NEW YORK (AP) – It was black and white, and watched all over.

In the days when hardly anyone had color television, on Feb. 9, 1964, the Beatles appeared live in the living rooms of 78 million Americans – four out of every 10 – on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”

The Sunday night shindig incited a massive pop culture upheaval.

“People put seeing the Beatles on “Ed Sullivan’ with memories of where they were when Kennedy was shot, or when man first walked on the moon,” said Bruce Spizer, author of “The Beatles Are Coming.” “It was the first time Americans got to see the Beatles perform live. For that reason, this is the image embedded in our minds.”

Those iconic snapshots of John, Paul, Ringo and George remain familiar today: The black suits and moptop hairstyles; McCartney and Harrison sharing vocals and a microphone; their still, almost formal bow forward after they played.

The Beatles’ five-song performance was nothing less than a life-changing experience for many, said Little Steven Van Zandt, Bruce Springsteen’s longtime sidekick and disc jockey extraordinaire.

“This was the main event of my life,” recalled Van Zandt, whose Sunday night syndicated radio show will feature mostly Beatles songs this week. “It was certainly the major event for many others, whether or not they knew it at the time.

“For me, it was no less dramatic than aliens landing on the planet.”

The Beatles had only beamed down from Liverpool, and they landed on a Pan Am flight at Kennedy International Airport. But their arrival in New York, capped by the Sullivan appearance, was beyond most anything that preceded it – bigger than Sinatra, like Elvis to the fourth power.

The Sullivan show received 50,000 requests for tickets, while its Broadway theater (now the home of “Late Show With David Letterman”) held just 728 people. Beatlemania was in full roar, thanks mostly to screaming girls.

By the second weekend of February, “I Want to Hold Your Hand” – three weeks after its release – was No. 1 on the U.S. charts. The entire country was waiting for a glimpse of the band.

In an America without cable television or pay-per-view or niche audiences, there was just one place to see them: the Sullivan show on CBS.

“There’s no equivalent of that today, TV shows that literally everybody watched,” said Van Zandt, who was 13 at the time. “All ages, all ethnic groups, all in black and white on a 14-inch screen.”

At 8 p.m., Sullivan opened the show with these words: “Ladies and gentlemen, the Beatles. Let’s bring them on.” His voice disappeared amid the screams, and the Beatles began.

They opened with “All My Loving,” then launched into “Till There Was You” – a ballad from the Broadway show “The Music Man.” Next was “She Loves You.”

Once the Beatles exited, the show’s hip-o-meter nose-dived. Impressionist Frank Gorshin did a bit and Tessie O’Shea played the banjo, followed by comedians McCall & Brill.

And then the Beatles returned. They closed the show with their chart-topping single and its B-side, “I Saw Her Standing There.”

The British lads charmed the typically taciturn Sullivan, who put on a Beatles wig and posed for publicity shots.

By the morning of Feb. 10, it was clear the televised performance had produced a cultural cataclysm. The Beatles were already stars in Europe, and regulars on U.S. radio, but this was entirely different.

The Beatles would do four more Sullivan gigs, none more important than the first. Six years later, the band was history.

But 40 years later, with Beatlemania now middle-aged, the impact of that first Sunday night with the Beatles still resonates.


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