Where Were You on Feb.9, 1964?
More than likely in front of the TV, along with 73 million others, getting your first look at The Beatles
For the many earnest nostalgic baby boomers in America, the following question has taken on a special urgency. It is designed to spark an ear-to-ear grin and transport us back to a time and a place where our generation ruled. For a few sacred hours, anyway, on a Sunday night in the dead of winter, we could — and did – brush aside the grim realities of the world around us:
Where were you on Feb. 9, 1964?
Likely, you were one of the SEVENTY-THREE MILLION Americans who sat glued to their television screens at home, watching The Beatles appear for the first time on "The Ed Sullivan Show" on CBS.
OK, boomer!! You know that!
It's scarcely possible for someone young to appreciate how exciting the arrival of The Beatles was.
It's scarcely possible for someone young to appreciate how exciting the arrival of The Beatles was. In a blink, being young was cool. Overnight, every fellow (who could) suddenly started growing his hair long. It was just to be so much fun to be on the right side of the generation gap.
Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!
Psychologists and sociologists had a field day, explaining the shift in the American psyche. A mere two-and-a-half-months earlier, President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated. Then, as if the world couldn't seem any more unsettling and bizarre, his assailant, Lee Harvey Oswald was gunned down on national television. For the next few months, the nation shuffled along in a prolonged malaise. Not even the festivities of the Christmas holiday season could lift our spirits this time.
Collectively, we felt sad and scared. What did it mean that our dashing leader, who with his wife epitomized the glitz and glamour of a young outlook, had been murdered in plain sight. We felt vulnerable and disenchanted. President Kennedy, only 46 years old, had single-handedly symbolized a new, modern style with his irreverence, appearance, good looks and youth.
Miraculously, the four young men from Liverpool made it possible for America to smile (and dance!) again.
Could anyone take the 35th President's place in our eyes and give us hope that life could be good again?
The Fab Four to the Rescue
Miraculously, the four young men from Liverpool made it possible for America to smile (and dance!) again. Perhaps the late Tom Petty put it best once when he declared that The Beatles were "manna from heaven."
It's a chicken-and-egg point to decide whether The Beatles' great, great music made them look more appealing or whether their good looks and youthful approach, winking at life (hammered home in the groundbreaking film, "A Hard Day's Night," which came out in July of 1964) made the music seem that much better.
The movie played a big part in shaping the rock and roll world. Members of the Byrds and the Grateful Dead, among other bands, have spoken of how "A Hard Day's Night" shaped their conception of what a band should look like.
"After I saw 'A Hard Day's Night,' I knew what I wanted to do with the rest of my life," a grinning David Crosby, member of the first alignment of the Byrds and later a founding member of Crosby, Stills and Nash, said in an installment of the documentary "Rock and Roll."
"The Ed Sullivan Show," that Sunday night on February 1964, was very, very good to the Beatles as well. Within a few weeks, the band astonishingly occupied the top five spots on the music-sales charts. "I Want to Hold Your Hand" was the No. 1 song in the land, and "She Loves You" was hot on its heels.
The Beatles' Stamp on Youth Culture
In hindsight, it's easy to understand now why the girls screamed for The Beatles. They looked so free! They looked so happy! They projected boyish sexiness. It was as if we all wanted to join their club.
Think about it. The Beatles never went out of style or favor.
The Beatles had unlocked something in our society. No wonder the Beatles put their stamp on the youth culture. In the next few weeks, Paul McCartney's star power had spread to the movies. The term "anti-hero" was now all the rage. Warren Beatty in "Bonnie and Clyde," Dustin Hoffman in "The Graduate" and Jack Nicholson in "Easy Riders" seemed like brooding heroes.
America had seldom celebrated such a sensibility. Marlin Brando projected a kind of animal magnetism in his star-making turns throughout the 1950s. The same could be said of Brando's peers, Paul Newman, Montgomery Clift and, of course, James Dean.
And what of Elvis Presley? Surely, Elvis had paved the way for The Beatles with his sexy gyrations. But as fantastic as Elvis was to his generation, he didn't draw an audience on "Ed Sullivan" anywhere near what The Beatles attracted. And the ascent of John, Paul, George and Ringo made Elvis seem like an afterthought in their wake.
Think about it. The Beatles never went out of style or favor. As late as the year 2000, a new album simply entitled "1," consisting of a collection of all of The Beatles' No. 1 songs, sold more than 30 million copies. Director Peter Jackson's 2021 "Get Back" documentary enlivened Thanksgiving for millions of fans on Disney+. "Now and Then," billed last year as "the last Beatles song" instantly became a sensation.
Many bands and singers have had their moment of greatness since The Beatles broke up in 1970. The Rolling Stones, Michael Jackson and now Taylor Swift have captured the hearts of their fans. But it's fair to say that even the Stones and MJ didn't touch what The Beatles accomplished. And wither Taylor Swift?
Unquestionably, Time magazine's very talented and likable 2023 Person of the Year, who just won her fourth Grammy Award for Album of the Year and the first person to achieve that honor four times, is the most popular entertainer of the day. This is not in dispute.
But we will have to wait 60 years to see whether Swift has the kind of staying power of The Beatles.
Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!