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A Review of the the 4 Complete Ed Sullivan Shows Starring the Beatles DVD

On February 9, 1964, four lads from Liverpool, England made their U.S. TV debut on The Ed Sullivan variety program. 73 million viewers, at the time a record for U.S. television, watched The Beatles perform five songs that night. Beatlemania had now taken hold in America.That broadcast is featured on the new DVD, “The 4 Complete Ed Sullivan Shows Starring The Beatles”. The DVD is a rewarding release, but frustratingly could have been even better.

Beatles manager Brian Epstein negotiated for the band to headline three straight weeks in 1964 of the Sullivan Show, at a price of $10,000. At a time with no widespread cable TV, MTV, and the Internet, this was quite a publicity coup. The three Sunday night programs are in this DVD release, along with a fourth live appearance the group made on the show in 1965.

These broadcasts contain the original commercials, and are a fun step back in time. One ad shows a woman, looking a little like a brunette June Cleaver (including wearing two strands of pearls) preparing and then serving Pillsbury dinner rolls. The two men seen later in the commercial are dressed in suit and ties, with one of the men a Ward Cleaver look-alike. A Lipton tea commercial is set in a business office with workers all dressed in their “Mad Men” era clothes. Since these are the full broadcasts, you also see the other guests on the Sullivan shows those nights. In addition to The Beatles, the first show includes the cast of “Oliver!” featuring Davy Jones of The Monkees as The Artful Dodger, impressionist/comic and later The Joker on TV’s “Batman” series Frank Gorshin, acrobats, and more.

But, in particular, it’s The Beatles performance on the first show, February 9th, that still stands out . Before the band plays, Sullivan reads a congratulatory telegram to the group from Elvis Presley. Little would Presley know that the rock music torch had now been passed. To the sounds of screaming teenage girls in the audience, The Beatles play five songs in their appearance, opening with “All My Loving” and ending with “I Want to Hold Your Hand”. It’s funny to see the individual closeups of the band members, with their names at the bottom of the TV screen, during “Till There Was You”. John Lennon’s reads, “Sorry Girls, He’s Married”.

The second show, February 16th, was recorded at Miami Beach’s Deauville Hotel in front of a crowd Sullivan says is 4000, instead of the 700 plus audience members at the Sullivan studio. Even with the larger crowd, this seems to be more of a middle age audience there to see the other performers that night, including Mitzi Gaynor and comics Myron Cohen and Marty Allen and Steve Rossi. The screaming teen girls of the first show aren’t as prominent here. The group plays six tunes, with the three part harmony of “This Boy” being the highlight. The group’s February 23rd appearance was actually filmed the afternoon of the 9th, so really was their first Sullivan appearance. The Beatles play three songs on this show. Cab Calloway also performs two songs here, but unfortunately, not “Minnie the Moocher”.

The 1965 show was recorded the day before the band’s famed Shea Stadium concert. Just a year and a half after their first Sullivan appearance, and the group’s songs are already evolving. Instead of “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “She Loves You”, you have the group performing “Help” and “Ticket to Ride”. Paul McCartney sings “Yesterday” solo, to a pre recorded string section. The band’s charm is still on display, as Lennon plays the keyboards with his elbow during “I’m Down”. After McCartney finishes “Yesterday”, Lennon says “Thank you Paul. That was just like him.” Ringo Starr introduces “Act Naturally” by saying he’s “All nervous and out of tune”. Other acts on this broadcast are Soupy Sales, another Brian Epstein client Cilla Black, and Allen and Rossi again.

These same four Sullivan Beatles shows were released on DVD in 2003 by Sofa Entertainment. This new Hip-O set offers 13 minutes of bonus features not found on the 2003 DVD’s. However, the bonus features, on the whole, aren’t that interesting. Two brief plugs by Sullivan for The Beatles February 9th appearance are shown. A clip of Sullivan interviewing The Beatles on the set of “A Hard Day’s Night” is included. When originally broadcast, the interview was followed by an outtake from the movie of the band performing “You Can’t Do That”. That clip is missing from the new DVD, even though it had appeared in the 1998 disc,”The Making of A Hard Day’s Night”. The new set features a a cute but brief 1964 show clip where Sullivan and puppet Topo Gigio model Beatle wigs. A 1967 segment finds Sullivan reading a telegram from The Beatles. But again what followed when first broadcast, the group’s music video for “Hello Goodbye”, is not found among the bonus material.

In fact, The Beatles made a total of 10 Sullivan Show appearances, including seven taped performances. Videos of the performances would have been a great addition to the four complete Sullivan programs in the discs. A special intro by the band along with lip synch performances of “Paperback Writer” and “Rain” aired in 1966 on the Sullivan show. As mentioned, the video of “Hello Goodbye” was broadcast in 1967. The last Beatle footage broadcast on the Sullivan show were clips of “Let It Be” and “Two of Us” in 1970. All are missing from the this DVD.

The picture and sound have been remastered for the new “4 Complete Ed Sullivan Shows”, but aren’t dramatically different from the 2003 release. You can play just the Beatles segments on the new version, which is a nice option.

The packaging of “The 4 Complete Ed Sullivan Shows” set is very simple, almost bare bones,with both discs housed together in a slim box sized case. The lineup of performers for the four shows are the only info included with the DVD’s. It would have been nice, too, to have included a booklet with quotes from the surviving Beatles, or perhaps Jones,Gaynor, and others on their feelings today about the four Sullivan programs. Photos of the broadcasts could go alongside the the text.

“The 4 Complete Ed Sullivan Shows Starring The Beatles” would make a good purchase for fans of The Beatles, rock music, and television history. But, if you own the 2003 release, you can pass on this one.

Sources:

“A Really Big Show A Real History of The Ed Sullivan Show”, 1992, Text Edited by John Leonard, Edited by Claudia Falkenburg and Andrew Solt, 1992,Viking Studio Books.

“The Beatles Film & TV Chronicle 1961-1970” by Jorg Pieper and Volker Path, 2005, Premium Publishing.