On February 9, 1964, The Beatles made their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, performing before a “record-busting” audience of 73 million viewers across the USA. The Ed Sullivan Show was an American television variety show that ran every Sunday night from its debut on June 20, 1948, until its final show on June 6, 1971. Hosted by New York entertainment columnist Ed Sullivan, virtually every type of entertainment appeared on the show. Classical musicians, opera singers, popular recording artists, songwriters, comedians, ballet dancers, dramatic actors performing monologues from plays, and circus acts were regularly featured. The format was essentially the same as vaudeville and, although vaudeville had undergone a slow demise for a generation, Sullivan presented many ex-vaudevillians on his show. In 2002, The Ed Sullivan Show was ranked #15 on TV Guide‘s 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time.
The Beatles were an English rock band formed in Liverpool in 1960. With members John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, they became regarded as the foremost and most influential music band in history. Rooted in skiffle, beat and 1950s rock and roll, the group were integral to pop music’s evolution into an art form and to the development of the counterculture of the 1960s. They often incorporated classical elements, older pop forms and unconventional recording techniques in innovative ways, and later experimented with several musical styles ranging from pop ballads and Indian music to psychedelia and hard rock. As the members continued to draw influences from a variety of cultural sources, their musical and lyrical sophistication grew, and they were seen as an embodiment of the era’s sociocultural movements.
Led by primary songwriters Lennon and McCartney, the Beatles built their reputation playing clubs in Liverpool and Hamburg over a three-year period from 1960, with Stuart Sutcliffe initially serving as bass player. The core trio of Lennon, McCartney and Harrison, together since 1958, went through a succession of drummers, including Pete Best, before asking Starr to join them in 1962. Manager Brian Epstein molded them into a professional act, and producer George Martin guided and developed their recordings, greatly expanding the group’s homeland success after their first hit, “Love Me Do”, in late 1962. As their popularity grew into the intense fan frenzy dubbed “Beatlemania”, they acquired the nickname “the Fab Four”, with Epstein, Martin, and other members of the band’s entourage sometimes given the informal title of “fifth Beatle”.
EMI’s American subsidiary, Capitol Records, hindered the Beatles’ releases in the United States for more than a year by initially declining to issue their music, including their first three singles. Concurrent negotiations with the independent US label Vee-Jay led to the release of some of the songs in 1963, but not all. Vee-Jay finished preparation for the album Introducing… The Beatles, culled from most of the songs of Parlophone’s Please Please Me, but a management shake-up led to the album not being released. When it surfaced that the label did not report royalties on their sales, the license Vee-Jay signed with EMI was voided. A new license was granted to the Swan label for the single “She Loves You”. The record received some airplay in the Tidewater area of Virginia by Gene Loving of radio station WGH and was featured on the “Rate-a-Record” segment of American Bandstand, but it failed to catch on nationally. The Beatles’ American television debut was on November 18, 1963, on The Huntley-Brinkley Report, with a four-minute long piece by Edwin Newman.
On November 22, the CBS Morning News ran a five-minute feature on Beatlemania in the UK which heavily featured their then current UK hit “She Loves You”. The evening’s scheduled repeat was cancelled following the assassination of John F. Kennedy the same day. On December 10, Walter Cronkite decided to transmit the piece again on the CBS Evening News as a way to “cheer up the nation” deep in mourning.
In Great Britain, With the Beatles was released as their second album on November 22, on Parlophone, recorded four months after the band’s debut Please Please Me. The album featured eight original compositions (seven by Lennon–McCartney and “Don’t Bother Me”, George Harrison’s first recorded solo composition and his first released on a Beatles album) and six covers (mostly of Motown, rock and roll, and R&B hits). The iconic cover photograph was taken by the fashion photographer Robert Freeman, and it has been mimicked by several music groups over the years.
The album became the first Beatles album released in North America when it was released in Canada on November 25 under the augmented title Beatlemania! With the Beatles, with additional text on the album cover, and issued only in mono at the time (a stereo Canadian release would come in 1968). With the Beatles was unevenly “split” over the group’s first two Capitol albums in the United States; nine tracks were issued on Meet the Beatles! (the eight original compositions plus “Till There Was You”) on January 20, 1964, and the remaining five, all “covers”, were placed on The Beatles’ Second Album (released on April 10, 1964).
