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                           Muses on The Music

It Was a Really Big Shoo, Part 3

March 24, 2017

      The past two weeks’ blog posts, about the impact of “The Ed Sullivan Show” on rock and roll, took us back in time, and forward again, to the Beatles’ first appearance on the Sunday-night TV variety show.

       That early-February 1964 show was watched by 73 million Americans, on 60 percent of our country’s TV screens, yours truly among them. That broke the record that had been set by Elvis Presley’s first Sullivan appearance seven and a half years earlier.

       I had heard the Beatles the preceding spring, before their records really started selling, on WLS-AM, caught the fever that fall, and was as excited as anyone to see them on Sullivan. The Chicago station is credited with the first airplay of a Fab Four song, “Please Please Me,” a year before their Sullivan debut. (And that’s the way I remember it: riding home from church on a late-winter Sunday morning, on Randall Drive, behind the Creston Park shopping center in Janesville.)

       The week before the Beatles debuted on “Sullivan,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand” had knocked Bobby Vinton’s “There! I’ve Said It Again” out of No. 1 on the Hot 100. It was the first of six Fab Four tunes that would occupy the top spot in 1964, for 18 of the year’s 52 weeks.

       The band didn’t perform its first big U.S. hit until the finale of their appearance the following week. That was the second of three straight Sullivan appearances (although the third was taped before the first).

       That was a tough act to follow, and it fell to the Dave Clark 5 to try to follow it. A Beatles alternative at the time, the DC5 did well enough to get invited to perform on the show 18 times — the most of any of the British Invasion acts.

       And make no mistake, those four weeks were the opening volley in the Invasion, on Sullivan and otherwise. The DC5 returned the following week and several times more in ’64, Gerry and the Pacemakers made a couple appearances that spring, and the Animals, Peter and Gordon, the Searchers and Dusty Springfield also performed on the show before the year was out.

       The Rolling Stones made their Sullivan debut in late October, their performance helping generate more than $1 million in ticket sales for their second U.S. tour of the year (the first had been a financial flop). Their off-stage antics — they left the theatre against orders, and created a near-riot —helped earn them a temporary ban from the show, but they returned five more times.

       On their fifth appearance, lead singer Mick Jagger grudgingly complied with show management’s insistence that he change title line in “Let’s Spend the Night Together.” Although his eye-rolling delivery conveyed his disgust at the dictat. (The Stones’ final Sullivan performance was on Nov. 23, 1969 — two weeks before the Altamont live concert where an audience member was stabbed to death by Hells Angels stage security detail.)

       It wasn’t just the British acts that were appearing on Sullivan in 1964 and doing well in record sales. The Beach Boys made an appearance in September, playing “I Get Around” (one of our favorites when Cruisin’ the Circuit in Janesville).

       (That Sept. 27 show was the only time that the Boys’ musical mastermind, Brian Wilson, performed on “Sullivan.” Wilson stopped performing live with the group three months later, following a stress-induced panic attack; he was replaced temporarily by Glen Campbell, and later by Bruce Johnston.)

       Gary Lewis and the Playboys performed that fall, too — although they apparently had to lip-synch their debut hit, the heavily-studio-produced “This Diamond Ring.” (It’s easy to forget, but Lewis and his band had an incredible run back then: seven straight Top 10 hits, a record equalled in the 1960s only by the Lovin’ Spoonful.)

       Roy Orbison did his first and only Sullivan gig in October, performing his classic “Oh, Pretty Woman.” (Roy did return to the show’s stage the following May, though; in the audience for a Rolling Stones performance, he was called up on stage by Sullivan to take a bow.) The Supremes debuted on the final Sullivan show of that magical year.

       The following year, 1965, wasn’t quite as magical, but “Sullivan” still showcased a number of the big rock and pop acts. The Animals, the DC5, Leslie Gore, Pet Clark, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Freddie and the Dreamers, Herman’s Hermits, Martha and the Vandellas and Tom Jones all appeared at least once during ’65.

       The Righteous Brothers performed that fall, but didn’t do their best-known song, “Unchained Melody.” Sonny and Cher’s September appearance, performing their hit “I Got You Babe,” helped land the duo their own TV variety show.

       The high point, perhaps, of that year, was the Beatles’ next-to-last “Sullivan” appearance, in the season premiere of the show’s 18th season. (Their performance had been taped a month earlier, the day before the Fab Four’s record-setting Shea Stadium concert.) But another highlight of ’65 was the first and only “Sullivan” appearance by that ground-breaking 60s group, the Byrds, who performed their two No. 1 hits, “Turn, Turn, Turn” and “Mr. Tambourine Man.”

To be continued, again …

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