'Ask Me Why': Prof on Beatles' 50th anniversary on Sullivan show

February 3, 2014  

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — The Beatles' American debut on "The Ed Sullivan Show" 50 years ago not only was the beginning of the 1960s cultural revolution, but also an iconic moment that brought Baby Boomers together, says a Purdue University historian.

"The Sullivan show provided something of a ground-zero for a gathering of a generation who had a very different agenda - politically, socially and culturally - from our parents," says Michael A. Morrison, an associate professor of history who teaches a course on society, culture and rock music. "It was the culmination of the generational ferment and divisions that had begun a decade earlier."

The Beatles appeared Feb. 9, 1964, on Sullivan's show. Prior to this appearance, British bands trying to make it in America had flopped. The Beatles even had trouble with an American record company signing them, and then the company promoting them in America had low expectations. The critics referred to them as "shaggy Peter Pans" and "imported hillbillies who look like sheepdogs and sound like alley cats in agony."

"I think for most young people of the generation, they went to church that Sunday morning then spent the rest of the day in suspended animation until the Beatles were on live TV," Morrison says. "It was a defining moment in pop culture about who we are and who we would be."

And over time, the Beatles grew both musically and professionally, Morrison says. The Beatles' albums "Rubber Soul" and "Revolver," released in 1965 and 1966, respectively, began to move in different directions as the band focused on social issues and politics.

"While Bob Dylan makes these aspects legitimate in folk music in the 1960s, the Beatles made it in rock and roll. They helped people believe you could change the world through music," he says. "And, when they broke up, I'm not sure they had anything else as a group to say."

Writer: Amy Patterson Neubert, 765-494-9723, apatterson@purdue.edu

Source: Michael A. Morrison, 465-494-4132, mmorrison@purdue.edu

Related websites:

College of Liberal Arts

Department of History

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