Story by Avery Gregurich
Fifty years ago this past week, a Liverpool band’s first performance in the United States was broadcasted via the CBS network. 73 million people tuned in to watch, making it then the most watched television program in history.
This band was, of course, The Beatles, and this first performance was aired on the legendary Ed Sullivan Show.
On Feb. 9, “The Beatles: The Night That Changed America — A Grammy Salute,” a televised concert honoring the band ran on the CBS network, the same network as the band’s first appearance on that day 50 years earlier.
The two remaining members of The Beatles, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, and an eclectic mix of celebrities performed Beatles tunes and cuts from the two’s respective solo albums.
Professor of electronic media Todd Evans was just a 10-year-old boy in 1964. He was a fan of The Beach Boys and other popular bands that were playing on the radio station WLS out of Chicago. That night in February, though, things changed.
“As I lay on my parent’s bed, watching on an Admiral 17 inch black and white television, I was transformed,” Evans said.
This life-changing transformation has led Evans on “a journey to look beyond the simple wonder of the timeless lyrics and catchy chords.” He currently researches and conducts classes about The Beatles and their effect on pop culture and society.
He credited the enduring appeal of their music to a “glorious mixture of raw and honest emotions,” combined with “a mystique and curiosity unique to youth’s desire to have people hear and acknowledge their concerns and views.”
While he doesn’t claim to have a particular favorite song or album, his mind never escapes The Fab Four.
“Every minute of every day there’s a Beatles soundtrack playing in my head,” Evans said.
Dean of Cowles Library Rod Henshaw’s relationship with the band began even before the Ed Sullivan appearance.
Henshaw’s father made frequent trips to England with the United States Air Force in the early 1960s. The man informed his son of a band there who was immensely popular and brought back 45 rpm records to him.
“I was probably the first kid in Harrisburg, PA to have a Beatles record,” Henshaw said.
He said that the Beatle mania that ensued was a result of the “mass popular culture” that existed at the time, and that the population “needed something” to turn their attention to.
Henshaw mentioned the assassination of John F. Kennedy a few months prior to the Beatles performance on Ed Sullivan when he and his family had huddled around the television set for “four straight days.”
“There was a distinct cultural shift announced with their music,” Henshaw said. “A clarion call for the social change that was going to tumble upon itself.”
He added that their music has “timeless appeal” and that the band is “more than a historical footnote that I’m not sure we will see the likes of again.”
Blaise Rothwell, a sophomore percussion performance major, was immersed into the sounds of The Beatles early on.
He listened to tapes and CDs when he visited his aunt’s house and “got to be familiar with their lyrics and sound.”
He said that the band’s music “always seems to remain fresh” and that it is “still very much a part of the popular music tapestry today.”
Rothwell went on to compare the band’s impact to that of Beethoven in their inventiveness and presence, and sees their influence everywhere.
“There are Beatles examples in my music theory textbook,” Rothwell said. “They were informed by Western modal theory.”
The Times-Delphic has its own storied, if morbid, past with The Fab Four.
On Sept. 17, 1969, an article published here in the Times-Delphic was the first print publication to question the existence of the founding bassist and vocalist Paul McCartney.
The article, written by Drake alumni Tim Harper, was titled “Is Paul McCartney Dead?” It listed evidence of Paul’s death found in the band’s album covers and music by believers of the conspiracy.
The article catapulted the rumor onto the national stage and tied the Times-Delphic and Drake University into the all-encompassing pantheon of Beatles’ lore.