American chart success began after disc jockey Carroll James of AM radio station WWDC, in Washington, DC, obtained a copy of the British single “I Want to Hold Your Hand” in mid-December and began playing it on-air. Listeners repeatedly phoned in to request a replay of the song while local record shops were flooded with requests for a record they did not have in stock. James sent the record to other disc jockeys around the country sparking similar reaction. On December 26, Capitol released the record three weeks ahead of schedule. It sold a million copies, becoming a number-one hit in the U.S. by mid-January. Epstein arranged for a $40,000 U.S. marketing campaign which Capitol obliged due to Ed Sullivan’s agreement to headline The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show.
In late 1963, Sullivan and his entourage had happened to be passing through Heathrow and witnessed how The Beatles’ fans greeted the group on their return from Stockholm, where they had performed a television show as warmup band to local stars Suzie and Lill Babs. Sullivan was intrigued, telling his entourage it was the same thing as Elvis all over again. He initially offered Beatles manager Brian Epstein top dollar for a single show but the Beatles manager had a better idea — he wanted exposure for his clients: The Beatles would instead appear three times on the show, at bottom dollar, but receive top billing and two spots (opening and closing) on each show.
On January 3, 1964, The Jack Paar Program ran Beatles concert footage licensed from the BBC “as a joke”. It was watched by 30 million viewers. Meet The Beatles! was the first U.S. Beatles album to be issued by Capitol Records, appearing on January 20, 1964, in both mono and stereo formats. The cover featured Robert Freeman’s iconic portrait of the Beatles used in the United Kingdom for With the Beatles, with a blue tint added to the original stark black-and-white photograph. It topped the popular album chart on February 15 following their U.S. television debut and remained at number one for eleven weeks before being replaced by The Beatles’ Second Album.
On February 7, an estimated 4,000 fans gathered at London’s Heathrow Airport, waving and screaming as Pan Am Flight 101 left Heathrow Airport. Among the passengers were The Beatles, on their first trip to the U.S. as a band, with their entourage of photographers and journalists, and Phil Spector. When the group arrived at New York’s newly renamed John F. Kennedy Airport, they were greeted by a second large crowd, with Beatles fans again estimated to number four thousand, and journalists, two hundred. From having so many people packed in a little space, a few people in the crowd got injured. The airport had not previously experienced such a large crowd. After a press conference, where they first met disc jockey Murray the K, the Beatles were put into limousines — one per Beatle — and driven to New York City. On the way, McCartney turned on a radio and listened to a running commentary: “They have just left the airport and are coming to New York City …” After reaching the Plaza Hotel, the Beatles were besieged by fans and reporters.
The Beatles’ first visit to the United States took place when the nation was still mourning the assassination of President John F. Kennedy the previous November. Commentators often suggest that, for many, particularly the young, the Beatles’ performances reignited the sense of excitement and possibility that momentarily faded in the wake of the assassination, and helped make way for the revolutionary social changes to come in the decade. Their hairstyle, unusually long for the era and mocked by many adults, became an emblem of rebellion to the burgeoning youth culture.
They gave their first live U.S. television performance on February 9, 1964, on The Ed Sullivan Show, watched by approximately 73 million viewers in over 23 million households, or 34 per cent of the American population. Biographer Jonathan Gould writes that, according to the Nielsen rating service, it was “the largest audience that had ever been recorded for an American television program”. The Beatles followed Ed’s show opening intro, performing “All My Loving”; “Till There Was You”, which featured the names of the group members superimposed on closeup shots, including the famous “SORRY GIRLS, HE’S MARRIED” caption on John Lennon; and “She Loves You”. The act that followed Beatles in the broadcast, magician Fred Kaps, was pre-recorded in order to allow time for an elaborate set change. The group returned later in the program to perform “I Saw Her Standing There” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand”.
The next morning, The Beatles awoke to a largely negative critical consensus in the U.S., but a day later at their first U.S. concert, Beatlemania erupted at the Washington Coliseum. Back in New York the following day, The Beatles met with another strong reception during two shows at Carnegie Hall. The band flew to Florida, where they appeared on the weekly Ed Sullivan Show a second time, before another 70 million viewers,. This was broadcast from Miami Beach where Muhammad Ali (then Cassius Clay) was in training for his first title bout with Sonny Liston. The occasion was used by both camps for publicity. On the evening of the television show (February 16) a crush of people nearly prevented the band from making it onstage. A wedge of policemen were needed and the band began playing “She Loves You” only seconds after reaching their instruments. They continued with “This Boy”, and “All My Loving” and returned later to close the show with “I Saw Her Standing There”, “From Me to You” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand”
They were shown on tape February 23 (this appearance had been taped earlier in the day on February 9 before their first live appearance). They followed Ed’s intro with “Twist and Shout” and “Please Please Me” and closed the show once again with “I Want to Hold Your Hand” which had swiftly risen to No. 1 in the charts.
