50 Years On: The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show


Even though I was only five years old, I remember it like it was yesterday.

It was a Sunday night, 7:00pm and I was sitting on the floor of our living room, about 3 feet away from the TV. The images flickering in black-and-white were captivating as always. Our end-of-week ritual was about to commence.

My dad was sitting on the couch holding my little sister (who was two) and my grandpa was sitting in the easy-chair. The dishes were in the sink and Mom was getting ready to sit down next to Dad. The Ed Sullivan Show (or as Pappou called him, “John Sullivan”) was coming on. It would have been un-American to do anything else Sunday night.

Renee and I liked Topogigio, the little mouse-puppet that Ed would talk to. My mom liked Sergio Fracchi. Grandpa loved the animal acts. What was there not to like? Liberace, Phyllis Diller, Dean Martin, even Tiny Tim. it was always a top-notch production and Ed’s nose for talent was unfailing. There hasn’t been anything like it since.

This particular night was different though. We could feel it. Ordinarily, the host would introduce somebody with a sentence or two. That night, all he said was: “Ladies and Gentlemen: THE BEATLES!” and all hell broke loose. The hysteria was shocking. Nobody had ever seen anything like it. I certainly didn’t understand what was going on but it was exciting nonetheless.

Everybody in our humble living room felt it. When these four, skinny lads shook their long(!) hair and shouted “she loves you” my normally cheerful, happy-go-lucky Pappou became apoplectic. It was as though the Avenging Angel had broken one of the Seven Seals and the Apocalypse was nigh. “Keratades! Sonovabitchides!” he screamed at the TV.

I looked over at my mother and saw the glint of a smile. “Hush Daddy!” she pleaded. My dad’s feelings gravitated somewhat closer to my grandpa’s but he wasn’t nearly as vocal. I heard him mutter “poustidhes!” but I didn’t know what that meant. Still, the music was catching.

Words failed then to describe the subsequent hysteria. I could feel my heart beating out of my chest. Words continue to fail me presently. All I can say is that on that Sunday, the 9th of February, the world changed forever.

Fathers and sons fifty years later. . .



  1. Trudge at SmartVote says

    The Beatles are also significant for me, coming into my consciousness only a few years later. There was certainly an element of beauty and creativity and even innocence in hindsight that does exist in the music business any longer.

    The crumbling remnants of Christianity in the British language and literature was a fountain of the Beatles’ creativity in some of their songs. Yet in a song such as “Eleanor Rigby” the crumbling of the vision of Christian virtue and vitality is also fully and hauntingly expressed.

    That said, in his reaction George’s grandfather was perceptive. My take is he could see the threat this new music and mass-passive entertainment posed to the unity of the family, with the advent of a separate youth culture, and to the Christian virtues.

    I just sent a note to my parents concerning the impact of the “Hippie” movement and the 1960’s on our understanding of the Scriptures. My parents are protestants who like many use the publication “Our Daily Bread” to direct their reading of the Scriptures, and my note to them was prompted by their cautioning me to not be angry about the retreat of Christian leaders from the moral sphere of life.

    Unfortunately, the “Hippie” movement of the 1960’s, the “free love” and “personal peace” thinking and its influence on the Christians of our time has had more impact on how we perceive the Christian virtues than we realize, and the Scriptures we choose to see and those we choose not to see, and our going out of the way to avoid conflict.

    I remember it well from my youth at our Baptist Church. I remember men dressed in drag at the Kiwanis “Follies.”

    I am familiar with Our Daily Bread. The problem with this publication is that it makes people passive and complacent – it selects the Scriptures in such a way that it promotes a kind of Christianity that is compatible with modern life and the post-Hippie mood. It produces docile, detached and self-satisfied people. It fragments and traps the meaning of the Scriptures in one’s own private reality according to the Daily Bread’s calendar and the limited personal vision of the commenter.

    Millions read Our Daily Bread for years and years. What sort of fruit has it produced? Has the moral climate of our country gotten better as people read this publication and other modern interpreters of the Scriptures rather than the Scriptures themselves, and preachers preach in the Our Daily Bread manner? Christians have become followers, servants, consumers and dependents of society and its government, not the leaders of society and its government.

    So the light within us has dwindled, and what little there is left has gone under the basket instead of shining out onto the lives of others. What contributions to modern life have Christians made since the time of the hippies compared to what came before when Christians shaped our public institutions? And now we are getting trampled.

