It was 50 years ago today.
Long before Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play, back when the idea of a rock band driving any fans into any sort of mania seemed ridiculous, The Beatles turned America upside down on Feb. 9, 1964, when they made their first appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show."
"That night changed everything," says Billy Joel, one of countless musicians who was inspired to join a band after seeing The Beatles that night. "I saw them and said, 'I want to do that.' "
Some argue that Beatlemania began that night -- as the Fab Four performed "All My Loving," "Till There Was You" and "She Loves You" over the sound of screaming girls. Some argue that it actually started days earlier, when the band first touched down on American soil at the recently renamed John F. Kennedy Airport, as the news media covered the wild reaction of fans, which, in turn, led 73 million Americans to tune in to the Sullivan show.
What's important at this point, though, isn't when Beatlemania started, but the fact that it hasn't ended.
"The point is that they're still here," says Penelope Rowlands, author of "The Beatles Are Here!," which collects the remembrances of the band's American arrival from nearly every angle -- from fans, including Rowlands herself as well as Joel, to those who were there, including DJ "Cousin Brucie" Morrow and reporter Gay Talese. "The story of The Beatles isn't just the moment they came. It's that they've endured. I don't think there's a cultural equivalent to them."
Of course, there are plenty of ways The Beatles are unparalleled. The band has sold 106 million albums in America alone, the most of any artist in the 20th century. It holds the record for the most No. 1 singles on the Billboard charts with 20 and the most No. 1 albums with 19.
However, it's The Beatles' cultural impact that remains the most impressive. Though fandom today is much more easily quantified in Twitter followers or YouTube views as one generation of boy bands after another -- from New Kids on the Block to Backstreet Boys to One Direction -- walk in The Beatles' footsteps, the level of mania doesn't come close.
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In part, it was because of the era when they arrived, a dark time in America after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. "My daughter went through her childhood desperately waiting for her generation's equivalent of The Beatles to show up," critic Joe Queenan writes in an essay for Rowlands' book. "They never showed up. The Backstreet Boys and 'N Sync showed up instead . . . The arrival of The Beatles was the first time I felt that the world might belong to me."
It's a feeling Rowlands, who was captured mid-scream in a photo for The New York Times, and so many others shared. She says that when she started writing about The Beatles, she wanted to capture "what it had meant, what they meant, what it was like in my room with all the pictures."
"Obviously, I was not alone in this obsession," she says. "I thought the only authority I have to do this book was that photo. If you're going to do a book on The Beatles, you're going to go to [music writer] Greil Marcus first. But as I talked to people about this project, I gained confidence. I had lots of memories. I loved them, and I screamed. I could talk about their impact on us."
It's an impact that is still felt 50 years later. Organizers of "A Grammy Salute" expect a nation to gather again tonight at 8 on CBS/2 to see Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, as well as generations of artists that they, along with John Lennon and George Harrison, inspired, pay tribute to that one definitive moment when everything changed.