All posts by Old Rocker

Ed Sullivan and The Beatles

Ed Sullivan and The Beatles all started in October 1963 when Ed Sullivan and his wife were in London where they were delayed at Heathrow Airport by the crowds greeting them on their return from Sweden. As the story goes, Sullivan took note of the interest that they drew, and later, met with Brian Epstein, their manager. The Ed Sullivan show was the top-rated variety show on US television and was known for presenting first looks at up-and-coming acts.

The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Stage
The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Stage

The rest is television history. Fifty thousand ticket requests came in for the 728 available seats, and on February 9, 1964 Nielsen estimated the audience at 73+ million viewers, something like 45% of the country. Everything stood still while America watched the Ed Sullivan and The Beatles.

The impact of the performance on American audiences was immediate and profound. The Beatles’ appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show marked the beginning of the British Invasion, a period of time when British rock bands dominated the American music charts. The performance also served as a cultural touchstone for the baby boomer generation, who were coming of age during a time of great social and political change.

The Music Scene

The state of popular music in the early 1960s was largely dominated by the music of Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, and other crooners of the time. However, The Beatles and their unique brand of rock and roll quickly began to take the world by storm. The impact of Beatlemania on American culture was significant, with young people all over the country dressing like the band members and imitating their music. The cultural significance of The Ed Sullivan Show cannot be understated, as it was a hugely popular variety show that showcased some of the biggest names in entertainment at the time.

The Beatles’ Rise to Fame

The Beatles’ early years in Liverpool are well-documented, with the band playing countless gigs in local clubs and venues. They released their first single, “Love Me Do,” in 1962 and quickly followed it up with a string of hits, including “Please Please Me” and “She Loves You.” The band’s growing popularity in the UK and Europe eventually caught the attention of American audiences, leading to their eventual arrival in the United States.

The Beatles Arrive in America

The story of The Beatles’ arrival in America is the stuff of legend, with fans lining the streets and screaming at the sight of the band members. Their reception by American fans and the media was equally frenzied, with news outlets reporting on the band’s every move. The cultural significance of The Beatles’ American debut cannot be overstated, as it marked the beginning of their domination of the American music scene.

Booking The Beatles for The Ed Sullivan Show was a monumental task, with the band’s management negotiating a deal that would see them appear on three separate episodes of the show. The logistics of planning the performance were also significant, with the band rehearsing for weeks to ensure that their performance would be flawless. The anticipation and excitement surrounding the event were palpable, with fans and the media eagerly awaiting their appearance.

February 9, 1964

The Beatles’ performance on The Ed Sullivan Show was a historic moment in television and music history. The band played a set of five songs, including “All My Loving,” “Till There Was You,” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” The impact of the performance on American audiences was immense, with millions tuning in to watch the show. The significance of The Beatles’ appearance in the context of the civil rights movement and other social issues of the time cannot be ignored, as their music and message resonated with young people all over the country.

Ed Sullivan and The Beatles Song List

Ed Sullivan and The Beatles
Ed Sullivan with The Beatles

The Beatles sang 5 songs: All My Loving, Till There Was You, She Loves You, I Saw Her Standing There, and I Want To Hold Your Hand. From the very first note, girls in the audience were screaming while a closeup of John Lennon had carried a message “sorry girls, he’s married”.

Although the Beatles appeared on the show 8 more times, this was the only performance that was live in the studio.

The Beatles were on again for the next 2 weeks. For February 16, 1964, they broadcast a live performance from their hotel in Miami Beach, Florida. The Beatles played to a live audience during the afternoon at the hotel, then at 8 p.m., broadcast a live performance on The Ed Sullivan Show by satellite. The Beatles sang six songs; She Loves You, This Boy, All My Loving, I Saw Her Standing There, From Me To You, and I Want To Hold Your Hand. On the following week, the performance was by a tape that was recorded when they were in the studio on the 9th. They played three songs, Twist and Shout, Please Please Me, and I Want To Hold Your Hand. During the performance, Ed Sullivan thanked The Beatles for “being four of the nicest youngsters”.

