"The Night the World Exploded"
By Jeff Owenby
Breathless I sat before the television set. It was about to happen. Just a few minutes till eight; commercials, commercials and more commercials; then the fanfare began; first a rumbling of kettle drums, then the weekly announcer's voice "And now, here he is, Eeddddd Sullivan!" This was immediately followed by a long snare drum roll and a jazzy lively brass orchestra.
It was winter, and outside the sky was black and starless. For an eight year-old, cold winter nights were a bane existence, so television offered up so much to relieve the tedium of being locked indoors. Soon it was going to begin; the four enigmatic young men from Liverpool England that swept across nations like nuclear detonation would take the stage. I had heard of them, and all the trembling rumors of "Beatlemania" that knocked England off its feet.
I remember so many thoughts and anticipations that flooded me. What would they have to offer? How much of it was real and how much was hype? There had always been pop music. American names like Elvis, Buddy Holly, and Little Richard ruled the air waves. Still, there seemed to be nothing on the scale of what we'd been hearing about across the great pond.
When the moment came for Ed Sullivan to announce these four mysterious men, I sat cross-legged on the floor in front of the set. Perhaps being closer to the airwaves could help me understand better. From that moment on, I was never the same again. As it turned out, very few on that day of February 9th, 1964 were ever the same again. The rumors were all true! These guys were electric and intrepid, with hair that seemed to go on for miles. Crew cuts or a slight cropping of hair on shaved sides were the usual guy fashion at the time. Nobody had ever seen haircuts like these before, nor the pure unabashed style it took to sport them. Everything I'd ever heard about "The Beatles" was absolutely true.
As for their performance, they screamed and shook their heads while smiling and having the time of their lives. Locks of hair bounced with the movement adding to the wilding of their energized performance. They were so alive, and smiling as if they owned the world. When the cameras cut to the audience, the emotions were near catastrophic. Girls screamed and cried and held up signs with individual Beatle names written on them.
They wore the same clothes like uniforms which offered a bit of comfort in the fact that they seemed to be of one family. Their very affect was an all-for-one, one-for-all team message that followed suit in their performance. On stage, Lennon and McCartney screamed and wailed like Little Richard; George and Paul offered up magnificent harmonies; guitars strummed chords that felt wrong in the world of rock and roll simply for the fact that they were so beautiful and, at times, overpowering. Structural guitar chording utilizing minors and major sevenths were perhaps a bit too high-brow for standard C, G, and D rock and roll. These things and more were what made up the toolbox of Beatle songs.
Even with matching and polished attire, The Beatles had a rough deliberation about them; a sense that perhaps they just wanted to explode. What America saw was a narrow glimpse of their poor, working class Liverpudlian world. They spoke to us through power chords, electric guitars, manic screams and soulful voices. It was all so new and vibrant, and The Beatles' sound became the "now" that everybody was ready for.
They came from the bombed out remains of Liverpool. Just a mix of poor working class sods, they were tempered and tested in Germany. With proven stage experience, The Beatles bounced right back to their home continent to take on the world. The Beatles' history making performance changed the way I lived and thought forever. If the musical revolution and the onset of the British Invasion could so abruptly morph into such wonder, then anything in the world was possible.
The following day was a Monday, and in school, The Beatles were on the lips of everyone in my class. Even our teacher had to ask if everyone got a chance to see them on TV. From that day forward, I, like many, felt a profound change in my life. Most of us had to beg our parents to let us grow our hair long. The demand for guitar lessons rose like hot stock in the market. Street corner singing of Beatle songs became marathon events.
As for myself, I felt significantly changed; perhaps I was a bit wiser in my young world; I understood the power of youth and feeling alive, and living for pure and raw creativity. The feeling that I could do absolutely anything I wanted in my life never seemed more possible. This is what happened to me on that Sunday evening of February 9th, 1964. For the rest of my life, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr would remain my heroes, and they do so today.