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Introducing...The Beatles: Celebrating Their First Ed Sullivan Performance

L-R: Pete Best, John Lennon, Delbert McClinton, Bruce Chanel, Paul McCartney, George Harrison
L-R: Pete Best, John Lennon, Delbert McClinton, Bruce Chanel, Paul McCartney, George Harrison
Courtesy Jacksboro Highway

Lonesome, Onry and Mean didn't get in much trouble in school. So his parents were a little disturbed to find the eighth grader in the principal's office on the afternoon of February 10, 1964. He and his best friends, Mike Clowdus, Brad Rutledge, and Larry "Suitcase" Simpson, had been written up and sent to the office by Mr. Stephen Haynes, the eighth grade honors algebra teacher.

The infraction? Combing our hair like the Beatles.

We'd been hearing about the Beatles for a few weeks. Ed Sullivan, the host of the popular television variety show, The Ed Sullivan Show, had the full weight of CBS Television behind him as a hype machine, and it had been made very plain to the American public that the Beatles were a phenomenon of Elvis-like proportions -- and possible cultural danger. So, of course, we awaited this terrible moment with all the tingling anticipation of a horror movie.

Some of our friends had parents so strict that they forbade their children to even witness the telecast, but LOM's parents were not of that persuasion, so we all gathered in the living room eagerly awaiting the blessed event. I don't remember clearly, but knowing my Mom there was probably a large bowl of popcorn.

 

When it was over, my parents weren't even that critical of the performance. Of course they thought the hoards of screaming females were funny, but they weren't impressed much with the boys' music. They were big fans of Elvis, Roy Orbison, Fats Domino and the like, so the Beatles seemed a bit milquetoast to LOM's parents. I really think they thought it was amusing but that we'd all just go to bed and wake up tomorrow and go about business as usual. Wrong.

"All My Loving" lasted less than three minutes, but by the time it was over, everything had changed. Nothing thereafter would be as we had known it to be. It was as if the entire planet had shifted slightly on its axis. As we retired that night, I don't think my parents knew it. But my brothers and I did. Sleep did not come easy that night.

Like the coming punk movement, this new British phenomenon was more about style than music per se. Sure, the Beatles took their musical cues from Little Richard, Buddy Holly, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee, and Gene Vincent, but one look at the video shows a band that would be very average in today's world. None of the Beatles were particularly accomplished players, singers, or songwriters as the video plainly demonstrates. But it didn't matter.

What drove the kids wild was the style -- the haircuts, the Edwardian collarless suits, the "Beatle boots," the look -- and the attitude and wild exuberance that went with that style. For a bunch of wildass teenagers from isolated West Texas, it was like being present at the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

It wouldn't reach its full force until LOM's senior year in high school, 1968, but the revolution began that night in February 1964. After that night, even for kids growing up in the dreariness of the dry plains, anything seemed possible -- including a trip to the principal's office for combing one's hair like the Beatles.


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