10 Facts About The Beatles's 'Ed Sullivan Show' Debut

Express Newspapers/Getty Images
Express Newspapers/Getty Images

In 1964, Beatlemania officially reached America. On February 7, 1964, the Fab Four—John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and George Harrison—boarded Pan Am Flight 101 at London's Heathrow Airport with an estimated 4000 fans on hand to wish them good luck on their first trip to America. When they landed at New York City's JFK Airport several hours later, another crowd of approximately 4000 (screaming) fans were waiting for them. But that was nothing compared to the number of people who would tune in to see the legendary rockers perform on The Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964. On the 55th anniversary of that historic television event, here are 10 things you might not know about the show.

1. the band didn't come cheap ...

Much like The Tonight Show today, being asked to appear on The Ed Sullivan Show in the 1960s was a huge honor for up-and-coming (and established) artists in the 1960s. The publicity generated from an appearance on the show was enough for most talent to say yes. But The Beatles would only agree to appear if the show covered their travel expenses and paid them a $10,000 fee (which would be just over $80,000 in 2019 dollars). Sullivan and his producers agreed, but only if The Beatles would commit to making three appearances. They had a deal.

2. ... but they ended up being a relative bargain.

Though forking over travel expenses and an appearance fee wasn't the norm for The Ed Sullivan Show, it ended up being a great deal for the program, and proof that Beatlemania was just as thriving in America as it was in the UK. It's been estimated that close to 74 million people—40 percent of the country's population at that time—tuned in to watch The Beatles play.

3. Technically, it wasn't the band's American television debut.

While The Ed Sullivan Show marked the first time The Beatles had performed live on American television, it wasn't the first time they had appeared on American television. On November 18, 1963, NBC's The Huntley Brinkley Report aired a whopping four-minute-long segment on Beatlemania—the craze that was sweeping England. Just a few days later, on November 22, CBS Morning News ran a five-minute segment on the band's overseas popularity. The segment was scheduled to re-air that evening, but the news was preempted because of JFK's assassination. Walter Cronkite eventually re-aired it as part of the CBS Evening News on December 10, 1963.

4. more than 700 people got to witness it live.

While more than a third of America's population witnessed music history in the making the night The Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, 728 very lucky individuals got to see it all go down live as part of the show's audience. And when we say "very lucky," we mean it: the program received a record-setting 50,000 requests for tickets to the show.

5. Many people linked Beatlemania to JFK's assassination.

In terms of timing, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the rise of Beatlemania in America were closely linked. While many people at the time decided that the band's popularity was in part due to the president's death—that Americans needed something upbeat and positive—others believe it's purely coincidental. In 2013, Slate ran a piece debating (and largely debunking) "the questionable connections between Camelot’s demise and Liverpool’s ascent."

6. the beatles weren't the evening's only performers.

Remember Charlie Brill and Mitzi McCall? No? That's OK. Neither do the majority of the 74 million people who watched The Ed Sullivan Show that night. Brill & McCall were the unfortunate act who had to follow the Fab Four's Earth-shattering, industry-altering performance. The married sketch comedy duo pretty much bombed, as the audience was rather distracted. In 2014, couple—who will celebrate their 59th wedding anniversary this year—talked about that infamous night with CBS.

"For us, it went lousy," McCall said, laughing. "It was terrible.”

"We were doing a sketch," Brill added. "We couldn’t hear each other. Because of the screaming."

Though the appearance didn't do much to advance their career, ultimately, McCall said, it was "an honor" to be a part of it. "We were there when the world changed," she said.

7. One of the Monkees was on that night, too.

Davy Jones was also on The Ed Sullivan Show that night, but not as part of The Monkees. Jones was performing with the cast of Broadway's Oliver! Jones played the Artful Dodger, first in London then in New York, and ended up being nominated for a Tony for the role.

8. No, the crime rate did not drop.

You've surely heard that old legend that the crime rate in the U.S. dropped dramatically during The Beatles's appearance on the show. Apparently the whole nation was so transfixed by the lads from Liverpool that everyone preferred to tune in instead of running around committing felonies and such. It's a nice story, but according to Snopes, it's not true.

