NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Fifty years ago Sunday, four young men from Liverpool, England took the stage at the Ed Sullivan Show, performed four original songs and one number from “The Music Man,” and changed history in one night.
At the very same Ed Sullivan Theater where that historic performance took place, a panel gathered Sunday night to talk about the Beatles – including three people who knew the Beatles personally in their early days, two who have interpreted their work in film in parody, and four more who represent the music industry from the 1960s to the present day.
CBS News Senior Business Correspondent Anthony Mason was the host and moderator for “50 Years: The Beatles.”
On Feb. 9, 1964, 73 million people watched the John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr perform on the Ed Sullivan Show. They opened with “All My Loving” and followed with “Till There Was You” from “The Music Man,” and “She Loves You,” and later returned to perform “I Saw Her Standing There” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”
Within two months, the Beatles had the top five songs on the American charts, and 63 percent of records released in America were Beatles records.
Three notable people who knew the Beatles well at that time joined Mason to talk about the group’s momentous rise to prominence.
Acclaimed music producer Peter Asher came to prominence alongside the Beatles as half of the duo Peter and Gordon, who scored their biggest hit the Lennon-McCartney song “A World Without Love.” He was also the brother of McCartney’s longtime girlfriend, Jane Asher, and McCartney lived in his family’s home for a time.
Pattie Boyd was one of the most celebrated models of the 1960s, and married George Harrison after they met on the set of the 1964 Beatles film “A Hard Day’s Night.” After the couple divorced, Boyd was also married for 10 years to Eric Clapton.
And Mick Jones was one of the founding members of the classic 1970s band Foreigner, but became acquainted with the Beatles many years earlier when he played on a bill with them in France as a session guitarist for vocalist Sylvie Vartan.
Asher said he watched Lennon and McCartney write “I Want to Hold Your Hand” in his family’s home, at the piano belonging to his mother, an oboe professor at the Royal Academy of Music.
“They sat side by side – interestingly, on the piano bench – there were no guitars in the room, and played ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ for first time anywhere, and asked me what I thought,” Asher said. “I said I thought it was very good. It’s really hard to know – I mean, one doesn’t like to be pretentious about it, because it’s only a pop song. But there is something magical about the moment of creation for something that extraordinary good. You think, you know, am I going a bit crazy or is it about the best song I’ve ever heard in my life, or possibly both?”
While the Beatles had grown into massive celebrities in the U.K. since their first recordings were released in 1962, they did not gain a foothold in the U.S. until Capital Records released “I Want to Hold Your Hand” in December 1963. Beatlemania took the U.S. by storm afterward.
It also took time for the Beatles to gain a major fan base in France, where Jones first encountered them before they had yet visited the U.S. But he himself described the Beatles in literally glowing terms.
“I was just dazzled I heard on side of the stage, and first night I saw them, it was like sort of a white light experience,” Jones said. “They were so perfect; there was like an aura around them. They played for a full 40 minutes; they played 15 songs in that time. I wish I could get away with that.”
But long before their first U.S. tour, the Beatles were hoping to win the affection of Americans, the panelists said.
“Going to America was the ultimate dream. I mean, one forgets that back then it wasn’t easy to go. It was expensive. It was a really long way. You didn’t go for a week in Florida as a holiday like they do now,” Asher said. “There were a couple of hits (by British musicians) – Lonnie Donegan had a hit, Acker Bilk had a hit, Rolf Harris had a hit — but they were kind of one-offs. America never really bought into our artists,” Asher said. “And in this particular case – the exciting thing about it for the Beatles and for all of us is that success in America meant that you got to go there. None of us had ever been there. It was a magical land from movies and television, and great music.”
Boyd first encountered the Beatles after they returned home to the U.K. following their inaugural American tour, and began filming “A Hard Day’s Night.”
“Initially I had gotten interview for this film part, but without realizing — I thought it was an interview for a TV commercial, because I recognized the director whom I’ d worked with before. And later on that day, my agent said I got a part in the Beatles film,” she said. “I couldn’t believe it. This was extraordinary. How did this happen? And I panicked, and said I never had any desire to be an actress. And they said, ‘Don’t worry, you only have to say one word – prisoners.’” I thought I could do that.”
During the filming, Boyd caught the Harrison’s eye, whom she went on to marry in 1966. She described the energy around the group as “high-energy and electric.”
“They sparked off each other very quickly and very fast; very amusing; very witty, and it was wonderful to be in their presence,” Boyd said.
The panelists also credited the Beatles and the British Invasion with reviving early rock and roll, and the work of artists such as Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran, and Gene Vincent, as well as with popularizing contemporary rhythm and blues.
“It’s one of the all-time great con acts of all time,” Asher said. “We copied your music, did it differently, and sold it back.”