Paul McCartney, right, shows his guitar to Ed Sullivan before the Beatles' live appearance on 'The Ed Sullivan Show' on Feb. 9, 1964. That appearance put Beatlemania into high gear in Detroit and the rest of America and started an invasion of British bands. (AP)
Fifty years ago, America was just two months away from the sadness of President Kennedy’s assassination when a tuneful distraction swept into view.
The Beatles appeared on the “Ed Sullivan Show” on Feb. 9, 1964, kicking Beatlemania into gear Stateside with a rhythmic rock and roll that put an irreverent, Liverpudlian spin on a very American musical form.
The Beatles first achieved stardom in Britain in 1963, but because their American label, Capitol Records, initially passed on releasing their music, their popularity here lagged behind. Their first singles trickled out on the independent labels Vee-Jay and Swan in late 1963 and early 1964, sinking without much of an impact until the Beatles’ appearance on Ed Sullivan electrified the country’s young and had them clamoring for records.
The Sullivan show wasn’t the group’s first appearance on American TV. Brief news clips ran on each of the three networks late in 1963. And on Jan. 3, 1964, Jack Paar played a newsy clip of the Beatles on his new weekly show.
The Sullivan show was their first live appearance, giving some 73 million viewers a glimpse of their energy and enthusiasm. Beatlemania swept through Detroit before the final curtain fell.
Photographer Tom Weschler, whose book “Travelin’ Man” documented his years on the road with Bob Seger, dates the start of his professional career to 8 p.m. Feb. 9, 1964. The 15-year-old decided to set up his Brownie Super 27 in front of the TV set, to capture the Beatles’ appearance. He developed the film in the bathroom and made prints.
The next morning he sat next to a cute senior girl on the bus, who wasn’t happy to be sitting next to a little sophomore. That is, until he showed her his 30 prints of the Beatles on the “Ed Sullivan Show.” She asked if she could borrow the binder and return it later. In the lunchroom, she slid a pile of money across the table, along with a list of images to print. “That became my very first commercial photo gig,” Weschler relates. “I figured: Girls, music, photography and some money would be a good career. ... I’ve never looked back.”
At the Quatro household in Grosse Pointe, the impact of the Beatles in 1964 led to the formation of the all-girl Pleasure Seekers, and eventually Suzi Quatro’s solo career.
“It was huge!” says Suzi Quatro, 13 at the time. “We were watching the ‘Ed Sullivan Show,’ and at the end on came the Beatles. Directly after, we got on the phone to Nan and Marylou Ball, screaming, excited, blah blah blah,” Suzi said. “Then (sister) Patti (Quatro) said, ‘Hey guys, why don’t we form an all-girl band!’ Nan said, ‘I’ll play drums.’ Marylou chimed in, ‘I’ll play rhythm guitar.’ Patti said, ‘I’ll play lead, and Diane Baker can play piano.’ ‘Hello, what about me?’ ‘You are playing bass.’ Voila. My first all-girl band began.”
Sister Patti Quatro Ericson remembers the seed being planted that night in February ’64, but she said the reality of forming the Pleasure Seekers came after seeing the Fab Four onstage at Olympia Stadium on Sept. 6, 1964.
“I went to the concert with my friends and sat there, in awe of the ambiance, just stunned,” Patti said . “It was my epiphany moment. I watched everyone, including my friends, crying and screaming, and I just watched and sat there. I went home, called my friends — I knew that was what we needed to do. That moment gave me my calling and impetus to start a band.”
For Mike Skill of the Romantics, the Sullivan appearance was important almost more because of what it led to, as for the Beatles themselves. “About a year later I had a guitar,” Skill said. “However, the thing about it was, next came the Rolling Stones, the Dave Clark 5, the Animals, the Kinks — that’s when it kicked in. The (British) invasion did it.”
Detroit musician Lynn Bruce, drummer for Johnny and the Hurricanes, was in Miami, playing at the Peppermint Lounge South for the winter, backing up Gary “U.S.” Bonds. “I watched it with the owner (of the Peppermint Lounge) on his office TV,” said Bruce. “Since we were all into soul music, we weren’t impressed much with their white-bread sound. Man, were we wrong!”
