An Appreciation by a Pair of First-Generation Fans who Saw the Fab Four’s ‘Ed Sullivan Show’ Debut and Birth of U.S. Beatlemania on Feb. 9, 1964
My sister Ruth, or Ruthie, and I and our folks Bill and Joan were among the 73 million Americans who witnessed pop culture history when The Beatles performed live on “The Ed Sullivan Show” the first time on Feb. 9, 1964.
We watched the Fab Four’s “Sullivan” debut on Channel 2, the CBS station in Miami, where we lived before moving to California in 1968. Sis was 9, I was 12 ½, and like so many other kids our age, watching and hearing this band changed our lives forever, in ways that for this writer, at least, miraculously continue to unfold half a century later.
The whole Beatles saga has been very well-documented – my “Coming to America” shows in the “Lost Lennon Tapes” radio series marking the 25th anniversary in 1989 included – and especially in early 2014 by dozens of special 50th anniversary TV shows, events, concerts, record releases, new books and lots of commemorative magazines.
Steve Marinucci of Beatles Examiner has done the best job I’ve seen keeping track of it all.
It all reached a crescendo Sunday, Feb. 9, with the Grammy Beatles 50th anniversary special on CBS, which did so well in the ratings the network rebroadcast it a few days later.
Now, on the 50th anniversary of the Fabs’ first visit to Miami — our town — from Feb. 13-22, 1964, for a second “Sullivan” performance at the Deauville Hotel on Miami Beach Sunday night, Feb. 16, my sister and I are compelled to add our voices to the chorus of celebrants, even if we do sing out of key (and I’m just a year and a half away from 64).
Sister Ruth Peeples Recalls Beatles Ed Sullivan Debut
“I was all of 9 years old on Feb. 9, 1964, but had an older brother and the two of us were equally crazy about rock ‘n’ roll music,” Ruthie wrote in an email (the older brother being this writer). “I had a transistor radio when I was 6 and was listening to rock stations, too.
“Like most of our school friends, we had already heard The Beatles on WQAM and WFUN in Miami (and on clear nights, we could even pull in Cousin Brucie on 77 WABC in NYC), so we were already abuzz with excitement to learn the band would be on ‘Ed Sullivan.’
“To our parents’ credit (maybe because both were print journalists), they let us watch all of The Beatles’ appearances even if it meant, in my case, staying up past my bedtime. I’m forever grateful because that show on that first night made me the total Beatles freak I still am today.
“I was in heaven. Their playing was so tight. I thought they sounded better than their records (despite the screaming girls), and loved their fun personalities and humor, not to mention their good looks. They were the total package, something we had never seen before.
“I remember adults at the time who suggested The Beatles were a flash in the pan, likely to only last a year. They didn’t understand nor see what we saw in early 1964. These guys would go on to change music around the world.
“Even our parents eventually recognized how good The Beatles were. My dad used to drive me to school in 9th grade after we moved to California and I remember teaching him which Beatle was singing lead on a given song. He got pretty good at identifying them, too. Even if he did it just to please me (please, please me), he at least made the effort. Oh, and he played The Beatles ‘Flip Your Wig’ game with me. Man, I wish I still had that.
“And here we are, still singing, ‘We love you Beatles, oh, yes, we do!’”
My Turn: Flashing Back to Beatles Ed Sullivan Debut
Ruthie’s right about Pop; I played the same “name that Beatle” game with him when he and I heard them on the car radio around town.
In late January ’14, it was my honor to guest on the LARadioSessions’ “Never-Ending Beatles Special” celebrating the Fabs’ first trip to the States and Ed Sullivan debut. L.A. Radio Studio Producer/Host Michael Stark asked me where I was the night of Feb. 9, 1964, and here’s a transcript of our chat:
Peeples: I was in Miami, a kid, 7th grade, playing drums in my room to everything that’s on (Top 40 and R&B) radio and learning how to play jazz from a jazz drummer, playing Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa and all of those guys.
My background was jazz and rock and pop when (The Beatles) came along. But we’d heard about them in the news before I actually heard the records.
Seeing them on “Sullivan” was very exciting. We already knew they were big, and that they were coming to (Miami) the next week. They already had a No. 1 record (“I Want to Hold Your Hand”) that was being played to death on local radio, so we were definitely ready for it.
The cool thing was that my entire family watched it. My mom and dad were both hard news journalists and pretty old-school as far as their musical tastes – Pop was a big band guy and Mom was a show tunes-type person.