Rock and Roll Family Tree

Chuck Berry, one of the founding fathers of Rock and Roll, described the rock and roll family tree with a great quote about Rock’s origins:
“The Blues had a baby.  They call it Rock and Roll”.

It’s clear that Rhythm and Blues is Rock’s closest relative, but as it grew, influences from many different genres found their way in.

Country Music

Some of Rock’s most influential ancestors fall in the space somewhere in between Country Music and Rhythm and Blues. Music historians list several sub-genre in here, including Western Swing, Hillbilly Blues, Honky Tonk, and Bluegrass.


Early in the history of Rock, the country / blues combination was combined with early Rock. The result was Rockabilly, and it brought the first major wave of popularity to the Rock craze. Elvis’ 1954 recording of “That’s Alright Mama” started it off, and Bill Haley’s “Rock Around The Clock” spread Rock’s musical influence around the world.


Over the years, Rock has borrowed heavily from Gospel, most notable in the harmonies. Many of the early stars credit their church and Gospel music for their musical training.

Teen Idols

“Sex sells” is the old advertising slogan and it proved itself in the early history of Rock. Elvis, of course, started it off with his “Elvis the Pelvis” stage appearance, but after Rock’s initial burst of popularity, the buzz faded. All of a sudden, there were no stars. Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper (J.P. Richardson) were killed in a plane crash, Elvis was in the army, Chuck Berry was in jail, Jerry Lee Lewis had shocked even the liberal rockers by marrying his underaged cousin, and Alan Freed had been convicted in the Payola scandal.

When the Winter Dance Party Tour (Buddy Holly’s tour with Richie Valens and The Big Bopper) resumed, it included three clean cut, all american teenage heartthrobs. Jimmy Clanton, Frankie Avalon, and Robert Velline (Bobby Vee) sang soft rock love songs and rocketed to stardom. They were followed by Neil Sedaka, Bobby Vinton, and the California beach singers like the Beach Boys and Jan & Dean.

Summer of Love

Mural from Haight Ashbury
Mural from Haight Ashbury

The Summer of Love was the summer of 1967 and was centered in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco. Thousands traveled there from all over the world as the hippie counterculture movement grew in popularity. Some were hippies, many were wanna-bees, and like many other rock culture events, a lot more claim to have been there than actually were.

The beginning of the Summer of Love was actually the Human Be-In at Golden Gate Park on January 14th. It was billed as “A Gathering of Tribes” and set the stage for the year. The Be-In was where Timothy Leary declared “turn on, tune in, drop out” and that pretty much described the underlying attitude. It was the first mass hippie gathering. Two young producers named James Rado and Gerome Ragni were there, let their hair grow with the rest, and captured some of the excitement in their musical “Hair” that is still being performed today.
John Phillips of The Mamas and the Papas wrote the song “San Francisco” that was originally supposed to be a promotion for The Monterey Pop Festival in June, but is remembered as The Summer of Love theme. It was recorded by Scott McKenzie and became a worldwide hit:

Scott McKenzie's album that included San Francisco, the unofficial theme song of the Summer of Love.
Scott McKenzie’s album that included San Francisco, the unofficial theme song of the Summer of Love.

If you’re going to San Francisco,
be sure to wear some flowers in your hair…
If you come to San Francisco,
Summertime will be a love-in there.
The Summer of Love crowd peaked during the summer vacation season. Altogether, an estimated 100,000 hippies and others from around the world flocked to San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district, Berkeley and other San Francisco Bay Area cities to see what it was like to be a hippie.

Flower Power became one of the Summer of Love themes. Originating with some Haight-Ashbury children who wore flowers in their hair while selling paper flowers, the flower became a sign of peace and love, and Flower Power became the name of a political movement.

As the Summer ended, many of the attendees headed back to school. There they were seeds for the growing hippie movement. Some went the Leary way of turning on and tuning out, others went the Flower Power way of promoting love and peace through political movements.

