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50 Years Ago Sunday, The Beatles Took America by Storm

(Courtesy: MGN Online / Sofa Entertainment and TJL Productions)

(Courtesy: MGN Online / Sofa Entertainment and TJL Productions)

SPRINGFIELD, Mass (WGGB) — Music history was made 50 years ago Sunday night, when The Beatles made their very first live appearance on American television.

Many of the people who were around that night, remember it like it was yesterday.

While not many people knew about those four young men from Liverpool before that night, that all changed within an hour and after five songs.

The Beatles arrived in this country February 7th, 1964 – their first trip to the United States and for many Americans, their first look at the Fab Four.

Thousands of teenagers and scores of media were waiting for them when they landed at the newly named Kennedy Airport in New York.

Two days later, Sunday night February 9th at 8 p.m., 73 million Americans, nearly 40 percent of the country, tuned to the Ed Sullivan Show to get their first live look at the Beatles.

Jim Knapp has been a radio personality in Western Mass. for decades. He was 11 years old back in 1964. Looking back, he says, “I remember watching it and I’m kind of embarrassed to say this, I didn’t like their hair. I remember telling Mom and Dad, Oh, I don’t like their long hair, but I like their music.”

It was a look and a sound never seen or heard before.

Ray Kelly is the arts and entertainment editor for The Republican. He’s also a longtime Beatles Fan.

“The sound at the time pre-Beatles, you look at the charts. You had Frankie Avalon, Bobby Rydell, you had a lot of male solo singers. It was a group sound. You also had an act that was writing its own material. But a lot of the pop acts of that time were manufactured acts with songwriters producing it and a system turning out the hits”, says Kelly.

By the time the Beatles appeared on the Sullivan show, they had their first number one hit in America, ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’.

Kelly feels a big part of their appeal was the fact that the Beatles were fun and easy to like. They also wrote and performed their own music. He adds, “I mean, these were working class guys from Liverpool, the north of England, that just knew how to appeal to people, how to connect to an audience.”

There’s no argument that the Beatles appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, February 9th, 1964, really changed the face of music. But it also came at a critical time for Americans. We were less than 3 month from the assassination of John F Kennedy. It really changed the mood of the country.

Kelly says, “I think that people wanted to feel good. It was 80 days of mourning, it was a youthful President, a young family, two small children a tragic death. Definitely, the Beatles fit the bill for what America was looking for at that time.”

Jim Knapp agrees and says, “They were charming, they were funny, witty, every one of them was a comic. The girl loved them, but even the teenaged boys loved them. And a lot of parents liked them. My parents were a little older generation, but most parents liked them too.”

The Beatles broke up and went their separate ways in 1970.

John Lennon was shot and killed in New York in December 1980. George Harrison died of lung cancer 21 years later.

But Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, both now in their seventies, continue to perform around the world to huge crowds.

The music of the Beatles is as popular now, as it was 50 years ago.

Knapp says, “McCartney and Ringo both say you see all different ages in their audience. Their kids will bring their parents because they were there and the kids like it and even their kids. It’s good music. A lot of it is happy. And as John and Paul said we were pleased with what we left behind. Most of our songs were about love, and well, all you need is love.”

Beatlemania was born that Sunday night 50 years ago. And it’s as strong now as it has ever been.

Forbes Magazine estimates The Beatles earned a combined $71 million in 2013 from individual earnings, cash from ongoing album sales and other forms of revenue. And since the sixties, The Beatles have sold more than two-billion albums around the world.

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