Fifty years ago this week two little girls in Woodhaven, Queens were very excited about a musical act that was going to appear on The Ed Sullivan Show that weekend. We were only 4yo and 6yo but my sister and I had grown up with music surrounding us daily – boleros from the 1930s, tangos from the 1920s, Panchito, “Recordar es vivir,” Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday, Nat King Cole, Glenn Miller, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Ray Charles, “Busted,” Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, “Big Rock Candy Mountain.” My father had three radios – one in the kitchen, one in the bedroom, and one in living room – and each was on a different station and he’d go from room to room as he heard a song he liked. He called radio DJs during their sets when they made mistakes and his albums were full of personnel corrections on the back.
But nothing prepared him or my mother or our great-aunt and great-uncle for the sight of two small girls screaming as some British kids with too long hair played on The Ed Sullivan Show. In that moment it obviously wasn’t the music that got us that excited. It was the build-up to that night, the commercials promising that the hype was real, and there was something in the air. Something that teenagers and children caught and that somehow spared most adults.
My father didn’t understand it but the first single he bought me was The Beatles’ “Twist and Shout” backed with “There’s a Place” on the yellow Capitol label. And the first album he bought me was Beatles ’65. He knew there was no fighting it. A line had been crossed; a border had been drawn. Suddenly his girls had their own music that was separate from his.
He got the humor of “Lady Madonna” and was shocked and pleased when “The Ballad of John and Yoko” (with the lyric “Christ you know it ain’t easy/You know how hard it can be/The way things are going/They’re going to crucify me.”) made it on the radio. The Beatles had led the charge and the teenagers had won some battles.
My mother loved the lyrics and melody of “No Reply” and could sing along with most of the Beatles’ songs. Especially since I played them constantly. Even my grandmother told me how much she liked The Beatles.
When I visited the Smithsonian and they had an exhibit about The Beatles’ first visit to the US, greeting you at the top of the escalator was an life-sized poster of The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show stage. I literally started screaming and had to clamp my own hand over my mouth.
Something magical happened on February 9, 1964. And that magic still fills my life today.
By Carene Lydia Lopez