Want to read more?  Here’s an excellent video.  

60s Dress and Style

The Rock era began with conservative 50s and 60s dress. Just check out some early pictures from Dick Clark’s American Bandstand, and you’ll see crew cuts on the boys and pony-tails or bouffant hairstyles on the girls. Knee length dresses were the norm for women and button down plaid shirts for men’s casual wear.

Dancing on American Bandstand
Dancing on American Bandstand
Scene from American Bandstand showing early 60s dress
American Bandstand

Note that the guys were all wearing sports coats and dress shoes. This was the norm for school dances in many parts of the country. Canvas sneakers were just coming into fashion but weren’t in fashion for a dance. Leather sneakers or athletic shoes weren’t around yet. School dances all had rigid dress codes. Jeans or skirts too short got you sent home.


Mid 60s Dress and Style

Allstar sneakers
Allstar sneakers
prokeds sneakers
Prokeds sneakers, a popular style.

By the mid-60s, fashion had done an 180-degree turn. Miniskirts and hot-pants were in for girls, sometimes paired with go-go boots. Ponytails were gone and long, straight hair was in. Granny dresses, the peasant look, and clunky shoes were all in style. Quite a difference from just a few years earlier.

Men’s hairstyles grew long and shaggy, with beards, mustaches, and sideburns. The Afro was popular for blacks of both genders. Bright colors, Nehru jackets, and turtlenecks were in style.

The Beatles hair told the whole story. Their hair was slightly longer than normal in the early 60s, a contrast to the crew cut standard. It flopped around a little bit (driving the girls crazy) as the performed. By the mid-60s it was definitely long, came down to their eyes in the front, and flopped around a lot. By 1967, they added mustaches, and by 1970 they wore their hair shoulder length and with full beards.

hippie strumming guitar
1960s hippie

Towards the end of the decade, unisex styles became popular 60s dress, with bell-bottom jeans, screened or embroidered t-shirts, and love beads being the fashion of choice. Flower, bright colors, paisley, and psychedelic themes were everywhere. And it’s tough to forget for formal wear, those big wide ties, 5 inches wide was the standard in stripes and plaid, and it made no difference what other pattern it was worn with. What were we thinking to wear one coupled with a polyester leisure suit?

Sly Stone with an Afro
Sly Stone with an Afro
Nancy Sinatra in a minidress
Nancy Sinatra in a minidress

It was clear that individual expression won out in the 60s. Teens, even from the most conservative areas, wanted to be different than their parents and dress was a big distinction. Older teens could choose their own clothes, younger teens that made up the majority of the baby boomers still had to stay within the school and parental guidelines. It made for some interesting combinations.

The Lava Lamp

Lava Lamp
Lava Lamp

The Lava Lamp is an outstanding icon of the 60s and 70s! Stoned or straight, one could sit for hours watching the slow motion bubbles from the bottom of the Lava Lamp. They rise slowly, sometimes breaking into pieces, sometimes merging with others. Once at the top, they sit for a while and then slowly sink to the bottom to start again.

Edward Walker invented the Lava Lamp based on a lamp that he spotted in a pub. He brought his new invention, called the “Astro Lamp” or Astro Light” to a Hamburg trade show in 1965 where Adolph Wertheimer noticed it and bought the American rights to the product and began to produce it as the “Lava Lite”.

The construction is fairly simple, a glass bottle filled with a clear liquid and a colored wax, sitting on a base with a light bulb. As the bulb heats the wax on the bottom, it expands, becomes lighter than the liquid, and rises. As it cools, it contracts, becomes heavier, and sinks. Once it warms up, there’s a continual flow of wax “blobs” rising and falling.

Lava Lamp and Psychedelia

Watching the slow bubbles of a Lava Lamp is relaxing, some may call it addicting. It’s easy to see how it would have extra appeal to someone a bit high.  Walker said of his lamp, “If you buy my lamp, you won’t need drugs… I think it will always be popular. It’s like the cycle of life. It grows, breaks up, falls down and then starts all over again.”

