STUDIO: Universal Music
MSRP: $19.98
RATED: Not Rated
RUNNING TIME: 250 minutes
•    Ed Sullivan mentions The Beatles on his show a bunch of times.

The Pitch

The Beatles play to a record breaking television audience, and then come back again and again and again.

The Humans

Ed Sullivan, The Beatles, Cab Calloway, Soupy Sales, Frank Gorshin, the cast of “Oliver!”, and a bunch of other people that are entertaining by 1960’s standards.

In case you weren’t up to speed, those are The Beatles in the center of the room.

The Nutshell

The Beatles invasion of America was a televised event that has become a milestone of TV history. Here, presented complete with commercials and other performers, are the four episodes of The Ed Sullivan Show that The Beatles performed on.

The Lowdown

The story goes that Ed Sullivan and his entourage saw the way The Beatles were greeted upon returning to Heathrow airport from Stockholm, and immediately knew they would be “the next Elvis”. Approaching manager Brian Epstein with a top dollar offer for an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, Epstein turned it down in favor of three consecutive weeks of shows where The Beatles took lower pay but got top billing and performed at the top and bottom of each show. And the rest, as they say, is history. Setting a record with 73 million viewers for the first broadcast on February 9th, 1964, The Beatles hit America hard.

Ringo realizes his mother didn’t show up to the performance.

That first episode featured five songs from The Beatles, all of which would become infamous, and it’s interesting to note that Paul McCartney sang lead on all of them. What’s funny though is that while the image of the fab four that week is imprinted on the collective consciousness of pop culture, their subsequent appearances, and the other performers on Sullivan those weeks are quite overshadowed. That week featured appearances from the Broadway cast of Oliver! The Musical, which ironically featured a young Davy Jones of The Monkees, and Frank Gorshin the comedian impressionist, who would become better known as The Riddler on the 1966 Batman TV show. Subsequent episodes had The Beatles overshadowing Mitzi Gaynor, Soupy Sales, and the comic duo Allen & Rossi, who seem like they were lifted directly from an episode of Mad Men (or visa versa).

Speaking of Mad Men, these Ed Sullivan episodes are complete, and that means the inclusion of sponsors and commercials. The Beatles on Sullivan were brought to you by the likes of Lipton “Brisk!” Tea, Pillsbury cake mixes, and Anacid the headache medicine. Both amusing and a brilliant capsule of the era in which they were produced, these advertisements give a good context of what the world was like as The Beatles first came onto the scene. It’s interesting to note the strong push for Lipton tea as a replacement for coffee just as the British Invasion was beginning, a subtle way that English food habits would cross over same as the music.

You are really missing out by not hearing what this sounds like.

After their appearance in New York, The Beatles and the show went to Miami for the following week, and it’s kind of hilarious to see the way everyone is visibly sweating. Also, the Miami performance is absolutely terrible. The microphones that the boys have keep falling down, causing the band to laugh while performing, and throwing the mix of their trademark harmonized lead vocals completely off. I guess there is a reason that the other appearances are seldom seen.

There is a marked difference between the first three appearances from ’64 and the one from ’65 that coincided with the release of Help a year and several albums later. The band is obviously older, wiser, and more comfortable with the proceedings. Ringo gets to sing “Act Naturally”, their hair is a bit longer, and the songs are showing signs of maturity. Paul performs “Yesterday” toward the end of the show, a complete departure for the band as it is a solo song on an acoustic guitar (and that’s ignoring the lyrical maturity that it signaled as well). They finish off with “Help”, which John Lennon mixes up the lyrics to during the last verse, causing him to be off with the harmonized backing vocals from Paul and George Harrison. It’s a funny moment for those of us who know the song so well, to think of a time when the person who wrote it couldn’t even keep it straight.

“My X-Men, Magneto has attacked midtown Manhattan! Also, pick me up some Anacid: The Headache Medicine.”

That would be the last time The Beatles would perform live on Sullivan, later sending in early form music videos for Ed to air (which are not included on this disc). For any Beatles fan this is a no brainer to own, as this seems to be the best presentation one can expect from thirty-five year old television broadcasts. For anyone who is a fan of Mad Men, television history or time capsules of bygone eras, this is certainly worth checking out as well. Just be sure to skip most of the accompanying acts, which are often a real drag.

The Package

Spread over two discs, the Ed Sullivan Shows are presented in a poor condition that is typical of television shows that were preserved to tape from this era. The visuals are 4:3 pillar boxed, and interference, waveforms, and focus issues all detract from a clear picture. But considering this is probably the best condition these tapes exist in, short of a complete frame by frame restoration this will have to do. The audio has been upgraded to 5.1 surround and 2.0 stereo mixes, though don’t expect a workout for your speakers. Again, the audio is as good as one can expect.

“Damn it, I was going to sleep with all these girls until live television outed me.”

There are a few special features included, all bits and bobs of Ed mentioning The Beatles on his show. With clips on both discs, the first disc covers the anticipation that rose as The Beatles appearing on Sullivan approached, as well as Ed making a jab at the lame Sonny Liston-Cassius Clay fight by saying The Beatles could have done better. Disc two includes clips of Ed promoting A Hard Days Night, introducing a commercial featuring Beatle Dolls, and assorted other mentions through 1967. All in all these clips last about 13 minutes including commercials, and are nice for completion’s sake.

Overall: 6.4 out of 10