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How the Beatles’ ‘Ed Sullivan’ Debut Inspired 25 Future Rockers

todayFebruary 9, 2024 6

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When the Beatles performed on The Ed Sullivan Show on Feb. 9, 1964, they completely changed the trajectory of music and culture as we know it.
More than 73 million Americans watched the Beatles that night, roughly 38% of the country’s population at the time. Among the legions or adoring viewers were future rock stars, many of whom were significantly impacted by the legendary performance.

The Fab Four’s first Sullivan gig didn’t just signal the start of the British invasion, it marked a watershed moment in the accession of the biggest rock band in history. Beatles pandemonium had already begun in England at this point, but the true Beatlemania phenomenon didn’t begin until they hit the Sullivan airwaves.
Decades later, in his song “I Saw It on T.V.,” John Fogerty would capture the moment, singing: “We gathered round to hear the sound comin’ on the little screen / The grief had passed, the old men laughed, and all the girls screamed / ’Cause four guys from England took us all by the hand / It was time to laugh, time to sing, time to join the band.” 
Below are 25 more stars whose live were changed by watching the Beatles that fateful night.
Tom Petty“I think the whole world was watching that night. It certainly felt that way. You just knew it, sitting in your living room, that everything around you was changing. It was like going from black-and-white to color. Really. I remember earlier that day, in fact, a kid on a bike passed me and said, ‘Hey, the Beatles are on TV tonight.’ I didn’t know him, he didn’t know me, and I thought to myself, ‘This means something.’ [The Beatles] came out and just flattened me. To hear them on the radio was amazing enough, but to finally see them play, it was electrifying.” (Guitar World)

Gene Simmons“There is no way I’d be doing what I do now if it wasn’t for the Beatles. I was watching The Ed Sullivan Show and I saw them. Those skinny little boys, kind of androgynous, with long hair like girls. It blew me away that these four boys [from] the middle of nowhere could make that music. Then they spoke and I thought ‘What are they talking like?’ We had never heard the Liverpool accent before. I thought that all British people spoke like the Queen.” (Liverpool Echo)

Bruce Springsteen”This was different, shifted the lay of the land. Four guys, playing and singing, writing their own material … Rock ‘n’ roll came to my house where there seemed to be no way out … and opened up a whole world of possibilities.” (CBS News)

Billy Joel”That one performance changed my life … Up to that moment I’d never considered playing rock as a career. And when I saw four guys who didn’t look like they’d come out of the Hollywood star mill, who played their own songs and instruments, and especially because you could see this look in John Lennon’s face — and he looked like he was always saying: ‘F— you!’ — I said: ‘I know these guys, I can relate to these guys, I am these guys.’ This is what I’m going to do — play in a rock band’.” (CBS News)

Marky Ramone”I was only twelve years old when I first saw them on The Ed Sullivan Show. I was playing with my toys, and when I came into the living room they were there on the TV. They were very animated, particularly Ringo, and he was the guy that inspired me to play the drums. He wasn’t technically great, but he was extremely tight, and he got me on the path to becoming a drummer. They were the first band to write their own music, really. I was very impressed by the Beatles.” (Louder)

Marcelo Hernandez, Getty Images
Marcelo Hernandez, Getty Images

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Joe Perry“Seeing them on TV was akin to a national holiday. Talk about an event. I never saw guys looking so cool. I had already heard some of their songs on the radio, but I wasn’t prepared by how powerful and totally mesmerizing they were to watch. It changed me completely. I knew something was different in the world that night. Next day at school, the Beatles were all anybody could talk about. Us guys had to play it kind of cool, because the girls were so excited and were drawing little hearts on their notebooks: ‘I love Paul,’ that kind of thing. But I think there was an unspoken thing with the guys that we all dug the Beatles, too. We just couldn’t come right out and say it.” (Music Radar)

Nancy Wilson“The lightning bolt came out of the heavens and struck Ann and me the first time we saw the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show. … There’d been so much anticipation and hype about the Beatles that it was a huge event, like the lunar landing: that was the moment Ann and I heard the call to become rock musicians. I was seven or eight at the time. … They were really pushing hard against the morality of the times. That might seem funny to say now, since it was in their early days and they were still wearing suits. But the sexuality was bursting out of the seams. … But we didn’t want to marry them or anything: We wanted to be them. Right away we started doing air guitar shows in the living room, faking English accents, and studying all the fanzines. Ann always got to be Paul, and I was mostly George or John … ” (Believer)

