A record setting 73 million people tuned in that evening making it one of the seminal moments in television history. Nearly fifty years later, people still remember exactly where they were the night The Beatles stepped onto Ed Sullivan’s stage.
In the weeks leading up to the performance, several Beatles records had already hit number one on the U.S. charts, and the radio airwaves were saturated with their tunes. The delirium and ground swell of anticipation surrounding The Beatles’ arrival from England had not been seen around since Elvis Presley appeared on the show in 1956. But even that experience could not have prepared the Sullivan staff and the New York City authorities for what was about to happen.
The story of how The Beatles landed on The Ed Sullivan Show began with the group's formation in Liverpool in 1960. They spent their first couple of years playing in small clubs throughout Europe. During late night gigs in the city of Hamburg, Germany, sometimes playing as long as eight hours a night, The Beatles perfected their act. However, it was not until an appearance on the British television show, “Val Parnell’s Sunday Night at the London Palladium” and the 1963 release of their first album, Please Please Me that “Beatlemania” began to spread. That March the album hit number one on the British charts, and by the end of the year, The Beatles’ music permeated UK radio. The “Fab Four” even performed for the royal family. It was only after this burgeoning success at home did The Beatles and their manager, Brian Epstein, choose to launch their American invasion. They decided when they had a #1 song on the U.S. charts, then they would lock in the date of their Ed Sullivan debut.