Monday, February 09, 2009

45 Years Ago Today

The Beatles arrived in New York City in February 1964, and on February 9 played The Ed Sullivan Show - one of the seminal events in rock history. Greil Marcus tells the tale:

On February 9th, 1964, I was in college in California, a rock and roll fan with creeping amnesia. I remembered Chuck Berry but not the guitar solo in “Johnny B. Goode.” The excitement, the sense of being caught up in something much bigger than one’s own private taste, had disappeared from rock years before. There was still good stuff on the radio – there had been “Heat Wave” by a group called Martha and the Vandellas the summer before, “Be True To Your School” by the Beach Boys a few months after that, and even “On Broadway” by the Drifters – but in 1963 all of it seemed drowned out by Jimmy Gilmer’s “Sugar Shack,” the Number One song of the year and perhaps the worst excuse for itself rock and roll had yet produced. Rock and roll – the radio – felt dull and stupid, a dead end.

There had been an item in the paper that day about a British rock and roll group which was to appear on The Ed Sullivan Show that night: “The Beatles” (a photo too – were those wigs, or what?). I was curious – I didn’t know they had rock and roll in England – so I went down to a commons room where there was a TV set, expecting an argument from whoever was there about which channel to watch.

Four hundred people stood transfixed as the Beatles sang “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” and when the song was over the crowd exploded. People looked at the faces (and the hair) of John, Paul, George and Ringo and said yes (and who could have predicted that a few extra inches of hair would suddenly seem so right, so necessary? Brian Epstein?); they heard the Beatles’ sound and said yes to that too. What was going on? And where had all those people come from?

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