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The Beatles’ First ‘Ed Sullivan’ Appearance: 10 Rock Stars Remember

The Beatles
Jason Kempin, Jim Dyson Getty Images / YouTube / Karl Walter, Frank Micoletta Getty Images

More than 73 million Americans watched the Beatlesdebut performance on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ on Feb. 9, 1964. Among those inspired by this event were the youngsters who would grow up to be some of classic rock’s biggest stars.

The Fab Four’s first performance on ‘Sullivan’ is such a watershed moment in the history of rock and roll, its influence on future music stars is taken for granted. If you picked up a guitar or got behind the drums in the decade that followed Beatlemania, it was just assumed that the ‘Sullivan’ broadcast had completely changed your life.

Decades later, in his song ‘I Saw it on T.V.,’ John Fogerty would sing, “We gathered round to hear the sound comin’ on the little screen / The grief had passed, the old men laughed, and all the girls screamed / ’cause four guys from England took us all by the hand / It was time to laugh, time to sing, time to join the band.”

Below are ten stars who tell us how they watched the Beatles that fateful night and then “joined the band.”


Tom Petty
 

I think the whole world was watching that night. It certainly felt that way. You just knew it, sitting in your living room, that everything around you was changing. It was like going from black-and-white to color. Really. I remember earlier that day, in fact, a kid on a bike passed me and said, ‘Hey, the Beatles are on TV tonight.’ I didn’t know him, he didn’t know me, and I thought to myself, ‘This means something.’ [The Beatles] came out and just flattened me. To hear them on the radio was amazing enough, but to finally see them play, it was electrifying.” (Guitar World)

 
Gene300
 

“There is no way I’d be doing what I do now if it wasn’t for the Beatles. I was watching ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ and I saw them. Those skinny little boys, kind of androgynous, with long hair like girls. It blew me away that these four boys [from] the middle of nowhere could make that music. Then they spoke and I thought ‘What are they talking like?’ We had never heard the Liverpool accent before. I thought that all British people spoke like the Queen.” (from the Liverpool Echo)

 
Billy-Joel-P
 

“The Beatles really synthesized what I wanted to do. The single biggest moment that I can remember being galvanized into wanting to be a musician for life was seeing the Beatles on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show.’”

 
Joe-Perry
 

“Seeing them on TV was akin to a national holiday. Talk about an event. I never saw guys looking so cool. I had already heard some of their songs on the radio, but I wasn’t prepared by how powerful and totally mesmerizing they were to watch. It changed me completely. I knew something was different in the world that night. Next day at school, the Beatles were all anybody could talk about. Us guys had to play it kind of cool, because the girls were so excited and were drawing little hearts on their notebooks -- ‘I love Paul,’ that kind of thing. But I think there was an unspoken thing with the guys that we all dug the Beatles, too. We just couldn’t come right out and say it.” (from Music Radar)

 
Wilson
 

“The lightning bolt came out of the heavens and struck Ann and me the first time we saw the Beatles on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show.’ … There’d been so much anticipation and hype about the Beatles that it was a huge event, like the lunar landing: that was the moment Ann and I heard the call to become rock musicians. I was seven or eight at the time. … They were really pushing hard against the morality of the times. That might seem funny to say now, since it was in their early days and they were still wearing suits. But the sexuality was bursting out of the seams. … But we didn’t want to marry them or anything -- we wanted to be them. Right away we started doing air guitar shows in the living room, faking English accents, and studying all the fanzines. Ann always got to be Paul, and I was mostly George or John...” (from The Believer)

 
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Rick Nielsen

 
 

“Seeing the Beatles on ‘Ed Sullivan’ was the beginning. That got me to learn how to play the guitar.” (via AZCentral.com)

 
rs300
 

“One of my earliest memories was sitting cross-legged on the floor in the living room of the house I grew up in and looking up at the black-and-white TV set and watching the Beatles on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show.’ I was five years old and I remember thinking, ‘Wow! That’s what I want to do.’ I know it sounds absurd – most five-year-old boys say they want to be firemen or policemen or baseball players, or even the president. Not me. I wanted to be one of the Beatles. … But seeing the kind of reaction the Beatles got from girls … hey, what guy wouldn't say, ‘That’s what I want!’?” (from Music Radar)

 
mellenzandt1
 

“This was the main event of my life. 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. … There's no equivalent of that today, TV shows that literally everybody watched. All ages, all ethnic groups, all in black and white on a 14-inch screen. … It was their sound, their looks, their attitudes. It was so many things. A time to look at things differently, question things a little bit. All kinds of things were new. (from the Associated Press)

 
GR300

Gary Rossington

 
 

“We saw the Beatles on ‘Ed Sullivan’ like everybody else in our generation, and freaked out and wanted to start a rock ’n’ roll band. But then we got serious, and we really had this dream to become something, to make a mark.” (from Billboard)

 
CH300

Chrissie Hynde

The Pretenders
 
 

“I remember exactly where I was sitting. It was amazing. It was like the axis shifted. I remember the first time I saw the 45 in the record bin in the discount house where my parents shopped and held it in my hand. It was kind of like an alien invasion. If you were a little virgin and didn’t want to grow up like I didn’t, didn’t want to enter the adult world like I didn’t, it gave you some kind of new avenue of sexuality. It could be more cerebral. You didn’t have to actually touch the person’s acne. … [The day after, the boys] all combed their hair down and made bangs! Me too! I could never set my hair in rollers again. I combed it out straight and cut my bangs. Oh yeah. It was a whole other thing.” (from The Austin Chronicle)

 

Next: Styx and Foreigner Trade Awesome Beatles Stories

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