The rumor started when Bill Gold, a reporter from The Washington Post, snarkily remarked that while The Beatles were on that evening, no hubcaps were stolen anywhere. It was meant to infer that The Beatles appealed to the type of degenerate who would do such a thing, but the meaning was twisted and reprinted by Newsweek. Gold ended up writing a tongue-in-cheek retraction on February 21, 1964:

"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 hubcap 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."

9. That "very nice" telegram from Elvis Presley was not from Elvis Presley.

10th February 1964: A group of Beatles fans watching their heroes perform on the American television programme 'The Ed Sullivan Show'
Central Press/Getty Images

Wasn't it nice that Elvis Presley kicked off The Beatles's American "debut" with a personal telegram? Just before John, Paul, George and Ringo took the stage, Ed Sullivan announced that he had received a "very nice" telegram from The King, wishing the Fab Four "tremendous success." Notoriously known for being jealous of The Beatles, Elvis had actually done no such thing. His manager, Colonel Tom Parker, was responsible for the note, and only sent it because he thought it would make Elvis look good. (Apparently, the disdain was mutual; when the band received the telegram prior to their performance, Harrison reportedly asked, mockingly, "Elvis who?")

10. Sullivan's musical director wasn't impressed.

The crowd (and a third of America) may have been going crazy when The Beatles performed, but Ray Bloch—The Ed Sullivan Show's musical director—wasn't as impressed. When asked for a comment about the performance by a reporter for The New York Times, he was blunt: "The only thing that’s different is the hair, as far as I can see. I give them a year."

10 Surprising Facts About Wham!’s 'Last Christmas'

Michael Putland/Getty Images
Michael Putland/Getty Images

Over the course of his illustrious career, George Michael gave the world many gifts. One that keeps on giving is “Last Christmas,” the 1984 holiday classic by Wham!, Michael's pop duo with Andrew Ridgeley. “Last Christmas” is such a uniquely beloved song that it inspired a 2019 film of the same name. That’s just one interesting part of the “Last Christmas” story. Read on for 10 fascinating facts about this seasonal synth-pop favorite.

1. George Michael wrote "Last Christmas" in his childhood bedroom.

“Last Christmas” was born one day in 1984 when George Michael and Wham! bandmate Andrew Ridgeley were visiting Michael’s parents. While they were sitting around watching TV, Michael suddenly dashed upstairs to his childhood bedroom and composed the modern Xmas classic in about an hour. “George had performed musical alchemy, distilling the essence of Christmas into music,” Ridgeley said. “Adding a lyric which told the tale of betrayed love was a masterstroke and, as he did so often, he touched hearts."

2. “Last Christmas” isn’t really a Christmas song.

There’s nothing in “Last Christmas” about Santa, reindeer, trees, snow, or anything we typically associate with the holiday. Rather, the song is about a failed romance that just happens to have begun on December 25, when Michael gave someone his heart, and ended on December 26, when this ungrateful person “gave it away.”

3. George Michael wrote and produced the song—but that’s not all.

Singers George Michael (left) and Andrew Ridgeley, of the band 'Wham!', performing on stage, July 1986
Dave Hogan/Getty Images

By the time Wham! recorded “Last Christmas” in August (yes, August) 1984, Michael had taken full control of the group. In addition to writing and producing the song, Michael insisted on playing the Roland Juno-60 synth in the studio. “George wasn’t a musician,” engineer Chris Porter said. “It was a laborious process, because he was literally playing the keyboards with two or three fingers.” Michael even jangled those sweet sleigh bells himself.

4. “Last Christmas” didn’t reach #1 on the UK charts.

As the movie Love Actually reminds us, scoring a Christmas #1 in the UK is a really big deal. Unfortunately, “Last Christmas” didn’t give Wham! that honor. It stalled at #2, and to this day it has the distinction of being the highest-selling UK single of all time to not reach #1.

5. George Michael sang on the song that kept “Last Christmas” at #2.

“Last Christmas” was bested on the UK charts by Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” an all-star charity single benefiting Ethiopian famine relief. Michael sang on “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” and was so committed to the cause that he donated his profits from “Last Christmas” to helping the African nation.

6. George Michael was sued for plagiarism over “Last Christmas.”

In the mid-1980s, the publishing company Dick James Music sued George Michael on behalf of the writers of “Can’t Smile Without You,” a schmaltzy love song recorded by The Carpenters and Barry Manilow, among others. According to Chris Porter, the recording engineer on “Last Christmas,” the suit was dismissed after a musicologist presented 60-plus songs that have a similar chord progression and melody.

