10 Famous Musicians Who Watched The Beatles Perform on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’

The Beatles performed to a screaming crowd of more than 700 fans on The Ed Sullivan Show on Feb. 9, 1964. About 50,000 people requested tickets. Even Sullivan had a hard time getting tickets for his own show. The unfortunates who couldn’t snag a seat watched along with the 70 million other people who tuned in to watch that night.

Some of that 70 million included future musicians like Billy Joel and Tom Petty. They imagined themselves up on that stage singing to the crowd. Watching The Beatles gave them hope and inspired them. Soon enough, they were famous in their own right.

Here’s what 10 famous artists had to say about watching The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show.

The Beatles in suits performing on 'The Ed Sullivan Show' on Feb. 9, 1964.
The Beatles performing on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ | CBS via Getty Images

Tom Petty

According to Ultimate Classic Rock, Tom Petty had this to say about watching The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show: “I think the whole world was watching that night. It certainly felt that way. You just knew it, sitting in your living room, that everything around you was changing.

“It was like going from black-and-white to color. Really. I remember earlier that day, in fact, a kid on a bike passed me and said, ‘Hey, the Beatles are on TV tonight.’ I didn’t know him, he didn’t know me, and I thought to myself, ‘This means something.’ [The Beatles] came out and just flattened me. To hear them on the radio was amazing enough, but to finally see them play, it was electrifying.”

Gene Simmons

In 2010, Kiss’ Gene Simmons told Liverpool Echo, “There is no way I’d be doing what I do now if it wasn’t for the Beatles. I was watching ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ and I saw them. Those skinny little boys, kind of androgynous, with long hair like girls.

“It blew me away that these four boys [from] the middle of nowhere could make that music. Then they spoke and I thought ‘What are they talking like?’ We had never heard the Liverpool accent before. I thought that all British people spoke like the Queen.”

Billy Joel

Billy Joel told CBS News, “That one performance changed my life… Up to that moment I’d never considered playing rock as a career. And when I saw four guys who didn’t look like they’d come out of the Hollywood star mill, who played their own songs and instruments, and especially because you could see this look in John Lennon’s face — and he looked like he was always saying: ‘F*** you!’ — I said: ‘I know these guys, I can relate to these guys, I am these guys.’ This is what I’m going to do — play in a rock band.'”

RELATED: ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’: George Harrison Had a 104-Degree Fever During The Beatles’ Historic 1964 Appearance

Joe Perry

Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry told Music Radar, “Seeing them on TV was akin to a national holiday. Talk about an event. I never saw guys looking so cool. I had already heard some of their songs on the radio, but I wasn’t prepared by how powerful and totally mesmerizing they were to watch.

“It changed me completely. I knew something was different in the world that night. Next day at school, the Beatles were all anybody could talk about. Us guys had to play it kind of cool, because the girls were so excited and were drawing little hearts on their notebooks: ‘I love Paul,’ that kind of thing. But I think there was an unspoken thing with the guys that we all dug the Beatles, too. We just couldn’t come right out and say it.”

Richie Sambora

Bon Jovi guitarist, Richie Sambora, told Music Radar, “One of my earliest memories was sitting cross-legged on the floor in the living room of the house I grew up in and looking up at the black-and-white TV set and watching the Beatles on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show.’

“I was 5 years old and I remember thinking, ‘Wow! That’s what I want to do.’ I know it sounds absurd – most 5-year-old boys say they want to be firemen or policemen or baseball players, or even the president. Not me. I wanted to be one of the Beatles… But seeing the kind of reaction the Beatles got from girls… hey, what guy wouldn’t say, ‘That’s what I want!?'”

Steven Van Zandt

According to Ultimate Classic Rock, Steven Van Zandt said, “This was the main event of my life. It was certainly the major event for many others, whether or not they knew it at the time. For me, it was no less dramatic than aliens landing on the planet… There’s no equivalent of that today, TV shows that literally everybody watched.

“All ages, all ethnic groups, all in black and white on a 14-inch screen… It was their sound, their looks, their attitudes. It was so many things. A time to look at things differently, question things a little bit. All kinds of things were new.”

RELATED: George Harrison Was the First Beatle to Visit America

Chrissie Hynde

The Pretenders frontwoman, Chrissie Hynde, told Austin Chronicle, “I remember exactly where I was sitting. It was amazing. It was like the axis shifted. I remember the first time I saw the 45 in the record bin in the discount house where my parents shopped and held it in my hand. It was kind of like an alien invasion.

“If you were a little virgin and didn’t want to grow up like I didn’t, didn’t want to enter the adult world like I didn’t, it gave you some kind of new avenue of sexuality. It could be more cerebral. You didn’t have to actually touch the person’s acne… [The day after, the boys] all combed their hair down and made bangs! Me too! I could never set my hair in rollers again. I combed it out straight and cut my bangs. Oh yeah. It was a whole other thing.”

Bruce Springsteen

Bruce Springsteen told CBS News, “This was different, shifted the lay of the land. Four guys, playing and singing, writing their own material… Rock ‘n’ roll came to my house where there seemed to be no way out… and opened up a whole world of possibilities.” 

Nancy Wilson

Heart guitarist, Nancy Wilson, told CBS News, “The lightning bolt came out of the heavens and struck Ann and me the first time we saw the Beatles on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show.’… There’d been so much anticipation and hype about the Beatles that it was a huge event, like the lunar landing: that was the moment Ann and I heard the call to become rock musicians.

“I was seven or eight at the time… Right away, we started doing air guitar shows in the living room, faking English accents, and studying all the fanzines.”

Doug Clifford

Creedence Clearwater Revival‘s Doug Clifford told CBS News, “A big influence was seeing the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. They were a quartet and we said, wow, we can do that. If these guys from England can come out and play rock ‘n’ roll, we can do it… We bought Beatle wigs. We went to the drama store, and I guess they were Three Stooges wigs at that time.” 

Watching The Beatles perform on The Ed Sullivan Show was special to everyone who watched, whether it felt like a national holiday or an alien invasion.

However, these artists and many more can all agree on one thing; it was electrifying. It flipped a switch in their brains, and suddenly they were able to relate to something they didn’t know they’d been craving. Without The Beatles’ influence, we wouldn’t have gotten any of these artists.

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