♪♫ When the Beatles took over 'The Ed Sullivan Show' -- and The Post didn't like it
Forty-seven years ago, four young men took over the stage of "The Ed Sullivan Show" and changed music and television history. The Super Bowl on Sunday may have had 111 million viewers, but with the population growth that's only 36 percent of the population. In 1964 a full 40 percent of the population -- some 73 million viewers -- watched the Beatles. There were 50,000 requests for tickets and just more than 700 seats.
(There also were a "benighted cavalcade of aspiring stars" who "gamely tried to distract an audience that couldn't be distracted, offering more typical Ed Sullivan fare" in between the Beatles' musical sets. To read about how it feels to be a sideshow act to musical history, read about one of the groups here. And check out how the Beatle's first concert in D.C. went down as told by Paul McCartney, Al Gore, and Tommy Roe.)
But not everyone was a fan of the four mop tops. And those non-fans seem to have worked at The Washington Post.
Lawrence Laurent wrote about that first show on Feb. 12, 1964:
The first of three appearances by The Beatles on the "Ed Sullivan Show" last Sunday night demonstrated, once more, that our adolescents don't know the difference between parody and the real thing. For that matter, neither do the Beatles.
They are, apparently, part of some kind of malicious, bi-lateral entertainment trade agreement. The British have to sit through dozens of dreadful American television programs. In return, we get the Beatles. As usual, we got gypped. Nothing we have exported in recent years quite justifies imported hillbillies who look like sheep dogs and sound like alley cats in agony.
There was once an intentional trade that is comparable, in reverse. The Soviet Union sent us the Moiseyev Dancers and we sent them Ed Sullivan. ...
Much of last Sunday's audience was created by plain curiosity. People wanted to know what all the shrieking is about and they got an answer -- four quite ordinary musicians who happen to have unusually good diction for their own field.
The haircuts can be seen on almost any street corner and young boys insist their clothing be shrunk until it is three sizes too small. The Beatles do offer some relief from the folk singers and our young do need some reason to scream. Those of us who are old enough to vote will simply have to endure one more monstrosity created by mass media.
Bill Gold wrote a famous correction in his column condemning Beatles's fans as hipsters:
This week's issue of Newsweek quotes my report from B.F. Henry that there's one good thing about the Beatles -- "during the hour they were on Ed Sullivan's show, there wasn't a hupcap stolen in America."
It is with heavy heart that I must inform Newsweek that this report was not true. Lawrence R. Fellenz of 307 E. Groveton St., Alexandria, had his car parked on church property during that hour -- and all four of his hubcaps were stolen.
The Washington Post regrets the error, and District Liner Fellenz regrets that somewhere in Alexandria there lives a hipster who is too poor to own a TV set.
And a non-bylined story reads:
After suffering the onslaught of American popular culture for lo, these many years, the British are taking fiendish revenge. They have sent us the Beatles. ... It is as a tonsorial phenomenon that the Beatles may make their enduring mark on our culture. The mop-like appendage on the Beatle skull produces a look of amiable idiocy that we fear will have fatal charm for American adolescents.
We've changed our tune over the years, becoming quite the fans. Still, it's amusing to look back at our paper's misguided youth.
Update: Post's music lover J. Freedom du Lac is incensed I didn't add that the Beatles were not the only act to receive a rather harsh review in our hallowed pages. Carl Bernstein once said, "Sly and the Family Stone and Led Zeppelin were mildly interesting, if not musically original." However, du Lac is quick to note that he stands by his assessment of Coldplay ("Music for medium-level dull people.").
CBS sadly won't let us embed the show, but you can view it here (jump ahead 52 minutes).
| February 9, 2011; 9:35 AM ET
Categories: Picture Shows
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