw them and said, ‘I want to do that.’”
Some argue that Beatlemania began that night — as the Fab Four performed “All My Loving,” “Till There Was You” and “She Loves You” over the sound of screaming girls. Some argue that it actually started days earlier, when the band first touched down on American soil at the recently renamed John F. Kennedy Airport, as the news media covered the wild reaction of fans, which, in turn, led 73 million Americans to tune in to the Sullivan show.
What’s important at this point, though, isn’t when Beatlemania started, but the fact that it hasn’t ended.
“The point is that they’re still here,” says Penelope Rowlands, author of “The Beatles Are Here!,” which collects the remembrances of the band’s American arrival from nearly every angle — from fans, including Rowlands herself as well as Joel, to those who were there, including DJ “Cousin Brucie” Morrow and reporter Gay Talese. “The story of The Beatles isn’t just the moment they came. It’s that they’ve endured. I don’t think there’s a cultural equivalent to them.”
Of course, there are plenty of ways The Beatles are unparalleled. The band has sold 106 million albums in America alone, the most of any artist in the 20th century. It holds the record for the most No. 1 singles on the Billboard charts with 20 and the most No. 1 albums with 19.