7. "Last Christmas" has been covered by a lot of other artists.

Andrew Ridgeley (right) and George Michael (1963-2016) of Wham! performing on stage together in Sydney, Australia during the pop duo's 1985 world tour, January 1985.
Michael Putland/Getty Images

Jimmy Eat World, Hilary Duff, Good Charlotte, Ariana Grande, Carly Rae Jepsen, Gwen Stefani, and Taylor Swift are just a few of the artists who’ve covered “Last Christmas” over the years. The strangest rendition may be the 2006 dance version by the Swedish CGI character Crazy Frog, which reached #16 on the UK charts.

8. Some people make a concerted effort to avoid hearing “Last Christmas.”

While millions of people delight in hearing “Last Christmas” every year, an internet game called Whamageddon encourages players to avoid the song from December 1 to 24. The rules are simple: Once you hear the original Wham! version of “Last Christmas” (remixes and covers don’t count), you’re out. You then admit defeat on social media with the hashtag #Whamageddon and wait for your friends to suffer the same fate. Note: The rules prohibit you from “deliberately sending your friends to Whamhalla.”

9. “Last Christmas” finally charted in America following George Michael’s death in 2016.

Back in 1984, “Last Christmas” wasn’t released as a commercial single in the United States, and therefore it wasn’t eligible for the Billboard Hot 100 chart. However, Billboard changed its rules in 1998, and in the wake of George Michael’s unexpected death on Christmas Day 2016, the song finally made its Hot 100 debut. In December 2018, it reentered the charts and peaked at #25.

10. George Michael was involved in the Last Christmas movie.

November 2019 saw the release of Paul Feig's Last Christmas, a romantic comedy inspired by the song starring Game of Thrones's Emilia Clarke. Producer David Livingstone came up with the idea while George Michael was still alive, and when he pitched the pop star on the project, he was given the greenlight—with one condition: Michael stipulated that actress and author Emma Thompson write the movie. Thompson co-authored the story and the screenplay, and she even wound up playing a supporting role.

The Many Lives of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah"

Leonard Cohen in London in June 1974.
Leonard Cohen in London in June 1974.
Michael Putland/Getty Images

In the late 1970s, Leonard Cohen sat down to write a song about god, sex, love, and other mysteries of human existence that bring us to our knees for one reason or another. The legendary singer-songwriter, who was in his early forties at the time, knew how to write a hit: He had penned "Suzanne," "Bird on the Wire," "Lover, Lover, Lover," and dozens of other songs for both himself and other popular artists of the time. But from the very beginning, there was something different about what would become "Hallelujah"—a song that took five years and an estimated 80 drafts for Cohen to complete.

In the 35 years since it was originally released, "Hallelujah" has been covered by more than 300 other artists in virtually every genre. Willie Nelson, k.d. lang, Justin Timberlake, Bono, Brandi Carlile, Bon Jovi, Susan Boyle, Pentatonix, and Alexandra Burke—the 2008 winner of the UK version of The X Factor—are just a few of the individuals who have attempted to put their own stamp on the song. After Burke’s soulful version was downloaded 105,000 times in its first day, setting a new European record, “Hallelujah” soon became a staple of TV singing shows.

It's an impressive feat by any standard, but even more so when you consider that "Hallelujah"—one of the most critically acclaimed and frequently covered songs of the modern era—was originally stuck on side two of 1984’s Various Positions, an album that Cohen’s American record label deemed unfit for release.

“Leonard, we know you’re great,” Cohen recalled CBS Records boss Walter Yetnikoff telling him, “but we don’t know if you’re any good.”

 

Yetnikoff wasn’t totally off-base. With its synth-heavy ’80s production, Cohen’s version of “Hallelujah” doesn’t announce itself as the chill-inducing secular hymn it’s now understood to be. (Various Positions was finally released in America on the indie label Passport in 1985.) Part of why it took Cohen five years to write the song was that he couldn’t decide how much of the Old Testament stuff to include.

“It had references to the Bible in it, although these references became more and more remote as the song went from the beginning to the end,” Cohen said. “Finally I understood that it was not necessary to refer to the Bible anymore. And I rewrote this song; this is the ‘secular’ ‘Hallelujah.’”