    • Gail Sheppard says

      Thank you, TSV. Well worth the read.

      Lord, save us from passive, complacent, docile, detached and self-satisfied people.

  2. I did the same TV sitting ,during before both Eisenhower elections. I loved pre -1973 music which did have the innocent ,exuberant youthful spirit in all it’s expectations. She loves you, sounds good to me, in more ways than one. Still, the beauty in the chants,choirs do in sincere love of God, in comparison to 60’s music are more moving to me in my old age. I listen to doo wop regularly, can’t help it, I still love to sing it. I am very good vocally. Nice post, we needed a break.

  3. Tim R. Mortiss says

    Never particularly liked the Beatles, with the exception of a few songs. I’m a Rolling Stones fan myself, so no doubt I’m part of the fall of civilization, too!

  4. Dn Brian Patrick Mitchell says

    It would have been un-American to do anything else Sunday night.

    Pardon me, George, but I remember that very night, too, because at the same time, on another channel, I was watching “The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh” on the Wonderful World of Disney — hardly un-American.

  5. Gail Sheppard says

    I was in my room listening to “Red Rubber Ball” on my record player. Was it by The Cyrkle?? Something like that. – My parents called from the den (we didn’t have family rooms back then) and said, “Gailie, come watch the Beatles.” I reluctantly left my room, more out of curiosity than anything else. I was 11. What could they possibly think I would be interested in? I walked into the room and heard, “I want to hold your haaaaaand! I want to hold your hand. . . ” It was/still is the closest I have EVER come to love at first sight. I about fell on the floor! Seriously. I tied to maintain my composure because it was my parents, after all, but I knew, at that very moment, something had fundamentally shifted and not just within me. They knew it, too. Pop stood in line for 3 hours to get me the first “Meet the Beatles” album that hit Tucson. The next thing I remember is divvying up John, Paul, George & Ringo (why do we always say their names in that order???) among my friends. I took Ringo. Why? I have no idea. I was always pulling for the underdog even back then.

    • Clawdia Chauchat says

      Just in case you might still be wondering, Cyrkle did originally make Red Rubber Ball; but it was written by Paul Simon and Bruce Woodley. Woodley later sang the song with his group, The Seekers.

  6. If you like to listen to doo wop free, COFI and Brian’s doo wop fixx have more than you can listen to. COFI does a hits of each year starting in the early 50’s. I really like the 1959 music.

    • Gail Sheppard says

      Very cool, Michael. Thank you. My son always love doo wop, even though he was born in the 80s. I think he inherited it from me. 😉

  7. Other Matthew says

    The Beatles had a profound impact on my life as well. Of course it wasn’t until several decades later. I was watching TV with my mom and a commercial came on for the the Beatles “1” CD (this was on the tail end of 2000). My mom said, “Wow, you know I really loved the Beatles as a little girl. I remember watching them on Ed Sullvian.” and I said, “So…what? They’re not the Backstreet Boys!” (I had just turned 12 a month prior I didn’t know any better!) My mom patiently smiled and said, “No they aren’t, they play their own instruments and write their own songs and don’t do any fancy dancing.” I responded, “Whatever, that was like a billion years ago, nobody cares.” (I was such a pain in the butt..I was a pre-teen though so..comes with the territory) She said, “Well, I’m going to buy it and if you want to give it a try you may.” She bought it and I was bored one day and popped it into the CD player. I listened to the first few songs and I liked them, I even admitted to my mom that they were “pretty good” but it wasn’t until I got to “Paperback Writer” that my whole world changed. After that song ended, I stood up, grabbed my cassette tape of the Backstreet Boys and smashed it into pieces. I got in some trouble for that one since my mom paid for it, but for me..it was a symbolic break from my early childhood. The next day I took the CD to school and introduced my friends to the Beatles. I was the first person in my class to turn them on to it and all our lives changed..such is the power of music..especially the Beatles. Then we found out my best friend’s dad had several vinyl albums of the Beatles from the 60’s. We just randomly picked one and we didn’t know how to make it work but after fooling around with it for awhile we heard (quite loudly), “When I get to the bottom I go back to the top of the slide, first stop then I turn and go for a ride, then I get to the bottom and I see you again!!” and the rest….is history.