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The Story Behind The Beatles on Ed Sullivan
Page 2  (Previous Page)

For nearly a month after booking The Beatles, Sullivan probably gave little if any, additional thought to the British act. But that changed on Dec. 10, 1963, when he saw a four-minute story on the "CBS Evening News With Walter Cronkite". Shortly after the program ended, Sullivan called Cronkite to ask him what he knew about "those bugs, or whatever they call themselves." His inability to remember the group's name was typical Sullivan. "Those bugs" were still virtually unknown in America, but Sullivan sensed that was about to change. After all, if Cronkite deemed The Beatles newsworthy, America would soon catch on. Three days later, CBS issued a press release announcing that "The Beatles, wildly popular quartet of English recording stars, will make their first trip to the United States Feb. 7 for their American television debut on 'The Ed Sullivan Show,' Sunday, Feb. 9 and 16."

This announcement encouraged Sid Bernstein to contact Epstein in hopes of booking The Beatles for concerts at New York's prestigious Carnegie Hall. Although some accounts stat that Bernstein called Brian several months before Sullivan booked The Beatles, this is not correct. In a 1964 interview, Bernstein stated, "I kept reading about The Beatles [in the British papers] and then when Sullivan had signed them I got Epstein's number and called him up."

In addition to prompting CBS to begin promotion of The Beatles' upcoming appearance on the Sullivan show, Cronkite's decision to broadcast The Beatles story on Dec. 10 set forth a domino effect causing Beatlemania to explode in America nearly three weeks ahead of schedule. That evening, 15-year-old Marsha Albert of Silver Spring, MD, viewed The Beatles performing "She Loves You" on the CBS news and like what she saw and heard. Marsh wrote a letter to her favorite radio station, WWDC, referring to The Beatles' appearance on the news and asking, "Why can't we have this music in America?" DJ Carroll James, who also had seen The Beatles on the news, arranged to have a copy of the group's latest British single, "I Want to Hold Your Hand", delivered to him by the BOAC airline.

On Dec. 17, 1963, exactly one week after the CBS broadcast, James had Marsha Albert come down to the station to introduce the song on his radio show. After the song ended, James requested that listeners write in to let him know what they thought of The Beatles. Bust most couldn't wait and began calling the station immediately. According to James, the station's switchboard lit up like a Christmas tree with eager listeners phoning in to praise the song. "I Want to Hold Your Hand" was immediately added to WWDC's playlist and placed in heavy rotation.

It didn't take long for Capitol to learn that a Washington station had jumped the gun by playing "I Want to Hold Your Hand" four weeks prior to its scheduled release date of Jan. 13, 1964. Capitol telephoned WWDC and requested that the single be pulled off the air, but the station refused. Capitol then hired New York entertainment attorney Walter Hofer, who represented Epstein, The Beatles and the song's publisher, to contact the station and demand that WWDC "cease and desist" playing the song. According to Hofer, James told him, "Look, you can't stop me from playing it. The record is a hit. It's a major thing."

Realizing that they could not stop WWDC from playing the record and believing that this was an isolated incident that would not spread elsewhere, Capitol decided to press a few thousand copies of "I Want to Hold Your Hand" to send to the Washington area.

This strategy might have worked had James opted to keep his exclusive; however, he apparently sent a tape of the song to a disc jockey buddy of his in Chicago, who then played it on his show. Listeners in the Windy City also reacted favorably towards the song. When a St. Louis disc jockey played a tape of The Beatles' new song, his station was hit with tons of requests for it.

With Christmas less than a week away, stations in three major markets were playing "I Want to Hold Your Hand". In addition, tapes of the song were circulating among the nation's disc jockeys. Capitol quickly came to the realization that the genie was already out of the bottle. The company also remembered that radio airplay was essential for sales. Capitol's job was to get stations to play The Beatles. It made no sense to try to halt airplay just because the record's scheduled release was weeks away.

Although record companies traditionally did not issue any new product during the holiday season, Capitol was beginning to realize that there was nothing traditional about The Beatles. The company pushed up the single's release date to Dec. 26, 1963. Capitol also realized that its initial factory requisite of 200,000 units would be insufficient to meet demand. Word went out to its factories in Scranton and Los Angeles to step up production by having all pressing machines exclusively manufacture the Beatles 45. In addition, Capitol subcontracted with other companies, such as RCA and Decca, to press additional copies of the single.

Distribution of The Beatles record began the day after Christmas. New York's WMCA immediately played the song, with rivals WABC and WINS following shortly thereafter. Soon, all three stations placed the song in heavy rotation. The same patter was repeated throughout the nation. Boosted by saturation airplay at a time when American youngsters were out of school for the holidays, "I Want to Hold Your Hand" was an instant best seller with over 250,000 copes sold in its first three days of release. By Jan. 10, 1964, the record had sold over one million units.