The first two verses introduce King David—the skilled harp player and great uniter of Israel—and the Nazarite strongman Samson. In the scriptures, both David and Samson are adulterous poets whose ill-advised romances (with Bathsheba and Delilah, respectively) lead to some big problems.

In the third verse of his 1984 studio version, Cohen grapples with the question of spirituality. When he’s accused of taking the Lord’s name in vain, Cohen responds, hilariously, “What’s it to ya?” He insists there’s “a blaze of light in every word”—every perception of the divine, perhaps—and declares there to be no difference between “the holy or the broken Hallelujah.” Both have value.

“I wanted to push the Hallelujah deep into the secular world, into the ordinary world,” Cohen once said. “The Hallelujah, the David’s Hallelujah, was still a religious song. So I wanted to indicate that Hallelujah can come out of things that have nothing to do with religion.”

 

Amazingly, Cohen's original "Hallelujah" pales in comparison to Velvet Underground founder John Cale’s five-verse rendition for the 1991 Cohen tribute album I’m Your Fan. Cale had seen Cohen perform the song live, and when he asked the Canadian singer-songwriter to fax over the lyrics, he received 15 pages. “I went through and just picked out the cheeky verses,” Cale said.

Cale’s pared down piano-and-vocals arrangement inspired Jeff Buckley to record what is arguably the definitive “Hallelujah,” a haunting, seductive performance found on the late singer-songwriter’s one and only studio album, 1994’s Grace. Buckley’s death in 1997 only heightened the power of his recording, and within a few years, “Hallelujah” was everywhere. Cale’s version turned up in the 2001 animated film Shrek, and the soundtrack features an equally gorgeous version by Rufus Wainwright.

In 2009, after the song appeared in Zack Snyder's Watchmen, Cohen agreed with a critic who called for a moratorium on covers. “I think it’s a good song,” Cohen told The Guardian. “But too many people sing it.”

Except “Hallelujah” is a song that urges everyone to sing. That’s kind of the point. The title is from a compound Hebrew word comprising hallelu, to praise joyously, and yah, the name of god. As writer Alan Light explains in his 2013 book The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, and the Unlikely Ascent of "Hallelujah,” the word hallelujah was originally an imperative—a command to praise the Lord. In the Christian tradition, it’s less an imperative than an expression of joy: “Hallelujah!” Cohen seemingly plays on both meanings.

 

Cohen’s 1984 recording ends with a verse that begins, “I did my best / It wasn’t much.” It’s the humble shrug of a mortal man and the sly admission of an ambitious songwriter trying to capture the essence of humanity in a pop song. By the final lines, Cohen concedes “it all went wrong,” but promises to have nothing but gratitude and joy for everything he has experienced.

Putting aside all the biblical allusions and poetic language, “Hallelujah” is a pretty simple song about loving life despite—or because of—its harshness and disappointments. That message is even clearer in Cale’s five-verse rendition, the guidepost for all subsequent covers, which features the line, “Love is not a victory march.” Cale also adds in Cohen’s verse about sex, and how every breath can be a Hallelujah. Buckley, in particular, realized the carnal aspect of the song, calling his version “a Hallelujah to the orgasm.”

“Hallelujah” can be applied to virtually any situation. It’s great for weddings, funerals, TV talent shows, and cartoons about ogres. Although Cohen’s lyrics don’t exactly profess religious devotion, “Hallelujah” has become a popular Christmas song that’s sometimes rewritten with more pious lyrics. Agnostics and atheists can also find plenty to love about “Hallelujah.” It’s been covered more than 300 times because it’s a song for everyone.

When Cohen died on November 7, 2016, at the age of 82, renewed interest in “Hallelujah” vaulted Cohen's version of the song onto the Billboard Hot 100 for the first time. Despite its decades of pop culture ubiquity, it took more than 30 years and Cohen's passing for “Hallelujah”—the very essence of which is about finding beauty amid immense sadness and resolving to move forward—to officially become a hit song.

“There’s no solution to this mess,” Cohen once said, describing the human comedy at the heart of “Hallelujah. “The only moment that you can live here comfortably in these absolutely irreconcilable conflicts is in this moment when you embrace it all and you say 'Look, I don't understand a f***ing thing at all—Hallelujah! That's the only moment that we live here fully as human beings.”

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