James Beaty: OPINION: 'Ramblin' Round': When it was '64 -- The Beatles arrive in the U.S. 60 years ago for 'The Ed Sullivan Show'

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Feb. 24—Can it be?

It's been 60 years ago this month since The Beatles played their first live performances in the United States.

They began with their Feb. 9, 1964 televised performance on "The Ed Sullivan Show," followed by two additional appearances on the show on Feb. 16 and Feb. 23.

They also performed their very first U.S. concert, in Washington, that month.

It's not hyperbole to say that the world changed when The Beatles performed their first set on "The Ed Sullivan Show."

They had a huge audience in those days when there were only three television networks — with an amazing 73 million Americans tuning in to the program.

Overnight, The Beatles not only gained armies of fans across the U.S., they also inspired countless young Americans to get their own electric guitars, bass and drums and start making their own music.

They also led the way for their fellow countrymen's bands in what came to be called The British Invasion.

After The Beatles performed on "The Ed Sullivan Show," they were followed by waves of other British bands, including the Rolling Stones, The Animals, The Dave Clark Five, Peter and Gordon, Herman's Hermits, and others.

When John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr first arrived at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City, they were amazed to see a crowd of about 3,000 people at the site. Lennon guessed the president of the United States must be landing at the airport also.

When they got closer, they could see the crowd consisted of excited teenagers, many of then screaming, who had been tipped off by radio dee jays about the time the flight carrying The Beatles would land in the U.S.

Upon learning that the enthused crowd would be there to greet them, The Beatles were amazed. After all, no British band or singer had hit it big in America at the time.

That, of course, was about to change in a huge way.

McCartney said The Beatles were determined not to perform in America until they had a #1 record in the states.

Other British acts had gone to America in previous years and then returned to Britain without creating a stir in the U.S. The Beatles were determined not to let that happen to them.

Regardless of how big they were in Britain, Europe and other parts of the world, they had no assurance of success in the U.S. — until a few weeks before their arrival when their single "I Want to Hold Your Hand" shot to #1 on the charts, seemingly out of nowhere.

Capitol Records originally planned the single for a later release, but a disc jockey at a radio station in Washington got ahold of either an advance copy or an imported record from England and began spinning it early.

That led to such a demand that Capitol Records rush-released the record, so that when The Beatles flight from London touched down in America, The Beatles indeed had the #1 record in the USA — the first-ever for a British band.

Although The Beatles performed during three different programs on "The Ed Sullivan Show" they really performed only once on the show's regular stage.

For their second Feb. 16 show, "The Ed Sullivan Show" was broadcast from a hotel in Miami, Florida, where The Beatles and the rest of that night's guests performed.

And their Feb. 23 spot on the show had been prerecorded during their initial Feb. 9 performance, so it could be televised several weeks later.

Still, they gave a series of boisterous performance on that opening show, with plenty of young girls in the audience screaming their adoration.

It would be the first time the American public saw The Beatles performing onstage, except for maybe a few snippets on some TV news programs about the growing Beatlemania phenomenon in Britain.

Americans who purchased the 45-rpm single of "I Want to Hold Your Hand" saw only a photograph of four young lads in their silver suits with colorless jackets.

A dapper-looking McCartney is holding a cigarette, while Ringo Starr appears to be seated and turning around to face the camera. An earnest- looking George Harrison is looming behind them, while, almost like an afterthought, John Lennon crouches at far right — much lower and he'd be out of the picture!

Also, the U.S. cover of their first American album on Capitol records, "Meet The Beatles," released on Jan. 20, 1964, shows the now-iconic photo of all four of The Beatles with half of their faces in shadows.

On the back cover, another photo shows them simply standing around.

What I'm getting it is none of these photos showed the Beatles with their instruments.

Not only that, the liner notes to massive-selling "Meet The Beatles" made no reference to their playing their own instruments. The closest the liner notes come is with the following statement:

"The foursome write, play and sing a powerhouse music filled with zest and an uninhibited good humor that makes listening a sensation-filled joy." I have to say that's a pretty good one-sentence description of The Beatles music in 1964.

Indeed, another U.S. album on the Vee Jay label titled "Introducing The Beatles" even had the subtitle "England's No. 1 Vocal Group."

So, many of The Beatles young American fans at the time may have thought of them as a simply another vocal group backed by other musicians.

After all, such groups were in abundance during the early 1960s, ranging from The Drifters and The Coasters to Dion and the Belmonts.

It may have come as a pleasant shock to see the band with their electric guitars and Starr seated at the drums after Ed Sullivan opened his Feb. 9 show with his famous introduction "Ladies and gentlemen, (dramatic pause) The Beatles!"

Finally, we saw them standing there: McCartney, with his distinct violin-shaped Hofner guitar on the left, which he'd acquired when the pre-fame Beatles were playing in Hamburg, Germany; George Harrison with an American-made Gretsch Chet Atkins Country Gentleman electric guitar that seemed almost as big as he was, and Lennon with his distinctive black Rickenbacker, another American-made instrument.

Behind, them, Starr sat seated on a riser, playing a set of Ludwig drums, also made in the USA.

Following their introduction, The Beatles tore into a favorite cut from their new album, McCartney's "All My Loving."

In addition to McCartney's vocals, the song featured a country music-styled solo from Harrison — fittingly played on his Chet Atkins Country Gentleman Gretsch — and a series of franticly-played rhythm chords from Lennon, which is even today difficult for some guitarists to replicate.

They followed that with McCartney's rendition of "Till There Was You" from Meredith Wilson's "The Music Man," perhaps a nod to Broadway.

Then, they ripped into "She Loves You" with McCartney, Lennon and Harrison harmonizing on the lead and the "yeah, yeah, yeah" chorus— bringing even more screams from their mostly-young, excited audience.

Following a break with some other performers, all of whom were upstaged by The Beatles that night, Sullivan brought the Liverpool lads out again.

They opened their second set with McCartney's rocking "I Saw Her Standing There" and closed with their mega-hit, "I Want to Hold Your Hand."

Contrary to some recorded musical performances which were lip synced on television in the U.S. at the time, The Beatles performed live on "The Ed Sullivan Show."

Oh yeah, The Beatles weren't the only Brits making their U.S. debut on that Feb. 9 edition of "The Ed Sullivan Show."

That program also featured the British cast of "Oliver!" — which included a 19 year old stage actor and singer named Davy Jones in the role of the Artful Dodger.

Yep, that's the same Davy Jones who about a year later would be cast, along with Mick Nesmith, Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork, in "The Monkees" — the band that started as a television creation and then became a band in real life.

Although some music critics disparaged The Monkees, The Beatles themselves were fans.

Lennon once told Nesmith and Dolenz he never missed their programs.

"I think you're the greatest comic talents since the Marx Brothers," he said.