Review: Ed Sullivan Presents The Beatles DVD

I am old enough to claim that the Beatles were still technically a group when I was born. But I wasn’t one of the millions upon millions of people who saw these shows when they were originally broadcast. Considering so many people (listeners, fans, musicians, journalists) all agree that this was a pinnacle moment for them, the shows themselves had been pretty much hidden from public view since they aired. I had seen the clips of them playing in the “Anthology” and other documentaries. I thought their performances were fun, but I never had a feeling of how they fit in with contemporary 1964 culture and why it was all such a big deal.

beatles-on-ed-sullivanUntil now.

The two-set DVD has the four Ed Sullivan shows, complete with commercials, from February, 1964 and September, 1965. All I can say is… wow. The shows themselves feature a variety of acts, but they all share one thing in common: they are all totally lame compared to the Beatles. Mitzi Gaynor singing “It’s Too Darn Hot”? Yikes! The comedy musings of Dave Barry? Oh dear. I can commiserate all too well with the Anacin commerical as it intones, “pain… pain… pain…”

Okay, maybe I’m being a little harsh here. I did enjoy Tessie O’Shea. She’s not cool and she’s not trying to be. She’s just having fun and it’s infectious as she belts her way through a bunch of old standards. The bit from “Oliver!” was cute (see the young Davy Jones, later of Monkees fame) and it was historically amusing to see Sonny Liston take a bow as the “heavyweight champion of the world”… when we know he will be knocked out by Cassius Clay the following week.

You begin to understand how much of a shock the Beatles were to the national psyche. Long hair? Maybe not from today’s standards, but look at what everyone else looks like on these shows! Music? Well, today Beatles music is all mixed up on the radio, played against songs made some 10 – 20 years after their debut. Here, you can see what they were up against at the moment… and they just blow the doors off of everyone including Cilla Black, one of their contemporaries.

The video is clearest on the clips that feature the Beatles (as you would imagine). The rest varies. Some looks a bit blurred and there are some analog tracking issues. Well, the videotape is 40 years old, in a format that has been dead for at least 20 years. It’s probably a miracle that the shows look as clean as they do. The sound is pretty good, but keep in mind that these were live performances. And “TV” and “hi-fidelity” didn’t exactly go hand in hand in 1964. The second show in “Myamuh Beach” has some serious audio defects, but that’s how it sounded then. I enjoyed the live performances, warts and all. Unlike a lot of shows from the 1960’s, the performances on Ed Sullivan were live rather than lip-synched.

DVD extras? Not a one. The shows themselves are the extras. There’s no documentaries necessary, no secondary audio channel needed to explain the phenomenon, it’s just, “Ladies and Gentlemen… the Beatles”.

And really, that’s all you need in the end.


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