New York City, NY

The Night the Beatles Conquered the US: Book Excerpt

Frank Mastropolo

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The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan ShowLibrary of Congress

Where did Elvis record “Hound Dog” and Bill Haley record “Rock Around the Clock”? Where did Dylan play his first major gig? Or the Beatles make their US debut? Where was Hendrix discovered? New York City, where rock history has been made on the street corners of Harlem, the coffee houses of Greenwich Village, and the city’s clubs, theaters, studios, and arenas.

New York Groove: An Inside Look at the Stars, Shows, and Songs That Make NYC Rock tells more than 200 stories of the artists, writers, DJs, and impresarios who came together in Manhattan to make rock history from the 1950s to today. 

In this excerpt, the Beatles’ appearance live from New York changed the country overnight.

The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show, CBS Studio 50, Feb. 9, 1964

The Beatles formed in Liverpool and led the British Invasion that swept America. Their first US performance was on February 9, 1964, when an estimated 73 million people were introduced to the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show, broadcast live from the same theater Elvis made his television debut.

By 1963, Ed Sullivan hosted the most popular variety show on television. Passing through London’s Heathrow Airport on October 31, Sullivan spotted a horde of enthusiastic Beatles fans awaiting the group’s return from Stockholm. “Who the hell are the Beatles?” Sullivan asked his entourage. Sullivan subsequently signed the group for three appearances on his show in February 1964. “I made up my mind that this was the same sort of mass hit hysteria that had characterized the Elvis Presley days,” Sullivan told the New York Times.

“When we came over the first time, we were only coming over to buy LPs,” Lennon recalled in The Beatles Anthology. “I know our manager had plans for Ed Sullivan shows but we thought at least we could hear the sounds when we came over. It was just out of the dark. That’s the truth, it was so out of the dark, we were knocked out."

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Courtesy of Tony Lee

With “I Want to Hold Your Hand” topping the charts, Sullivan introduced the Beatles from the stage of CBS Studio 50 as the show opened. The studio, at 1697 Broadway, was renamed the Ed Sullivan Theater in 1967.

“Now, yesterday and today our theater’s been jammed with newspapermen and hundreds of photographers from all over the nation, and these veterans agreed with me that this city never has witnessed the excitement stirred by these youngsters from Liverpool who call themselves the Beatles. Now tonight, you’re gonna twice be entertained by them. Right now, and again in the second half of our show. Ladies and gentlemen, the Beatles. Let’s bring them on.”

The Beatles opened with “All My Loving” to the screams of the audience. The crowd quieted a bit as Paul McCartney followed with the ballad “Till There Was You.” Each of the Beatles had his name superimposed on-screen; Lennon’s title included “Sorry Girls, He’s Married” below his name. Pandemonium ensued as the first segment closed with “She Loves You.”

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The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan ShowLibrary of Congress

The Beatles returned in the second half of the show with “I Saw Her Standing There” and their number one hit, “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” Before leaving the stage, the band shook hands with Sullivan and waved to the audience.

“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,” recalled singer-songwriter Billy Joel on The Complete Hits Collection: 1973–1997.

“Hollywood tried to take control of rock ’n’ roll… they tried to pretty it up, they tried to sanitize it. So they come out with Frankie Avalon and Fabian and Bobby Rydell… and all of a sudden there’s this band with hair like girls… and they played their own instruments and they wrote their own songs. And they didn’t look like Fabian, they looked like these working-class kids like we all knew… and I said at that moment, I said, ‘That’s what I want to do. I want to do that. I want to be like those guys.’”

Mastropolo is the author of New York Groove: An Inside Look at the Stars, Shows, and Songs That Make NYC Rock.

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Frank Mastropolo is the author of Fillmore East: The Venue That Changed Rock Music Forever, one of Best Classic Bands' Best Music Books of 2021; New York Groove: An Inside Look at the Stars, Shows, and Songs That Make NYC Rock; the What's Your Rock IQ? Trivia Quiz Book series; Ghost Signs: Clues to Downtown New York's Past, winner of the 2021 Independent Publishers Book Award; and Ghost Signs 2: Clues to Uptown New York's Past. Mastropolo is a journalist, photographer, and former ABC News 20/20 producer, winner of the Alfred I. DuPont–Columbia University silver baton. His photography is featured in the Bill Graham Rock & Roll Revolution exhibition.

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