Lava Lamps have gone mainstream and are still made and available in department stores, and there is usually one on the shelf at the Goodwill Store. Their construction has changed some over the years as some of the original materials have been replaced with safer ones, but they still work the same and I still love to watch them.

The Twist and Other New Dances

Chubby Checker doing the Twist
Chubby Checker doing the Twist

The Twist was a musical phenomenon that spread across the country in lightning speed due to exposure on television. The original recording by Hank Ballard in 1959 was hardly noticed, but Chubby Checker’s 1960 cover of it shot up to #1 on the charts, and then reached the #1 spot for an unprecedented second time in 1962.

The Twist has another unusual distinction; it was the first major dance where the couples didn’t have to touch each other. A member of Chubby Checker’s crew explained how to twist:
“It’s like putting out a cigarette with both feet, and wiping your bottom with a towel, to the beat of the music.”

At the height of the Twist craze in 1961, a club in New York called the Peppermint Lounge, feature a house song called The Peppermint Twist, performed by Joey Dee and the Starliners. The song went on to the #1 spot and re ignited the Twist craze.

Bill Haley & His Comets contributed toward the Twist craze with international hits “The Spanish Twist” and “Florida Twist”, spreading the dance craze throughout Latin America. And…one more time…The Twist was so strong that in the 80s, Chubby Checker brought it back to the charts with his band The Fat Boys!

Other 60s dances include:

The Watusi, another solo dance that was popular in the 60s. In 1962, Ray Baretto released the album “Charanga Moderna”. The track “El Watusi” reached the top 20 chart and went gold. In a 1964 TV Guide, Fred Astaire and Barry Chase do the Watusi.

The Mashed Potato was a hit for Dee Dee Sharp in 1962 and was similar to the Twist. Begin by stepping backward with one foot with that heel tilted inward. The foot is positioned slightly behind the other (stationary) foot. With the weight on the ball of the starting foot, the heel is then swiveled outward. The same process is repeated with the other foot: step back and behind with heel inward, pivot heel out, and so on. The pattern is continued for as many repetitions as desired.

The Monkey is a novelty dance, most popular in 1963. The dance was popularized by two R&B records: Major Lance’s “The Monkey Time”, and The Miracles’ “Mickey’s Monkey”, both released during the summer of 1963.

The Loco-Motion was written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin, and recorded by Little Eva in 1962.
The song is a popular and enduring example of the dance-song genre: much of the lyrics are devoted to a description of the dance itself, usually done as a type of line dance. The song has inspired dozens of cover versions over the years, notably by The Chiffons, John Coltrane, Grand Funk, and Kylie Minogue.

The Frug evolved from another dance of the era, The Chicken. The Chicken, which featured lateral body movements, was used primarily as a change of pace step while doing The Twist. As dancers grew more tired they would do less work, moving only their hips while standing in place. They then started making up arm movements for the dance, which prompted the birth of The Swim, The Monkey, The Dog, The Watusi, and The Jerk. The Frug is sometimes referred to as The Surf, Big Bea and The Thunderbird.


The Human Be-In

Human Be-In poster
Human Be-In poster

The Human Be-In happened on January 14, 1967 in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, and was a celebration of the 60s counterculture and hippie movement.

The Be-In was preceded by the Love Pageant Rally, a much smaller event in October 1966 that was staged to protest the banning of LSD, and it was a predecessor to the famous Summer of Love that which brought the hippieculture to national attention and international recognition to Haight Ashbury.

The Human Be-In was announced on the cover of the first issue of the San Francisco Oracle as “A Gathering of the Tribes for a Human Be-In.” Entertainment included Timothy Leary with his his famous phrase “Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out”, Richard Alpert (soon to be more widely known as ‘Ram Dass’), and poets like Allen Ginsberg, who chanted mantras, and Gary Snyder. Security was provided by The Hells Angels, and a host of local rock bands such as Grateful Dead and Quicksilver Messenger Service provided the music. Of course there were plenty of drugs, Owsley “Bear” Stanley provided “White Lightning” LSD to the public.

