Nearly 50 years ago today, the Beatles taught the US to play

In February 1964 they sang to 73 million viewers on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ and, says Neil McCormick, changed the country – and popular music – forever

The Beatles arrived in America in February 1964, and took over the country's pop scene with dizzying speed


Fifty years ago, the Beatles hit America like a seismic wave, changing the country and popular music forever.

It would be hard to overstate the impact the band had in the US in the first months of 1964. I don’t think there has ever been a pop moment like it, and I doubt there ever will be again. As US rock star Tom Petty has memorably described it: “The Beatles came on The Ed Sullivan Show and it was like the whole world changed overnight.”

The band took America with dizzying speed. In 1963, while Beatlemania ripped through Britain, the Beatles hadn’t been able to get even a sniff in the US. Then on January 18 1964, I Want To Hold Your Hand (their fifth British single) crept into the US chart at No 45, starting a 15-week, five-million-selling run. By February 1 it was No 1. On February 7, the Beatles arrived at New York’s John F Kennedy airport to 3,000 screaming fans. On February 9, more than 73 million people (45 per cent of the US population) tuned in to see their TV debut on CBS’s popular variety programme hosted by Ed Sullivan. By April 4, they occupied the top five consecutive positions on the US singles chart and were in the midst of a 30-week run at the top of the album charts with three different albums. Not bad for a band whose American A&R man, Dave Dexter, had dismissed them as “a bunch of long-haired kids. They’re nothing.”


Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply