IU experts available to discuss Beatles anniversary, British invasion

Jan. 29, 2014


BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- As the 50th anniversary of the Fab Four's iconic performance on "The Ed Sullivan Show" approaches, Indiana University has several faculty experts who can provide insight into the Beatles' explosion into popular culture, the subsequent "British Invasion" that followed the introduction of the band to the nation, and their lasting popularity.

Sources may be contacted directly. For further assistance from IU Communications, contact Bethany Nolan at 812-855-6494 or nolanb@indiana.edu, George Vlahakis at 812-855-0846 or vlahakis@iu.edu, or Diane Brown at 317-274-2195 or habrown@iu.edu

The following themes are addressed:

Performance marked true arrival of the '60s
An unlikely television star, Ed Sullivan, fueled Beatlemania
Fab Four's mark on American music outlasts the screams

Performance marked true arrival of the '60s
The Beatles' appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show" on Feb. 9, 1964, marked the true arrival of the '60s, as the Beatle-boomers rumbled to life and began the transformation into the Woodstock Nation.

That journey was driven in no small part by a generation's emulation of the Beatles at every step, beginning with hairstyles and ending with a nonconformist worldview in complete opposition to the values of their parents, the government and most other symbols of authority, said IU Jacobs School of Music professor Glenn Gass, who teaches what is believed to be the longest-running course on the Beatles in existence.

"The Beatles, on that Sunday night 50 years ago, were the first thing that truly united us -- the first thing that gave 'us' a meaning -- and they remained a constant through the ever-changing '60s, the beating heart of the counterculture," he said.

"We couldn't have imagined the Beatles in our wildest dreams, and then, suddenly, there they were, right in front of us, perfect and astonishing. We took one look and shouted a collective 'Yes!'  It was Elvis all over again, the second great rock moment. An entire generation snapped into focus, nodded its collective assent -- and the '60s were on."

Glenn Gass is a Provost Professor of Music at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, where he teaches courses that he developed on the history of rock music, including a course on the Beatles he has offered since 1982 that is believed to be the longest-running course on the Beatles in existence. Gass can be reached at gass@indiana.edu. Top

An unlikely television star, Ed Sullivan, fueled Beatlemania
The Ed Sullivan Show was the longest-running and most important variety show in television history. At the time of the Beatles' first performance in February 1964, Sullivan had already been presenting live entertainment on Sunday nights on CBS for 16 years.

"Sullivan was a master showman and an unlikely television star," said Mike Conway, an associate professor in the IU School of Journalism and a television historian. "He had created a popular television program by producing an eclectic mix of live entertainment week in and week out just as television became a mass medium in the United States. But on camera, Sullivan had little personality, and his awkward presentation style made him a favorite target for comedians and impersonators.

"When influential television critic Jack Gould first saw Sullivan in 1948 when the show debuted, originally called 'Toast of the Town,' he called the choice of Sullivan as host 'ill-advised.' But instead of dismissing the criticism, Sullivan embraced the caricature and invited the impersonators onto the program," said Conway, who studies the key figures in early TV news.

CBS originally hired Sullivan to host the variety show because of his contacts as a gossip columnist for the New York Daily News. He improvised the traditional vaudeville and variety show format by featuring the biggest guest at the start of the program and then bringing them back later in the show. Sullivan controlled all aspects of his program, from choosing the wide variety of acts each week to working with the performers during dress rehearsals.

Conway said Sullivan wasn't the first person to give the Beatles a national television audience in the United States.

"The Ed Sullivan Show" is considered the Beatles' first live performance on American network television, but the band had been featured on the network newscasts, as well as a filmed segment in January 1964 on "The Jack Paar Show."

"By October 1963, the Beatles were causing such a commotion at their concerts in Europe that all three American networks started working on stories about the band," Conway added. "NBC ran the first piece on Nov. 18, 1963, on 'The Huntley-Brinkley Report.' Reporter Edwin Newman took quite a patronizing approach to the band and its Mersey sound in his four-minute story. He said one of the reasons for the group’s success was the screaming fans drowned out the music itself. After hinting the Beatles might be coming to the U.S., Newman ended the piece with 'to which it may be rejoined, show us no Mersey.'

CBS reporter Alexander Kendrick had also prepared a piece on the Beatles around that time, but the assassination of John F. Kennedy pushed the story off the "CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite" newscast until December 1963. 

"Ed Sullivan saw the piece on the 'CBS Evening News' and let them know the Beatles would be on his program in February. The network news coverage prompted one Washington, D.C., radio station to start playing the Beatles, and the band became a sensation during the holiday season."

By the time the Beatles arrived in New York City for the "Ed Sullivan Show" performance, their music had taken over the airwaves in the United States, providing a huge audience, 73 million people, for the Sunday night broadcast.

Mike Conway is an associate professor in the IU School of Journalism and author of "The Origins of Television News in America: The Visualizers of CBS in the 1940s." He can be reached at 812-856-1371 or mtconway@indiana.edu. Top

Fab Four's mark on American music outlasts the screams
Throngs of screaming and crying teen-age girls and disapproving parents aside, the men and the music that fueled "Beatlemania" left their mark on America's music scene.

According to Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis music adjunct professor Douglas Babb, the Fab Four ushered in the second wave of rock 'n' roll and launched the careers of countless artists and bands, while expanding the market for guitars and percussion instruments, and bringing innovations to the recording studio industry.

"Early in their career, the Beatles did their own cover versions of American rhythm and blues, country and even show tunes," Babb said. "This helped to bring attention to a variety of music that was not being recognized and appreciated by the mainstream teenager. The Beatles eventually wrote, performed and recorded their own music. ... They evolved from a 'guitar band' to become one of the most lucrative and experimental groups in music history."

After the Beatles' TV appearance, "garages and basements across America filled with hopeful, budding musicians fueled by the prospect of being famous musicians like the Beatles," Babb said. "Every baby boomer wanted an electric guitar, bass or drum set."

The Beatles also changed the way we listened to music, creating the LP "album as art" listening experience with "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band."

Douglas Babb teaches "The Music of the Beatles" and "The Music of Pink Floyd" classes offered in the Purdue School of Engineering and Technology on the IUPUI campus. He can be reached at 317-506-0669 or dbabb@iupui.edu. Top