She was there
Who were those lucky kids screaming in the audience at CBS’ Studio 50 on Broadway on Feb. 9, 1964, at the first live sight of John, Paul, George and Ringo?
Sue Rorer was there. Now 63, she was a 13-year-old Beatles fan living in Ambler, Pa., when an uncle who worked in U.S. Customs at Idlewild Airport (now JFK) pulled some strings and got her tickets to the show as a birthday present. An older cousin took her on the train up to New York from Philadelphia.
“I was in awe, just being in New York for the first time,” Rorer said. “We got there, and everybody was just going nuts. They were very careful about who got into the audience, security was very tight. You had to show your tickets and vouchers. They made sure you really belonged there. When the Beatles came onstage, it was beautiful. Everybody went crazy.”
She remembers the Beatles greeting the audience and talking about how glad they were to be in the U.S. “They seemed calm, as if they were enjoying themselves,” Rorer recalled.
“I was amazed at how great they sounded, how they could overcome the screams,” she added.
After “All My Loving,” Paul sang lead on “Til There Was You.” They also performed “She Loves You,” “I Saw Her Standing There” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”
If the Beatles were calm, maybe it’s because they didn’t realize how many millions of viewers were tuning in.
Ringo Starr told Rolling Stone in a pre-Grammys interview last week that they knew that the Sullivan show was a big deal, but, not that 70 million people would be watching. Still, just being in America had the Fab Four jazzed. “All the music we loved was in America; it came from America to England,” Starr said.
Motown and the Beatles
The Beatles had a special love for Motown, but they also had a canny manager in Brian Epstein. In his memoir “To Be Loved,” Berry Gordy Jr. describes getting a call in 1964 from Epstein. The Beatles wanted to record three Motown songs for their upcoming album: Barrett Strong’s 1960 hit “Money (That’s What I Want),” Smokey Robinson and the Miracles’ “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me,” and the Marvelettes’ 1963 smash “Please, Mr. Postman.”
Epstein wanted a discount on the publishing royalty — instead of two cents per song, he wanted to pay a cent and a half. Gordy said sorry, no. Epstein’s office replied that he had until noon to decide. It was 11:30 a.m.
Gordy consulted with his brain trust. The stakes were high; it could put a lot of money in Motown’s bank account.
At two minutes before noon, Gordy lost his nerve, called London and agreed to Epstein’s terms. Shortly afterward, a Detroit Capitol representative told him the “Beatles Second Album,” with the Motown songs on it, was in the warehouse. “I’d probably make that same decision today,” Gordy wrote. “A part of something is always better than all of nothing.”
The 'Brown Beatles'
Like most Motown acts, the Spinners had a lively stage act that kept them going in the dry periods between hit records. One of their favorite schticks was the “Brown Beatles,” for which they donned wigs, shook their heads and sang “I Saw Her Standing There” while strumming guitars. It went over well enough that disc jockey/entrepreneur Murray the K had them do it at one of his New York revues.
McCartney's muse, payback
Paul McCartney has never stopped talking about Motown bassist James Jamerson, although he always points out that when he and the other Beatles didn’t know Jamerson’s name, they would referto him as “that Motown bass guy.”
In the summer of 2011, McCartney, his then-girlfriend (now wife) Nancy Shevell and his band were given a private tour of the Motown Historical Museum just before his soundcheck. Clad in a Hawaiian-style shirt, jeans and athletic shoes, the former Beatle inspected every room. In Studio A, he couldn’t help breaking one museum rule: He tried to play a few chores on the piano. To his dismay, it didn’t work.
That visit to Motown and the broken piano obviously lingered in McCartney’s mind. In 2012, he arranged to have the piano restored in New York. After a triumphant concert at Steinway Hall in New York, the vintage instrument was returned to the museum in April 2013.
‘Late Night with David Letterman’: Week-long salute to the Beatles
CBS (Channel 62 in Detroit)
A Paul McCartney-Ringo Starr performance is rumored.
‘The Night That Changed America: A Grammy Salute to the Beatles’
The show will air at 8 p.m. Feb. 9 on CBS, exactly the same time and on the same network as the Beatles’ debut on Ed Sullivan 50 years ago. It will feature Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, the Eurythmics, Jeff Lynne, Dhani Harrison, John Legend, Alicia Keys, and Maroon 5. Music director: Detroit’s Don Was.