My sister Ruthie was a few years younger, three years younger or so…she was getting a lot of stuff by osmosis from me because I was in the room next door, playing rock ‘n’ roll. [And she was listening to rock ‘n’ roll on her own transistor radio at age 6, as she noted above.]
So Feb. 9 came along and all of us were sitting in our front room watching “Sullivan,” which I would never do. “Sullivan” was just not hip. Kids my age did not watch “Ed Sullivan.” But this was a pretty good excuse for it. My folks watched it regularly, so they were in their usual positions on the couch, and my sister and I were on the floor in front of the TV.
My sister and I got very excited. My mom thought it was cool – she thought “Till There Was You” was the best, ’cause she was a show tunes nut – and even my dad, who was a jazz/big band guy, [said], “Well, they had some nice tunes, and they can actually play their own instruments. That’s pretty good.” So there you go, badda-bing.
We had no idea we were among 72-73 million people experiencing the same thing.
They came on and did “All My Lovin’” first, after Ed introduced them, and the house went nuts…and I thought, “Well, that’s pretty cool. That’s kind of a middle-of-the-road rock ‘n’ roll song. That’s kind of neat.” And then the second song, “Till There Was You”… I’m starting to scratch my head a little bit.
Stark: (laughs) Did that throw you off a little?
Peeples: My mom’s digging it, but I’m scratching my head a little bit. And then they did “She Loves You”… That proved to me immediately that this was it — these guys were hot.
Stark: Yeah. Then at the end, they came back with the two killers.
Peeples: Yeah, “I Saw Her Standing There,” and then closing with “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” And the place erupted – you’ve seen the video and pictures and so forth. The kids in the audience were just insane.
But I heard a rock band. This was not a pop schlock band. This was a rock band. Later, The Rolling Stones would come along and be a little bit more rock ‘n’ roll than The Beatles, but this was a paradigm shift in the music we were listening to as kids, and for the (music) industry.
Stark: So, that closed the deal with The Beatles for you.
Peeples: That was it. I got the album, “Meet The Beatles,” I had mentioned earlier that I was playing my drum kit to records and radio, whatever I heard – so I basically learned that first album top to bottom, front to back, played it to death. I think I was on my second copy within just a few months.
It was such a phenomenon and so much fun to be that age, to be 12 years old, when all this was happening, and already being a Top 40 nut. I was just ready for it.
And then following them – we really did grow up with them in the years between ’62-’63 and ’70. Their music changed incredibly. The culture changed incredibly. There was a lot of ebb and flow between what The Beatles were doing and pop culture. They were picking up stuff from pop culture and incorporating it in their music and vice versa.
It was way beyond them just coming over here like they did in ’64, playing their own music. (They were) also playing their versions of American music – American rock, blues, country. That really made the phenomenon last as long as it did, because every album, every record, was different from the last, was better than the last in some way, and there was always something to anticipate. It was, “Oh, my God, the next Beatles record is coming! Fantastic!”
So, it was a great experience to be that age at that time. And 50 years later, we’re still talking about it. It’s crazy! Fifty years later, are we going to be talking about whoever is in the Top 10 right now?
Stark: Justin Bieber?
Peeples: I wasn’t going to name any names.
Stark: I name names, I’m not proud.
Peeples: In 50 years, nobody’s going to remember those guys (like him). But the point is we’re still talking about (The Beatles), they’re still huge, and it’s a worldwide phenomenon.
* * * * *
Special thanks to Paige Hagen for the transcription.
Stephen K. Peeples was the original, award-winning producer of “The Lost Lennon Tapes” radio series for Westwood One from 1988-1990, and Mark Lewisohn was the series’ invaluable Research Consultant. Today, Peeples is a features writer for KHTS News (www.hometownstation.com) and SCVNews.com, and host, writer and co-producer of the weekly “House Blend” music and interview television show on SCVTV, community television for the Santa Clarita Valley. He also writes the “Peeples Place at KHTS” blog. A former SCV music and entertainment columnist for The Santa Clarita Valley Signal (2004-2011), Peeples is a Grammy-nominated record producer (“Monterey International Pop Festival,” MIPF/Rhino, 1992) and an award-winning online editor (The Signal website, 2007-2011). For more information, email skp (at) stephenkpeeples.com or visit https://stephenkpeeples.com.