Ed Sullivan usually warmed up his audience by hyping their expectations. “We’ve got a really big show for you tonight,” he would tell both the people in the studio and watching at home. Then he would try, often successfully, to deliver on that promise.
Performers didn’t start their careers on the Ed Sullivan Show. It was too prominent a venue for beginners, no matter how talented they might be. But Sullivan was always watching for talent and loved to present acts which he thought deserved a national spotlight.
The Muppets first developed a real following on that show, debuting in 1966 and appearing more than two dozen times before landing on Sesame Street in 1969. Elvis’ first appearance on the show caused controversy because of his dancing style. The Jackson 5, shortly after their national debut on the rival Hollywood Palace show, was singled out for effusive praise on their Ed Sullivan appearance.
Despite a twenty-three year run and being a groundbreaking venue for black artists, the Ed Sullivan Show will always be known for the February 9, 1964 broadcast. That was the night the Beatles first appeared on American television, and changed the music world.
For those who doubt the influence of the Beatles, the actual time the band played together should be considered. They formed in 1960, didn’t finalize their membership until 1962, had their first hit song at the end of that year, and broke up only eight years later. They produced no less than twenty number one hits.
A slightly lesser-known fact is that their famed February 9 show was directly responsible for three more.
With all of the focus on the Beatles from that night, other star turns on the Ed Sullivan show have been lost; it only makes sense that the other acts who performed on February 9, 1964 have been relegated to the position of trivia. But one of those performers was, like the Beatles, from England. He was part of a group giving a sample of their hit play. Standing in the wings, he watched the reaction of the crowd to the Beatles. He told himself – and later, he told interviewers – that it shifted his focus in life. He’d wanted to be a jockey; then he’d wanted to become a stage star. Now he wanted some of what they had.
When the casting call came for The Monkees, Davy Jones – who had played the Artful Dodger in the Oliver part shown on Ed Sullivan that night – applied and won the part because of that shift. “Daydream Believer”, “Last Train to Clarksville” and “I’m a Believer” might not have been recorded by John, Paul, George and Ringo, but they wouldn’t have had quite the same success without them.
Question of the night: What’s a #1 song you still listen to?