As most of you know, it was 40 years ago on this date, February 9, 1964, that The Beatles made their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan show. I wasn't around for this, first hand (my parents weren't even married yet) but, it is something that has always interested me.
If Elvis opened the door for rock 'n roll, it was The Beatles that broke it down. Elvis was revolutionary, but underneath it all he was nothing more than a shy country boy, rather he was polite and hardly rebellious. Perhaps as a result of this, as well as the 'adult establishment' re-establishing order, most of the pop idols that followed in the immediate aftermath were relatively tame and homogenized, if bearing a superficial likeness to The King (i.e, Rick Nelson)
The Beatles were a different thing altogether. Really, there was nothing like them before. While they look tame now, they were nothing short of revolutionary back then. Plus it was a different world back then - not so much that there was only three TV channels but that opportunities for information and entertainment were limited. Those TV channels, had test patterns most of the day. Music was on inferior-sounding AM stations - FM was largely untested and mostly used for simulcasts and experimental broadcasts. On the other hand, afternoon newspapers flourished.
The Beatles were in the right place at the right time as well. It was right after the JFK assassination, and perhaps the populace needed some kind of balm for the shock. Vietnam was starting to gear up. The threat of nuclear war was real. Elvis was back from the Army, but he was hardly what anyone could call 'cutting edge'. And there was no real competition for The Beatles on the charts - to wit, the #1 song in the US when JFK died, was "Hey Hey Paula". Bobby Vinton also had the #1 spot not long before. Not exactly cutting edge material.
So here come the Beatles, with their moptops and their suits and their "Yeah, yeah, yeah" - and the Generation Gap was established. The kids, who really liked the music, the old guard establishment, who recoiled to this garbage much in the same way that people recoil to "boy bands" today, and of course, people in the middle, who tried desperately to be hip and into the music.
One of the things about the video that I got a kick out of was the audience shots. They show these girls yelling and screaming their asses off, and in the middle of it all there are these younger guys, who are sitting there saying "Huh? Wha...?" And, my favorite, this old, 80-year-old looking guy, whose father probably fought in The War (the Civil War, that is) wearing a suit and a bow tie, sitting there and not having any clue what the hell is going on. This is hysterical.
Another reason I think this video has endured is the quality of it. Unlike many shows in that era, this episode was videotaped, making it appear clear and clean. Previously shows had been kinescoped (i.e., literally filming a TV screen) which preserves the record but makes for a lousy quality.
People have desperately tried to recreate the Beatles magic (anyone remember "Frankie Goes to Hollywood"?) in both music and non-music venues. But nothing will ever compare. The Beatles were in the absolute right place at the absolute right time. No amount of planning could have produced the result that came about. It's just one of those things that happens, and when it does, you just stand back and watch it unfold, and enjoy.