On the evening of Feb. 9, 1964, Gail Terry -- all of 11 years old -- told everyone at choir practice that she was sick and needed to go home.
Terry was lying. She felt perfectly fine. But it was the only way she was going to get home in time to catch The Ed Sullivan Show.
That night, the Beatles changed the course of music history, and the British Invasion was launched.
I did get in trouble, but I didnt care, Terry recalled. When I got (home), I was glued to the TV. There were all these girls screaming, but not me. I was one of the ones who sat frozen.
Terry had plenty of company. According to the ratings, about 73.7 million -- nearly a third of the U.S. population in 1964 -- tuned into Sullivans show that night, shattering all ratings records.
That night marked the first of three consecutive appearances by the Beatles on the variety show. The bands manager, Brian Epstein, correctly calculated that taking less money for added exposure would pay off, and it did. (By comparison, Elvis Presleys 1956 performance on Sullivans show drew about 54 million viewers.)
That night, the Beatles opened with All My Loving, followed by Till There Was You and She Loves You during the first half of the show. After Sullivan chatted with other guests -- performers Georgia Brown, Oliver Kidds, Tessie OShea and actor Frank Gorshin -- the Beatles closed things out with I Saw Her Standing There and I Wanna Hold Your Hand.
CBS is commemorating the 50th anniversary of the broadcast at 8 p.m. Sunday night with live performances from surviving Beatles Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, clips from the Sullivan show and covers of Beatles songs by Grammy-winning artists.
The memories are still vivid for Middle Georgia residents who were watching that night.
I just remember watching them and loving their hair, said Katherine Hayes of Macon, who was 8 at the time. All the (other) guys had crew cuts. You could hear all the girls screaming.
Like it did for Terry, the Sullivan show conflicted with church for then 11-year-old Surelle Pinkston. And Pinkston wasnt really in a position to feign illness in order to stay home, because her father was the minister.
We just prayed he wouldnt preach too long, she said.
Fortunately for Pinkston and her then-14-year-old brother, Richard -- and probably much of the congregation -- her father kept the message relatively short.
We were always able to see the second (half of the show), she said. We were very thankful we were able to see some of it. He knew (we wanted to get home), but he didnt announce that to anybody.
In fact, Pinkstons parents were both into music, so when the Beatles came to Atlanta in 1965 for a concert at what was then called Atlanta Stadium, they bought tickets for the family, and each of the children was allowed to bring along one friend.
Since the bands stage was set up near second base, Pinkston said they were pretty far away, but that didnt matter to her.
It made the world seem bigger, she said. It took me out of my comfort zone. It gave me a peek as to how big the world really was.
Terry said she thinks those early years of the Beatles represented not only a change in societys music tastes, but also reflect a bygone era.
Its hard to explain what it was like back then, she said. The times were so much nicer. It was innocent fun; all generations liked them. My mother liked them. It was fun music, nice music. When I see (the Beatles first movie) A Hard Days Night, I still get that same feeling. It was one of the fun things I remember from that age.
He just about cried
Barry Lindsay, 70, of Byron, said he prefers the Beatles early hits to their later ones, when the tone of the bands music fundamentally shifted.
In fact, one of Lindsays most prized possessions is an original 33 1/3 mono LP of Please, Please Me. It features 14 of the Beatles earliest hits, including I Saw Her Standing There, Love Me Do and Twist & Shout.
Lindsays record was published in 1963 and contains gold lettering that certifies it was made in England. Most of the copies in America of that album were produced in Italy.
Lindsay was an underclassman at the University of Missouri-Rolla, studying electrical engineering. That made him the go-to fix-it guy on campus. One day, a British student studying at the college asked Lindsay to repair his record player. In lieu of money, the student told Lindsay he could pick any one album from his collection as payment. Lindsay chose Please, Please Me.
He just about cried, Lindsay said with a chuckle.
Lindsay and his wife, Marianne, both remember watching the first appearance on Sullivans show.
They were kind of unheard of (in America) before this album came out, he said. Everyone watched Ed Sullivan back then.
A similar UK-produced album to Lindsays was recently listed on eBay for $650, about $200 more than the Italian-produced version. Lindsays record, however, isnt in mint condition. As the drummer in his college band, he and his bandmates played the album over and over to learn all of the songs to perform.
My philosophy is that they changed the face of music in America, he said. People used to buy a guitar and only play three chords. But the Beatles put out songs with five, seven, nine chords. It got complicated. It really changed the face of rock n roll in this country.
The Beatles themselves changed over the years before the band dissolved in 1970, going from fun pop hits to music that was more conceptual and introspective. They used exotic instruments like the sitar in some songs and worked with orchestras in others.
Some fans, like Lindsay, didnt care as much for the later albums as he did the early ones. Others adapted.
(The album) Rubber Soul was a big change for them, Terry said. It had a different feel to it. They started hanging around with a guru and were using different instruments. (The music) started losing its innocence, but I still loved it.
Hayes said her husband, Kip, had a chance to meet Lennon in November 1980. He was getting certified for copier repairs in New York when a co-worker told him hed take him along on a service call to Lennons home. But Hayes said her husband didnt want to ride the New York subway at night, so he passed. A few weeks later, Lennon was shot to death.
John was his favorite, she said. Hell always wish he could have gone and met him.
Hayes said she thinks the Beatles themselves dont quite have the perspective to understand how deep a cultural impact they made.
I dont think they really know how ingrained in our lives they are, she said. Their music is going to be around forever, like Mozart or Beethoven. I enjoyed the gifts God gave them. I appreciate what they did.
To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.