Beatlemania was in full swing in the UK throughout 1963, but America was a little slow to catch on. Capitol Records initially declined to release the Beatles’ debut in the US (WUT????) and Americans just didn’t take a shine to the mop tops.
On December 10, 1963, CBS Evening News aired a segment about the Beatlemania phenomenon in England. The segment inspired a teenage girl from Maryland to write a local radio DJ, Carroll James of WWDC, and request he play songs by the Beatles. As it happened, James had also seen the CBS News segment, and he arranged to have a copy of “I Want to Hold Your Hand” sent to him. He debuted the record on December 17, and American Beatlemania was born.
Around that same time, Ed Sullivan happened to be at London’s Heathrow airpost when the band was returning from an appearance in Stockholm. Seeing the fans’ reaction to the lads, Sullivan approached the Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein with an offer for the band to appear on his show. Sullivan offered them top dollar for a single show, but Epstein had another idea – the band would appear on three consecutive episodes for minimal money but would receive top billing and would open and close each show.
The Beatles’ first appearance on the show, on February 9, 1964, was a smash success. They opened the show with All My Loving, Till There Was You and She Loves You. The audience response in the studio was overwhelming; the screaming of the teenage fans threatened to overshadow Sullivan’s next segment, with magician Fred Kaps. The band returned at the end of the program to perform I Saw Her Standing There and I Want to Hold Your Hand.
An estimated seventy-three million Americans watched the episode. In this age of countless cable and streaming options, numbers like that are almost impossible to achieve (the Super Bowl is about the only exception). At the time, though, Sunday evenings in America were spent gathered around the television, watching The Ed Sullivan show. It was a cultural phenomenon, and the perfect way to introduce the country to the band.
The lads appeared again the following Sunday, February 16th. A police presence was needed to hold back the throng of screaming fans, and the band barely made it to the stage. (Their appearance on the 23rd had been pre-taped, which was probably for the best) They concluded each appearance with I Want to Hold Your Hand.
On April 4, the band occupied the top 5 spots on the Billboard Hot 100 (an achievement that has yet to be replicated), and the Beatles’ domination of America was complete.