Locals share memories of Beatles' first 'Ed Sullivan' performance - Omaha.com
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Fifty years have passed since The Beatles appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in New York City. After the celebrated TV gig, the Fab Four launched their North American tour.(McClatchy Newspapers)


Locals share memories of Beatles' first 'Ed Sullivan' performance
By Kevin Coffey / World-Herald staff writer

Photo gallery: The Beatles on "The Ed Sullivan Show"

* * *

Becky Skrivanek thought The Beatles were singing just for her.

It was 50 years ago today that the Fab Four first appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” singing “She Loves You,” “All My Loving” and “Till There Was You.”

“Their music was joyful and exciting, and they were so cute, especially Paul,” said Skrivanek, now 62. “The next day at school, their performance on 'The Ed Sullivan Show' was all that my friends and I could talk about. Who would have imagined that 50 years later, young and old alike, would still be talking about and loving their music?”

The then-12-year-old Skrivanek felt a personal connection with The Beatles — John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr — as she watched them on CBS, and she wasn't alone. More than 70 million other people watched the show — the biggest ever TV audience to that date — and they were instantly awash in Beatlemania.

And nothing like it will ever happen again.

“The Ed Sullivan Show” performance and the British Invasion that followed was a unique event born of a storm of rock 'n' roll and baby boomers, and changes in the media and music landscape since mean it would be impossible to replicate today.

Before The Beatles, teenagers had gone berserk for pop stars — Frank Sinatra in the '40s, Elvis Presley in the '50s and other teen idols — but the arrival of four guys from Liverpool coincided neatly with baby boomers coming of age, giving The Beatles a huge demographic edge.

“You've got this virtually unknown group that comes out of nowhere and just storms America like The Beatles did,” said rock history professor Scott Anderson, who teaches at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

The way we experience mass cultural events today is a major shift from the three channels on viewers' TVs 50 years ago.

In the past, everyone tuned in to the same events, everyone watched the same images, and everyone heard the same announcer, whether it was The Beatles in 1964 or the wedding of Princess Diana and Prince Charles in 1981. Today's big events are experienced through the viewer's choice of media, whether that's TV, radio, social media or news websites.

And it might be better that way, according to one media expert.

“The experience is very much decentralized or fragmented. It's different,” said Adam Tyma, an assistant professor of critical media studies at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. “But you're getting a more robust experience. It's this fragmented, decentralized viewing, but it's also more of like a media immersion experience.”

Today, even people in the same room don't have the same experience watching a television show, movie or sporting event. One person might follow people on Twitter who are also watching the event, while someone else may flip through blogs and Facebook.

Tyma predicts that a couple of generations into the future, our new, fragmented experience will become seamless with wearable devices. We're already headed in that direction with devices such as Google Glass and Occulus Rift.

YouTube, iTunes and online streaming music have further changed the music industry, as has a diversified palate of popular music and a teen idol style of choosing our most popular artists.

Similar to the era of teen idols that preceded the Fab Four, the most popular artists are groomed for pop perfection after being culled from thousands of auditioners.

“It's what amounts to a game show,” Anderson said. “If you look good enough, it doesn't matter if you sing well or perform well. That can be taken care of.”

Of course, there are plenty of bands around that form and rise in popularity more organically, but it would be nearly impossible to approach the commercial potency of The Beatles partly because of the way people consume music.

Streaming services such as Spotify and Pandora make new music more accessible than ever, but it's also more difficult for artists to make money, according to Anderson. Online streaming and piracy have cut into the money going to artists, and they have to work harder than ever to sustain a long career.

Wide diversity of popular music genres could also keep a band from having its Ed Sullivan moment. When The Beatles played “She Loves You” on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” pop music was dominated by rock 'n' roll. Today's pop radio stations play rock, hip-hop, dance and other genres.

Commercial viability wasn't the problem for The Beatles. In fact, the popularity they saw following “The Ed Sullivan Show” and subsequent Beatlemania may have ended the band.

“They gave their money and they gave their screams, but The Beatles kind of gave their nervous systems,” George Harrison said years later.

Within a couple of years of performing on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” the Beatles were off the road. Once they were no longer touring, they weren't as cohesive of a group, Anderson said, and that is one element that may have led to their breakup.

Despite the band's relatively short run, they made a giant and long-lasting impact on pop music's fans and future musicians.

People such as Skrivanek are still huge fans 50 years later. She saw The Beatles twice before they stopped touring and still listens to them regularly.

“I will never be tired of listening to their music. It still sounds as fresh to me as it did 50 years ago,” she said.

Even Billy Joel, in the book “The Beatles are Here,” called seeing them on “Ed Sullivan” the “single biggest moment” of his life.

“They played their own instruments and they wrote their own songs and they didn't look like Fabian. And I said at that moment, 'That's what I want to do. I want to be like those guys.' ”

This report contains material from the Orange County Register.

