It’s commonly claimed by American musicians in their fifties that they first got the idea of playing rock music after seeing The Beatles perform on The Ed Sullivan Show at some point in 1964 or 1965.
It’s a highly plausible claim, too: over its 23-year run, the show pulled in millions of viewers, giving Sullivan and his producers enormous power in a limited marketplace.
But, despite the show’s massive presence Stateside, the only episodes anyone gives a damn about these days are the four in which the Fabs played, hence their reappearance here – complete with commercials for long-lost brands of aspirin, cake and shoe polish.
In the era of Mad Men, these ads lend the shows a feeling of surprising intimacy. Beatles disciples will note with interest the evolution between the band’s first performances in February 1964 and September 1965.
While Paul McCartney’s trademark head-shaking and the band’s eager-to-please grins hadn’t changed, the songs are much deeper (‘Yesterday’ versus ‘She Loves You’, for instance) and the band’s image of mop-top disposability was evolving into a more solid presence.
In fact, what strikes you most on watching any of the episodes is how much better The Beatles were than almost anything else on the show.
In earlier years, Elvis Presley had been a highlight, and, in the show’s later life, acts such as The Supremes made a huge impact, but in the mid-’60s the Liverpool quartet were so far superior to the other featured turns it’s almost tragic.
There are a total of 16 different Beatles songs over the different episodes (‘All My Loving’, ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ and ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ are all played more than once), all of which are eminently more memorable than long-forgotten comedians such as McCall & Brill and Myron Cohen.
Note that these four shows were first issued back in 2003 by Eagle Rock (the DVD is still available online for a fiver if you look around), so in the absence of any notable AV clean-up, the slim extras here are your incentive to purchase.
Sadly, the 10 short snippets in which Sullivan discusses and, at one point, impersonates The Beatles are only briefly amusing.
One, in which he reads a telegram from Elvis Presley and his shark-like manager, ‘Colonel’ Tom Parker, congratulating The Beatles on their success, has a historic whiff to it, but the rest is fluff.
Despite so-so extras and lo-fi sound, the sight of the world’s biggest band on America’s biggest TV show is still an absolute blast.