To coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ appearance on the Ed Sullivan show, Yahoo has published the first-person accounts from some Americans who remember how that appearance helped spark changes across the nation. Here’s my story.
I was a 16-year-old high school junior in Mesquite, Texas when the Beatles burst into the living rooms of America on the Ed Sullivan show. Mesquite was a sleepy bedroom community southeast of Dallas that was relatively untouched by the outside world, but even Mesquite felt the effects of Beatlemania.
The Ed Sullivan Show
I didn’t see the show. Mesquite was only a couple of generations removed from its farming roots, and social activities were usually connected with high school sports, church, or family. Sunday nights at my church included not only a worship service but also youth choir practice and fellowship, so The Ed Sullivan Show wasn’t part of my routine. But it wasn’t long before I began to see changes in hair styles and footwear and to hear changes in the music played by local musicians.
Although we were only 30 miles from Dallas, Mesquite wasn’t exactly a fashion center, so the boys at school didn’t start growing mop tops immediately. But within a few months, waxed flat tops and greasy-kid-stuff hair styles were giving way to looser, longer looks. By the time I went away to college in 1965, very few male ears or foreheads were visible. My older brother was married and in the Marines by this time, so we escaped the war of the haircut that went on in the homes of many of my friends.
Before the English Invasion, a few of the Future Businessmen wore lace-up shoes and a few of the Future Farmers wore cowboy boots, but most of the boys in town wore loafers. The change in shoe styles came a little slower than the change in haircuts, but when I came home from college on weekends, I began to see a few ankle boots with Cuban heels and pointed toes.
The music of the Beatles had a noticeable effect at the University of North Texas where I attended college. The Beatles took rock music from the simple 1-4-5 chord structure early rockers adopted from their gospel and country roots and moved it into a complex musical structure that intrigued even the most militant music snob. UNT is noted for its music program, especially its jazz studies, but Beatles cover bands sprang up all over campus as musicians experimented with new chord structures, electronic enhancements, and instrumentation that went well beyond the traditional three guitars and a drum set. I had a couple of dates with the bassist from one of these bands, and I even went with him to one of his gigs. The relationship didn’t last long, but being “with the band” was a bold step for a girl from Mesquite.
The Beatles’ appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show didn’t change small town Texas overnight, but it opened our eyes to new possibilities. Seeing what was going on outside our city limits planted seeds of restlessness that led us to break with tradition. It gave us a look at what the rest of the world was doing, and Sunday night youth fellowship was never quite the same.