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Column: 50 years later, Beatlemania still alive

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Beatlemania arrived 50 years ago — in my living room.

Could it really have been that long ago?

Looking in the mirror, I realize that a junior high school student has suddenly — suddenly? — become a grandfather. In fact, several of my grandchildren are older than I was when The Beatles appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show” for the first time on Sunday night, Feb. 9, 1964.

For those of you who are too young to remember, a few basics:

Ed Sullivan? Host of a weekly variety show on CBS, the most popular show of its kind in America. It broadcast every Sunday at 7 p.m. Central time, the time zone in which I grew up, or 8 p.m. Eastern time.

The Beatles? The group that Paul McCartney played with before Wings. Bandmates were drummer Ringo Starr, as well as guitarists John Lennon and George Harrison, who died in 1980 and 2001, respectively. The group made records that changed a generation.

Records? Round, vinyl discs that used a needle to pick up the sound. Records were popular before 8-track tapes, cassette tapes, compact discs and iTunes.

Everyone I knew was watching The Beatles on TV that night 50 years ago on small black-and-white television consoles that stood on four legs and anchored one wall in your living room.

My parents, two sisters and I were among a record-setting viewing audience that night of 73 million people. Almost two of every three TV sets that were turned on in America that night were tuned into the Sullivan show.

And, believe me, teenagers were turned on. Girls screamed. Guys dreamed.

The music, the hair, the clothes. Beatlemania changed the way we thought, looked and acted. American teenagers quickly fell in love with John, Paul, George and Ringo.

Tonight, in the same time slot as the Sullivan show and also on CBS, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr will perform — and be honored — during the annual Grammy broadcast.

What seemed like yesterday, but really was five decades ago, was the Beatles’ first live performance on U.S. soil.

The group, in matching black tailored suits and moptop hair, opened the Sullivan show with “All My Loving,” followed by “Till There Was You” and “She Loves You.”

Yeah, yeah, yeah, it was magical.

The hourlong show concluded with two more Beatles hits performed live, “I Saw Her Standing There” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”

The Beatles performed on the Sullivan show three straight Sundays that February. And teenagers bought their hit singles as quickly as they were turned out.

The Beatles not only had the No. 1 hit song in America at any given time but often No. 2, No. 3, No. 4 or No. 5 as well. Their popularity was unprecedented and has never since been matched.

The records, with attractive photo sleeves of the Fab Four, sold for 99 cents apiece. And that’s what we saved our allowances for.

Teens in Indiana had the good fortune to be able to see the Beatles in person when they performed seven months later — Sept. 3, 1964 — at the Indiana State Fairgrounds Coliseum. I have a bootleg cassette recording of that, somewhere. Maybe this weekend I’ll dig it up. Good thing my car is old enough to still have a cassette player, because we don’t have one hooked up in the house.

Here in Columbus, people will have a different opportunity to listen to the music of The Beatles when a touring tribute band, Classical Mystery Tour, performs at least 20 familiar hit songs in a 90-minute performance Saturday with the Columbus Indiana Philharmonic. Showtime is 7:30 p.m. at Columbus North High School’s Judson Erne Auditorium, 1400 25th St. Call 376-2638 for ticket availability.

I saw the same band perform the same Beatles classics last summer at the outdoor Conner Prairie amphitheater in Fishers. We sat far enough away that the four musicians actually looked like The Beatles.

They dressed like them and used the same nuances in talking like them. And with a slight hearing loss that I probably developed from attending too many rock concerts while growing up, they even sounded like The Beatles.

Classical Mystery Tour’s presentation captures three eras, complete with detailed outfits: the black-suit early and mid-1960s, the colorful Sergeant Pepper segment and the introspective Abbey Road period.

If you are too young to have experienced Beatlemania as it was happening, Saturday’s performance will give you an idea of what you missed. But if you wait too long, all of the tickets will be gone.

After 50 years with The Beatles, that’s something that hasn’t changed.

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