Geddy Lee“Suddenly there was my sister kneeling on the floor in front of the television, crying and reaching for the TV screen as if she might touch the Fab Four and have one of them all to herself. I remember laughing to myself and thinking, ‘What is wrong with her?’ But seeing the impact that rock and roll had on her made a definite impression on me. Needless to say, our parents were singularly unimpressed, but rock and roll music had entered our home and, as y mom would say, ‘De rest is history.’” (My Effin’ Life)

Rick Nielsen”They completely changed music, especially in America. They changed me, too. Until that point I was a drummer. But I became a massive fan; I had the single of Please Please Me a year before anyone else in the States had even heard of the Beatles.” (Louder)

Lou Gramm”I’ll never forget watching [the Beatles] live on The Ed Sullivan Show during their first trip to America. You could feel the excitement coming through our little black-and-white television screen. I remember stealing a glance at my mom and dad that night, and I noticed them smirking. My dad shook his head, his disdain obvious. His attitude was that this was a bunch of noise with no lasting value, just a fad that would soon fade away. But as the show went on, I saw my mother getting into one of the love songs sung by Lennon and McCartney.” (Juke Box Hero)

Richie Sambora“One of my earliest memories was sitting cross-legged on the floor in the living room of the house I grew up in and looking up at the black-and-white TV set and watching the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show. I was 5 years old and I remember thinking, ‘Wow! That’s what I want to do.’ I know it sounds absurd – most 5-year-old boys say they want to be firemen or policemen or baseball players, or even the president. Not me. I wanted to be one of the Beatles. … But seeing the kind of reaction the Beatles got from girls … hey, what guy wouldn’t say, ‘That’s what I want!’?” (Music Radar)

Steven Van Zandt“This was the main event of my life. It was certainly the major event for many others, whether or not they knew it at the time. For me, it was no less dramatic than aliens landing on the planet. … There’s no equivalent of that today, TV shows that literally everybody watched. All ages, all ethnic groups, all in black and white on a 14-inch screen. … It was their sound, their looks, their attitudes. It was so many things. A time to look at things differently, question things a little bit. All kinds of things were new. (Associated Press)

Chrissie Hynde“I remember exactly where I was sitting. It was amazing. It was like the axis shifted. I remember the first time I saw the 45 in the record bin in the discount house where my parents shopped and held it in my hand. It was kind of like an alien invasion. If you were a little virgin and didn’t want to grow up like I didn’t, didn’t want to enter the adult world like I didn’t, it gave you some kind of new avenue of sexuality. It could be more cerebral. You didn’t have to actually touch the person’s acne. … [The day after, the boys] all combed their hair down and made bangs! Me too! I could never set my hair in rollers again. I combed it out straight and cut my bangs. Oh yeah. It was a whole other thing.” (Austin Chronicle)

Steve Lukather”When the Beatles were on Ed Sullivan, life went from black and white to color like in The Wizard of Oz – and the irony I’m in the band Toto is not lost on me.” (Louder)

Gary Rossington“We saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan like everybody else in our generation, and freaked out and wanted to start a rock ’n’ roll band. But then we got serious, and we really had this dream to become something, to make a mark.” (Billboard)

Frazer Harrison, Getty Images
Frazer Harrison, Getty Images

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Kenny Loggins”I was a folk guy, Bob Dylan was my main hero — up until I saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. When Lennon and McCartney showed up, it was a whole different atmosphere. My mother told me about the Beatles on Ed Sullivan that night. I never took advice from her on what music to see — she’s my mother! But she said, “There’s this group I heard of, everyone’s talking about them.” Something pulled me to that to see who that was. It was life-changing for every musician I’ve ever spoken to from that era. The folk music thing faded out. I bought an electric guitar and tried to write in their style.” (Stereogum)

Dee Snider”I was eight years old when this [I Want To Hold Your Hand] was released, and after hearing it on the radio, and then seeing that legendary Ed Sullivan show performance, that was it, I wanted to be a Beatle. I quickly realized that I couldn’t actually be a Beatle, but I could be a rock star, and that plan never changed.” (Louder)