The Beatles returned to the UK on February 22. The group’s popularity generated unprecedented interest in British music, and a number of other UK acts subsequently made their own American debuts, successfully touring over the next three years in what was termed the British Invasion. The Beatles’ success in the United States opened the door for a successive string of British beat groups and pop acts such as The Dave Clark Five, The Animals, Petula Clark, The Kinks, and The Rolling Stones to achieve success in America. During the week of April 4, 1964, The Beatles held twelve positions on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart, including the top five.
The Beatles filmed their last live appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show on August 14, 1965. The show was broadcast September 12, and earned Sullivan a 60-percent share of the nighttime audience for one of the appearances. This time they followed three acts before coming out to perform “I Feel Fine”, “I’m Down”, and “Act Naturally” and then closed the show with “Ticket to Ride”, “Yesterday”, and “Help!” Although this was their final live appearance on the show, the group would, for several years, provide filmed promotional clips of songs to air exclusively on Sullivan’s program such as the 1966 and 1967 clips of “Paperback Writer”, “Rain”, “Penny Lane”, and “Strawberry Fields Forever”.
By early 1964, The Beatles had become international stars, leading the “British Invasion” of the United States pop market and breaking numerous sales records. They soon made their motion picture debut with the mock-documentary A Hard Day’s Night (1964). From 1965 onwards, they produced increasingly innovative recordings, including the albums Rubber Soul (1965), Revolver (1966), Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967), The Beatles (also known as the “White Album”, 1968) and Abbey Road (1969). In 1968, they founded Apple Corps, a multi-armed multimedia corporation that remains active. After disbanding in 1970, the four members each enjoyed success as solo artists. Lennon was shot and killed in December 1980, and Harrison died of lung cancer in November 2001. McCartney and Starr remain musically active.
The Beatles are the best-selling band in history, with estimated sales of over 800 million records worldwide. They are the best-selling music artists in the United States, with 178 million certified units. The group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988, and all four main members were inducted individually from 1994 to 2015. They have also had more number-one albums on the British charts and sold more singles in the UK than any other act. In 2008, the group topped Billboard magazine’s list of the all-time most successful artists; as of 2017, they hold the record for most number-one hits on the Hot 100 chart with twenty. They have received seven Grammy Awards, an Academy Award for Best Original Song Score and fifteen Ivor Novello Awards. They were also collectively included in Time magazine’s compilation of the twentieth century’s 100 most influential people.
There have, naturally, been plenty of philatelic commemorations of The Beatles as a group and as individual artists. Last October, ASAD featured the recently-released John Lennon stamps, I also have a 1999 U.S. stamp issued in honor of Yellow Submarine as well as the British stamp set released in January 2007 picturing various album covers plus the souvenir sheet that is today’s stamp of the day, as well as more left-field releases by places like the Republic of the Congo, Chad, and Mongolia. While I enjoy a lot of The Beatles’ music (and have amassed a nice collection of not only all of their official releases including the recent “Super Deluxe Editions” but also many, many bootleg recordings), they don’t even make my Top 5 list of favorite groups (Top 10, certainly, but there are a few I listen to a lot more often). As such, I probably won’t try to build a large topical collection around The Beatles.
Still, I really like the 2007 British release, particularly this souvenir sheet which Scott catalogues as #2420 with the four individual stamps given letters a through d. The sheet is basically a scattering of albums, singles and the type of memorabilia that now commands very high prices amongst collectors. The design to either side carries on a bit more on the backing card of the presentation pack for this issue. The souvenir sheet was designed by Johnson Banks and printed by Walsall Security Printers by offset lithography, perforated 14½ x 14. The six record album stamps were printed by Walsall using the photogravure process in self-adhesive sheets of 30 with simulated die-cut perforations (Scott #2421-2426).
The United States has also released one stamp honoring Ed Sullivan’s contributions to “Early American Television”, part of a set issued on August 11, 2009, in North Hollywood, California (Scott #4414).