Fifty years after The Beatles’ landmark performance on the Ed Sullivan Show, John Timmons still remembers the night like it was yesterday.
“Even as a 6-year-old, I knew there was something interesting about those four guys shaking their heads and going, ‘Wooo,’” he said.
Timmons, the associate director of residence life at Winthrop University, is one of 73 million Americans who tuned in 50 years ago tonight to see Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr make their television debuts in the United States. With that performance and visit to the U.S., the American music scene was forever changed, Timmons said.
“The incredible thing about The Beatles that we notice is their music is so timeless because it was so well done and so melodic,” he said. “It’s incredible how they have maintained their appeal after all these years.”
A self-described Beatles “fanatic,” Winthrop professor John Bird said he has an MP3 player devoted entirely to the band’s music, although he wasn’t a fan when they appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show.
“I had no clue about rock ‘n’ roll music,” he said. “At school the next day, everybody was going crazy.”
Bird, who was 10 at the time, said he was hooked.
“They caught me from the very beginning, but the thing that amazed me is how they grew and changed,” he said.
While many say The Beatles’ enormous success in the United States led the “British invasion” of musicians, Bird said that’s not really accurate.
“People call it the British invasion, but they brought us back to American music,” Bird said, because the Beatles’ style was similar to that of American rock icons Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley. The Beatles’ style was just packaged in a new way.
And it was something about the way The Beatles always sang about love in whatever they did that made their music “spiritual” in its own way, he said.
Part of their lasting appeal, said both Bird and Timmons, is also the way The Beatles and their career arc mimicked the socially turbulent 1960s, where more changed in one decade than in any other in the 20th century, Timmons said.
The change The Beatles inspired wasn’t just about authority or society. Sometimes it was something simple as a hairstyle.
On the day after the the Ed Sullivan Show, “Guys had washed the Brylcreem out of their hair,” Bird said.
Timmons also recalled that on the day after the Ed Sullivan performance, his older brother’s hair was no longer slicked down, but combed straight to try to emulate McCartney, Harrison, Lennon and Starr’s shaggier styles.
Fans of The Beatles today know no age limits, said Timmons, who teaches a graduate seminar at Winthrop on The Beatles and has given lectures about the band.
“I’ve seen it firsthand teaching courses with college students,” he said. “That’s the kind of thing that carries from generation to generation.”
A whole new generation will get the opportunity to see The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show on Sunday night when CBS airs a special devoted to the event. Both Timmons and Bird said they’ll be watching.
“I plan to tune in on Monday night at eight o’clock and make up for what I missed when I was 10,” Bird said.
Rachel Southmayd • 803-329-4072