Paul Natkin, Getty Images
Paul Natkin, Getty Images

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Mark Mothersbaugh”The Beatles on Ed Sullivan made me say, “That’s what I want to do.” If you listen to the first song on the first Devo record, I start off “Uncontrollable Urge” with basically the same intro as “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” In the song there’s a deconstructed “yeah yeah yeah.” It didn’t go unnoticed by John Lennon. He came to a Devo show at Max’s Kansas City. The stage is way in the back, you have to wait for everybody to leave so you can pack up your gear and drive home. I remember the night, the second or third show we did there, John Lennon was coming out drunk with Ian Hunter from Mott The Hoople, they’re holding each other up. He looks over and I’m sitting in the passenger seat of the Econoline I’m going to be sleeping in that night. He comes over and sticks his head right in front of my face and he stinks like beer and he goes “Yeah yeah yeah yeah!” right in my face. I was like… OK, I could die now and I’d go to heaven.” (Stereogum)

Michael Loccisano, Getty Images
Michael Loccisano, Getty Images

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George Thorogood”I will say this: the genius Brian Epstein had when he put the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show. They worked really hard to get there. They worked hours and hours for two or three days before they went on air to make it absolutely perfect. They thought, ‘This is our shot and we’re gonna go for it.’ The smartest thing you can do on television is, for the first song, you put the best-looking guy in the band out first so no one will turn it off. When Paul McCartney went up to the microphone on The Ed Sullivan Show and he sang ‘Close your eyes and I’ll kiss you’ — at that point, the whole world changed. The next song they did was ‘Till There Was You’ from The Music Man. That won over the adults. It was something more conventional. In that brief period of about six minutes, the Beatles had won over the world.” (Stereogum)

Kevin Cronin”I was a little too young to get what Elvis was all about. He appealed to my babysitters, and not to me. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate just why he’s regarded as iconic, but it never got me going. But one Sunday night at home, watching the family’s black and white TV set, when The Ed Sullivan Show was on, and I saw the Beatles. That changed my attitude. I knew then what I wanted to do with my life. Seeing them made something click in my soul.” (Louder)

Gary Gershoff, Getty Images
Gary Gershoff, Getty Images

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Doug Clifford”A big influence was seeing the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. They were a quartet and we said, wow, we can do that. If these guys from England can come out and play rock ‘n’ roll, we can do it … We bought Beatle wigs. We went to the drama store, and I guess they were Three Stooges wigs at that time.” (CBS News)

Central Press, Getty Images
Central Press, Getty Images

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Elliot Easton”I was 10 years old when the Beatles played The Ed Sullivan Show and I was already playing a little guitar. To have that guy there, standing to the side, looking down at his guitar while he played his licks like that, to my impressionable mind it set in stone the definition of a lead guitar. I knew, right then, that that was what I wanted to do with my life.” (Louder)

Phillip Faraone, Getty Images
Phillip Faraone, Getty Images

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Micky Dolenz”I remember watching the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. I was in my car. A friend of mine had managed to get a portable black-and-white TV, which we’d never heard of and never seen. And you plugged it into your cigarette lighter for power, you put little rabbit ears up on the top of your car, and you tuned in TV. And the picture and sound was terrible. But we were sitting at our local hamburger place, the drive-in, where the car hops still rolled around on roller skates to serve you your burgers. And everybody was talking about the Beatles being on Ed Sullivan… I remember distinctly watching the Beatles on the show.” (WDHA)

Mike Portnoy”Most people talk about drumming and how they saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan and that changed their life and they knew what they wanted to be. I saw the Beatles and I was like ‘ok, that guy John is standing, that guy Paul is standing, that guy George is standing… Aha! That guy Ringo is sitting! That’s what I wanna do! I wanna sit for a living!” (Louder)

Diane Warren”Like millions of other kids, I remember seeing them on The Ed Sullivan Show. It was like lightning. I made my mom buy me Meet The Beatles the next day, I think it’s the first album I ever had. I think the whole world went out and bought a Beatles album as soon as the sun came up that next day.” (Stereogum)

Richard Harbaugh/A.M.P.A.S., Getty Images
Richard Harbaugh/A.M.P.A.S., Getty Images

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The Stories Behind Every Beatles LP Cover

In some ways, the Beatles’ album art could be just as fascinating as the music inside. 

Gallery Credit: Nick DeRiso

Written by: badlandsclassicrock

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