Beatles with Ed Sullivan
Beatles with Ed Sullivan

Forty-eight years ago, an event occurred that shattered the American psyche and permanently altered society as we know it.

The Beatles, a long-haired quartet from Liverpool, England, appeared on the Ed Sullivan show in New York and introduced a huge audience of some 73-million people (more than one-third of the entire U.S. population) to the joyous melodies and excitement of the Fab Four.

Nothing would ever be the same again.

The Beatles seemed to arrive from another planet – their looks, their music and their infectious personalities had a charm and appeal that America had never witnessed before.

It was also a moment of serendipity -- coming just two and a half months after the shocking assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the Beatles seemed to be the perfect tonic to America's melancholia.

The United States in early 1964 was a society on the brink of profound transformation.

Rock-and-roll music, through the auspices of Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Chuck Berry and others, had already created a youth music culture separate and distinct from the previous generation; the civil rights movement in the south awoke the long-slumbering rage of black Americans; millions of white Americans were moving to newly-formed suburbs; more young people were going to college; the U.S. military had begun operations in a small southeastern Asian country called Vietnam; and the power of television brought the nation in front of the small screen (while concurrently alienating people from each other).

In retrospect, the Beatles of 1964 seem rather tame, with their toothy smiles, matching high-collared suits and cheeky repartee with the media. But at the time, their impact was like that of an earthquake.

The Beatles, who came from the decaying northern English port city of Liverpool, were hardly an overnight sensation. By that point, they had struggled for eight long, hard years (in various incarnations) in Liverpool nightclubs and filthy venues in the red-light district of Hamburg, Germany, before miraculously scoring a London recording contract and creating wildly innovative and commercially successful albums.

Still, on that cold night in Manhattan, the Beatles could have been a short-term wonder. Even Sullivan himself thought this, given that he had witnessed many entertainers over his long career who disappeared after a brief shining moment of fame.

Indeed, no one could have possibly predicted how John, Paul, George and Ringo would continue to rapidly evolve as musicians and songwriters and subsequently engineer a truly global revolution in an exhilarating short period of time.

Within less than six years, the Beatles would have imploded and broken up – but by then the world had turned completely upside-down.

And it was all sparked by the Ed Sullivan Show.