Allen Cohen, one of the founders of the San Francisco Oracle, later commented on how it brought together philosophically opposed factions of the San Francisco-based counterculture: on one side, the Berkeley radicals, who were tending toward increased militancy in response to the U.S. government’s Vietnam war policies, and, on the other side, the Haight-Ashbury hippies, who urged peaceful protest.

Total attendance was estimated at 20,000 to 30,000, and it set the stage for the larger Summer of Love that brought people in from all over the country and made Haight Ashbury famous.

The Origin of Rock and Roll

Rock and Roll, Rock n’ Roll, or just plain Rock wasn’t really new when it started to gain popularity in the early 50s. The basics of the beat had been around for years, known as Rhythm and Blues. Boogie Woogie, a form of Rhythm an Blues that was popular in the late 30s and early 40s is considered Rock’s closest relative.

Technically, Rock and Roll and Boogie Woogie are nearly the same. Both are 8 to the bar, 12-bar blues, but Rock has a greater emphasis on the back beat than Boogie Woogie. Add a drummer’s snare to the backbeat of a Boogie Woogie record from the 30s or ’40s, and it becomes Rock and Roll.

Rocking was a term commonly used in black spirituals of the American South with a religious meaning similar to rapture (ex Rock my Soul). Over time, it picked up a slang meaning similar to dancing, but hinting of sex. At first, its use was confined mostly to Rhythm and Blues. This was a mostly black audience and, at the time, was called Race music.

In the segregated times of the 1920s and 30s, it was rare for a black performer to be accepted by a white audience. The same Race music though, was accepted when it was played by whites and was accepted as an African American flavor of Jazz.

Then in the early 50s, a Cleveland disk jockey named Alan Freed began playing this type of music on the radio and built a strong multi-racial audience. He is generally regarded as the one responsible for popularizing the term Rock and Roll and went on to organize rock and roll shows attended by both whites and blacks, further helping to introduce African-American musical styles to a wider audience.

Freed didn’t invent the name, but he’s credited with popularizing it. There are numerous examples of the term being used in songs going back to the 20s. In 1922, Trixie Smith had a song titled “My Man Rocks Me with One Steady Roll”. In 1948, both Wild Bill Moore and Paul Bascomb recorded different songs titled “Rock And Roll”. In 1949, Erline Harris recorded “Rock And Roll Blues”.

Since Rock was really an evolutionary step, the first Rock and Roll song is open to interpretation. Some of Fats Domino’s songs from the 40s are very close, for example “The Oakie Bookie”, and recordings made by Big Band leader Benny Goodman with electric guitarist Charlie Christian are noted.

Rolling Stone magazine’ opinion from a 2005 article names Elvis Presley’s first single for Sun Records, “That’s All Right (Mama)” (1954), as the first. Other musicologists favor Rocket 88″ by Jackie Brenston & His Delta Cats (1951), “Honey Hush” by Big Joe Turner (1953), or “Sh-Boom” by The Chords (1954).

The Antiwar Movement

The peace sign symbol of the antiwar movement.
The peace sign symbol of the antiwar movement.

The Antiwar Movement was one of two major cultural shifts in progress during the golden age of rock. It grew as the civil rights movement, perhaps helped by the acceptance of Race music (R&B) into Rock and Roll was just gathering steam (read more).

At the same time, many people , including a large number of the youth of our country, began to question our country’s involvement in Vietnam. These were still conservative times, and maybe it was just that the kids were more open to questioning government authority, but it created a major division in our society.  The Antiwar Movement set up a situation where it was us (teens) against them (the establishment).

Perhaps it was because Vietnam wasn’t an official war … the government never actually declared war, and we never had clearly defined goals as in previous wars. There wasn’t a lot of commitment to fighting a “police action”. As the death toll continued to rise, teens of the 60s saw their friends get drafted, sent to Vietnam, and never return. On top of this,unlike previous wars that the country was familiar with, troops were “rotated”, brought home while the fighting was still going on, with first hand reports that the war wasn’t going well and we didn’t have a clear goal.

