CHARLESOTN, W.Va. -- Fifty years ago this weekend, 73 million people watched as Ed Sullivan forever changed American popular music with five little words.
"Ladies and gentlemen, the Beatles!"
With that introduction, four floppy-haired boys from working class England launched into "All My Loving," an upbeat little tune about writing letters to a far away lover.
"All my loving, I will send to you. All my loving, darling I'll be true."
Larry Groce, host of West Virginia Public Radio's "Mountain Stage," was 16 years old at the time.
He had purchased the Beatles' first U.S. release, "Meet the Beatles," when it was released a few weeks earlier. Groce was interested in music, but was hardly a rock 'n' roller. He gravitated toward folk music and the songs on top 40 radio.
"At that time I had a
crew cut and was playing football," he said.
Still, he liked the Beatles, and gathered with his parents in front of his family's television set to watch the "Ed Sullivan Show."
Sullivan's live audience, which appeared to be almost entirely made up of young women, began screaming before Paul McCartney could offer the first syllable. Some didn't stop throughout the Beatles' whole three-song set.
"I thought 'Why don't they be quiet so we can hear the music?' " Groce said.
"It was clear that it was a big deal, but there have been a lot of big deals. I don't think anybody knew how big it was."
Michael Lipton, director of the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame, was living outside New York City when the Beatles first appeared on American television.
Although he was just 10 years old, he remembers excitement about the Fab Four had been building for weeks as DJs started spinning their early singles. Lipton would sneak his transistor radio to bed and listen under the covers.
"I think it was almost like, on your mark get set go, and rock and roll took off from there," he said. "I think it opened the floodgates for rock and roll to the mainstream."
The Ed Sullivan appearance sparked what came to be known as "Beatlemania," kicking off seven years of best-selling albums and chart-topping singles that forever changed the idea of what a rock song could be.
"It wasn't just disposable. Not that there's anything wrong with just fun music, but it clearly went well beyond that," Lipton said.