The British Invasion: 1964-66

The British Invasion must have felt like an actual invasion.

Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, a bunch of British young men were all over the radio, all over the TV and all over the jukebox. You could not escape them. So many groups fit the bill — British artists that hit the states beginning in 1964 — that there are top 100 lists floating around and at least a dozen such bands that have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. We could spend all day talking about them, but we thought we'd name our favorite songs by our favorite artists who hopped the pond 50 years ago.

The Kinks, “You Really Got Me”
The Zombies, “This Will Be Our Year”
The Yardbirds, “Heart Full of Soul”
Dave Clark Five, “Because”
The Rolling Stones, “Under My Thumb”
Small Faces, “Watcha Gonna Do About it”
The Animals, “We Gotta Get Out of This Place”
The Who, “My Generation”
Herman's Hermits, “I'm Into Something Good”
Dusty Springfield, “Son of a Preacher Man”

More fan memories

On that February evening in 1964, I was 14 and begging my dad to be able to watch “The Ed Sullivan Show.” I had talked about the group with other kids at school and was really anxious to see them, but my dad had heard that they had long hair and had really excited crowds, especially the girls. The very reasons he didn't want us to watch were the same ones that made me want to.

Somehow I convinced him to let me view the performance. When Ed Sullivan announced the Beatles, they started singing and the audience went wild. I didn't want my dad to know I felt like those girls on the TV, so I sat calmly even though inside I was rejoicing. Those boys were different than anything I'd ever seen before. I loved everything about them — their hair, their suits, their musicianship, their humor. I instinctively knew that those four guys from Liverpool would change my life forever.

— Daisy Malcolm of Randolph, Iowa

* * *

In February of 1964, I was in eighth grade at Lewis & Clark Junior High in Omaha. Neither my friends nor I had heard of The Beatles, (but) on Friday afternoon, Feb. 7, word spread like wildfire around the student population of 1,400 that some fabulous group was going to be on Ed Sullivan and we had to watch the show.

On Sunday, my parents and I settled in as we always did to watch Ed Sullivan. My life changed instantly. It was like a cartoon where the character gets hit in the head with a cast-iron frying pan. I was absolutely stunned, in love for the first time, and transfixed.

Monday morning at school was pandemonium. All we could do was talk about was the Beatles. Most peoples' interest in the Beatles faded over the years, but I remain as rabid of a fan as I became on February 9, 1964.

— Janet Redick of Omaha

* * *

I was screaming in front of my parent's black-and-white TV on our farm in Saunders County. My pen pal in Sweden had written me months before about this fabulous group called The Beatles. ... I had no idea why she was so over the moon about them. That night, I discovered why. We were able to write back and forth about the group because she was able to give me the European perspective. I felt so informed. Didn't need the Internet!

— Frieda Dietrich of Singapore (formerly of Fremont)

* * *

My father would not give up his “Bonanza,” and he really hated The Beatles, and didn't even want me to listen to rock 'n' roll. So I went to my friend's house across the street and we watched Ed Sullivan together. I remember her parents said it was OK, so we screamed our heads off and didn't get in trouble! I became a die-hard Beatles fan, and have been ever since.

— Roda “Moppy” Elman of Omaha

* * *

I was 10 years old, and my extended South Omaha family was gathered at my uncle's house. On Sundays, we'd often go to a relative's to have a potluck and hang out with all the other relatives. My uncle had a color television — one of those wooden console things with a stereo turntable in it, too — so watching TV on that was a real treat for us.

When Ed Sullivan came on, we all gathered 'round the TV to see the new sensations, The Beatles. As soon as they appeared on the screen, the dissing started: “Look at THAT HAIR!” Compared with what was to come later, the early Beatles had very neat haircuts and were dressed alike in tailored suits, but it was all that hair that set (people) off. My mother opined, “That is just sickening! Blech!” She was all of 34 years old at the time.

No one that night had any inkling of the fire that had been set. After that night, everything changed. Everything.

— Jean Bohle of Omaha

* * *

Fifty years ago, I was living at Ramey Air Force Base in Puerto Rico when the Beatles appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” There was quite a bit of hype preceding the telecast, and everyone was excited. I thought the Beatles were pretty “cool ”and I enjoyed their performance. I was a Beatle fan after that show. Quite a neat memory.

— Bob Brietzke of Council Bluffs

* * *

I was 15 years old and was glued to the TV set. After watching The Beatles perform, my goal in life was to marry Paul! My dad, who was in his 30s at the time, thought those boys were going to be the “ruination” of society with their long hair! Little did he know, their hair wasn't that long.

— Marcia Deitchler of Glenwood, Iowa

Contact the writer: Kevin Coffey

kevin.coffey@owh.com    |   402-444-1557    |  

Kevin covers music, whether it's pop, indie or punk, through artist interviews, reviews and trend stories. He also occasionally covers other entertainment, including video games and comic books.

Read more stories by Kevin

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