There is no question about it, the 50’s and 60’s were some of the most revolutionary times of the last century, most notably for music. Two of music’s biggest icons, Elvis and The Beatles, made their debuts to American audiences on The Ed Sullivan Show. Although almost a decade apart, the appearances of both Elvis and The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show are arguably the most important television musical performances of all time.
According to most, the birth of Rock & Roll occurred on a hot night in Hollywood in the summer of 1956. A young southern kid with wavy black hair and shaky hips skyrocketed into the stratosphere of fame that night. Elvis Presley was in Hollywood filming “Love Me Tender” when he performed at CBS television city as 60 million viewers tuned into to see him sing Hound Dog on The Ed Sullivan Show. Little did anyone know the mass hysteria that would soon follow. The King was made and his legend born. He would continue to break the mold with his surly, sexy, uninhibited Rock & Roll style.
Nearly a decade later in 1964, radio stations had been playing nonstop a new kind of Rock & Roll, the kind from England. The Beatles were just becoming popular in the US, but had not yet ventured stateside. All that changed on a Sunday night in February of 1964 when 73 million people tuned into The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show and witnessed the beginning of the British Invasion – Beatlemania had begun! Weeks before the excitement was buzzing about this new group from across the pond, but their appearance that night solidified their status as stars. Many consider this appearance to be a seminal moment in American history.
Elvis and The Beatles cannot fairly be compared to each other in musical terms. They both launched a revolution but at different times. Elvis started the Rock & Roll revolution and The Beatles took it to another level.
The Ed Sullivan Show provided a launching pad to these two music icons and made them accessible and visible to the masses. Both performances can be considered as two of the most critical times in American pop culture, then and now.