Jack Paar
Although Sullivan was the first American TV host to book the Beatles, television personality Jack Paar pulled a coup by broadcasting a filmed performance of group on his NBC show over a month before their scheduled Sullivan show appearance on CBS. Paar had seen the group in London at the Royal Variety Show on Nov. 4. He purchased film from the BBC, including shots of screaming girls and The Beatles performing "She Loves You".

Epstein was furious with the BBC for selling the Beatles performance to a rival of Sullivan and worried that Sullivan would be angry. Epstein had promised Sullivan the first and exclusive American television appearances of The Beatles. Epstein threatened to cancel The Beatles' radio shows on the BBC if action was not taken. The BBC tried to rescind its licensing of the film, but Paar refused to budge. Sullivan was furious and phoned Prichard to cancel The Beatles. Fortunately, Prichard decided to wait a few days before calling Epstein. Sullivan cooled off when he realized what a hot ticket The Beatles were becoming and canceled his cancellation before Epstein ever knew.

Paar's motivation for showing The Beatles on his program was not to herald the coming of the next big thing, but rather to make light of the band's success in their homeland. He later admitted, "I didn't know they were going to change the culture of the country with music. I thought they were funny. I brought them here as a joke."

On Friday, Jan. 3, 1964, the announcer for "The Jack Paar Show" read the guest list for the evening's program, including "from London, a special film appearance of the sensational rock 'n' rollers, The Beatles." Paar began his program sitting alone on a wooden stool giving a monolog. After running through topics such as teenagers and driving, he abruptly shifted gears and talked about The Beatles. After assuring viewers he was only "interested in The Beatles as a psychological, sociological phenomenon," he showed film of girls going wild at a Beatles concert. As the film continued, Paar gave a running commentary, which was often interrupted by laughter from the studio audience. "I understand science is working on a cure for this. These guys have these crazy hairdos and when they wiggle their heads and the hair goes, the girls go out of their minds. Does it bother you to realize that in a few years these girls will vote, raise children and drive cars? I just show you this in case you're going to England and want to have a fun evening. Now here are The Beatles."

Paar remained silent during the filmed performance of "She Loves You", which ended with shots of screaming girls. After his studio audience politely applauded, Paar dead-panned, "It's nice to know that England has finally risen to our cultural level." After laughs from the studio audience, Paar informed his viewers that "Ed Sullivan's going to have The Beatles on live in February." Apparently feeling the need to justify his broadcast of The Beatles to his sophisticated followers, Paar explained that "our interest was just showing a more adult audience that usually follows my work what's going on in England."

Much to the surprise of Paar and nearly everyone else, what was going on in England would soon be happening in America. "I Want to Hold Your Hand" raced up the charts and was soon No. 1 in Billboard, Cash Box and Record World. Vee-jay and Swan, two independent record companies that had previously issued Beatles songs in America that were initially ignored, re-released their records in hopes of cashing in on The Beatles' phenomenal success. Swan's "She Loves You" and Vee-jay's "Please Please Me" quickly followed the Capitol single to the upper reaches of the charts. Capitol's "Meet the Beatles!" and Vee-jay's "Introducing The Beatles" would soon hold down the top two spots on the album charts. With three hit singles and two albums to program from, radio stations were saturating the airwaves with Beatles music.

By February 1964, The Beatles had become part of the American consciousness. To ensure that the group's arrival in the States would not go unnoticed, Capitol Records provided details of the group's itinerary to New York's radio stations, who encouraged their young listeners to greet The Beatles at Kennedy Airport even though it was a school day. On Friday, Fed. 7, more that 3,000 teenagers stood four deep on the airport's upper arcade to greet The Beatles as they stepped off Pan American Airways Flight 101 shortly after 1:20 p.m. The crowd was even larger and more vocal than the crowd Sullivan had witnessed at London Airport 15 weeks earlier.

Shortly before 7 that evening, The Beatles watched themselves on the "CBS Evening News With Walter Cronkite" while relaxing in their Plaza Hotel suite. As they exited the plane, Cronkite stated that, "The British invasion this time goes by the code name Beatlemania. D-Day has been common knowledge for months, and this was the day." The group was then shown at their airport press conference as Cronkite continued, "The invasion took place at New York's Kennedy International Airport." After a few sound bites from The Beatles, Cronkite gave his traditional sign off, "And that's the way it is, Friday, February 7, 1964." And that's the way it was. Forty-nine hours later, 73 million Americans would gather around television sets to see The Beatles on "The Ed Sullivan Show." And America would never be the same.

Bruce Spizer is author of the critically acclaimed books, The Beatles Records on Vee-Jay, TheBeatles' Story on Capitol Records parts 1 & 2, The Beatles on Apple Records, The Beatles Solo on Apple Records, and The Beatles Are Coming! The Birth of Beatlemania in America, and served as an official consultant to Capitol Records on The Capitol Albums Volumes 1 and 2.

This article is Copyright © 2006, Bruce Spizer, and may not be reproduced on other web sites or in print, in whole or in part, without expressed permission.

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