Early protest came mostly from the Folk side of Rock music. Songs by Bob Dylan and Joan Baez were relatively mild as they introduced the seeds of protest. By the mid 60s, mainstream Rock joined in with Country Joe’s “I Feel Like I’m Fixing to Die Rag”:

Come on mothers throughout the land,
Pack your boys off to Vietnam.
Come on fathers, don’t hesitate,
Send your sons off before it’s too late.
You can be the first one on your block
To have your boy come home in a box.
Country Joe and the Fish

By the late 60s, there were nearly half a million soldiers in Vietnam and the draft was claiming more and more guys. College campus protests arose across the country, and protest music became a lot stronger. Jefferson Airplane and The Grateful Dead mixed their protests with drugs, creating what became known as Acid Rock. By the time of Woodstock, flag burnings on stage were common and Jimi Hendrix’ version of The Star Spangled Banner let the world know that we saw our country in a different way than the establishment.

As the war wound down, protest music faded, but the Antiwar Movement’s influence still lasts. Country music, a close relative of Rock, grew in popularity through the South as Rock antiwar tunes alienated conservative listeners. The dividing line between “Country territory” and the “Rock world” closely matches the Red State / Blue State, division in today’s politics.

The Antiwar Movement Peace Sign was borrowed from a British nuclear disarmament movement and caught on quickly in the USA.  It’s still so popular today that it has it’s own Unicode … that’s the computer code that makes letters and numbers.  The code U+262E generates ☮.  An alternative peace sign, the V Sign was borrowed from a WWII victory symbol.  It’s origin was probably an expression of desire for the war to end.  The V Sign has it’s own Unicode,U+270C which generates ✌.  Note that the V Sign for peace is with the palm facing outward.  Be careful how you use it.  Facing inward is considered obscene and insulting in some cultures.

The Corner of Haight Ashbury

At the turn of the 20th century, the Haight Ashbury district grew as an upper middle class suburb.  It’s streets were lined with large Victorian homes tucked in to small city sized parcels. Just a few years earlier, it had been farmland and sand when the Haight Street Cable Railroad connected Haight Ashbury to to downtown San Francisco.

Haight Ashbury
Haight Ashbury

By the time of the great depression, the Haight Ashbury district area had already peaked as automobiles opened up the suburbs. World War II brought a need for low cost housing.  Many of the large old homes were divided into apartments or boarding houses, and the neighborhood was deteriorating. By the 50’s, lack of maintenance and the exodus of the middle class left the Haight in rough shape with lots of vacant apartments…just the type of low cost rents that attracted struggling musicians.

San Francisco already had a large arts community and a reputation for being a bit wild. The low cost rentals in the neiighborhood of the intersection of Haight Street and Ashbury Street intersection were a magnet for musicians. It was home for a number of important psychedelic rock performers and groups of the mid-1960s, including the Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin, who all lived a short distance from the famous intersection.

Nearby are two large parks, Buena Vista and Golden Gate, which served as a haven for the homeless and added to the drug culture. Druggies and maijuanna use were so prevalent that, by ‘67 it was jokingly called “Hashbury”.

Combine these conditions with the leftovers of the beat Generation (Beatnicks), and the Haight  became the birthplace of the Hippie movement.

Top Musicians and Groups

Many famous 60s rock musicians lived in Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco, during the countercultural movement of the 1960s.  They include Janis Joplin, Jerry Garcia, Jimi Hendrix, Grace Slick, Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead, The Mamas & The Papas, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and Big Brother and the Holding Company.

Haight-Ashbury was known for its bohemian culture.  It was a center for the hippie movement, attracting many musicians and artists who sought to escape the constraints of mainstream society.

Today, Haight Ashbury is back in style.  Many of the old victorians have been fixed up.  Rents are sky high, and the streets are lined with upper end boutiques and cafes.  And the famous corner of Haight and Asbury streets is home to a busy Ben and Jerry’s.