By Brian Ives
On Sunday CBS will air a tribute to arguably the most influential rock and roll band of all time, titled The Night That Changed America: A GRAMMY Salute To The Beatles. That night, of course, was February 9, 1964, when the Beatles made their debut appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show.
During GRAMMY week, Radio.com caught up with music icons who were around when the Fab Four hit our shores for the first time, some of whom were parked in front of the TV the night of the original broadcast. Here’s what they told us about their impressions of that night, and the Beatles’ role in the changing tides of popular culture.
Photo Gallery: A GRAMMY Salute To The Beatles
Motown Records founder Berry Gordy: “I certainly saw them [perform] many, many times! Their impact on me was very big! First of all, they did three of our songs on their second album, so I loved them after that. Recently, Paul McCartney came to the Motown Museum, and refurbished an old piano we had.” [Note: 1963’s With The Beatles featured “Please Mr. Postman,” “You Really Got A Hold On Me” and “Money (That’s What I Want).”]
Nile Rodgers of Chic: “Of course I saw them [on The Ed Sullivan Show] ! I was a little kid, I was around 11 years old. I didn’t even know who they were. But there was a girl who I had a crush on, she said we had to watch it.”
Herbie Hancock: “I saw them on The Ed Sullivan Show. What was the impact on me? I was mad! I was like, ‘Why don’t jazz performers get that kind of attention?’ But I really respect those guys. They were innovators. They were always cutting edge, and clever and great musicians and they all have big hearts and all care about human beings.”
Paul Shaffer, Late Show With David Letterman: “I was watching that first Ed Sullivan Show appearance. I was in Canada, with my parents, I couldn’t believe it, it was tremendoulsly exciting. I was a Four Seasons fan! But [years later] when Rubber Soul came out, that’s when I really started to take notice of them. They didn’t make a single bad record. Not a one!”
Don Was, musical director of The Night That Changed America and a record producer who has worked with Ringo Starr, the Rolling Stones and others: “I saw them on The Ed Sullivan Show, absolutely, and for me it was life changing. It really was. I was 12. A lot of the musicians who were playing in the band we put together for the show are exactly my age. [Drummer] Kenny Aronoff, [guitarist] Steve Lukather, [guitarist] Peter Frampton. Everybody looked at [the Sullivan performance] and said, ‘I want to do that.’ After that week, you had a huge increase in guitar sales. It was crazy. everyone went out and formed bands. There was something about being 12, you’re just goofy enough to think you might be able to do it for the rest of your life. If I was 16, I might have been a little wiser and gone to get a college degree. It was a pivotal moment in my life, I know it’s a cliche, everybody who watched it talks about it. But I don’t think you and I would be talking today if I hadn’t seen that show. I can’t overstate the significance of it.”
The Night That Changed America: A GRAMMY Salute To The Beatles airs on CBS Feb. 9 at 8 p.m. ET. That same night, Radio.com will host a livestream of a panel discussion held at the Ed Sullivan Theater, featuring Beatle associates and hosted by CBS News’ Anthony Mason. Watch it here.
— Brian Ives, Radio.com