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The Beatles on 'Ed Sullivan': Rare Photos From an Epic Night

A look back at the Fab Four's TV performance that changed history.

On February 9, 1964, Lyndon Johnson was just two months into his presidency, the war in Vietnam raged on, and the one issue on most Americans’ minds was the intensifying Cold War and space race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.

At Hammerstein's Theatre (later the Ed Sullivan Theater) in New York City, meanwhile, another, very different bit of history was in the making, as four young lads from Liverpool rehearsed for what would later be recognized as one of the biggest nights in pop-culture history. Here, via rarely seen behind-the-scenes photos and quotes from five musicians for whom the night changed everything, flash back to that February day when 70 million Americans watched the Fab Four rock the world.

"The minute I saw the Beatles on 'The Ed Sullivan Show' – and it's true of thousands of guys – there was the way out. There was the way to do it. You get your friends and you're a self-contained unit. And you make the music. And it looked like so much fun. It was something I identified with." - Tom Petty (Pictured: Ed Sullivan receives some guitar lessons from Paul McCartney in between rehearsals.) Bettmann/Bettmann Archive "The minute I saw the Beatles on 'The Ed Sullivan Show' – and it's true of thousands of guys – there was the way out. There was the way to do it. You get your friends and you're a self-contained unit. And you make the music. And it looked like so much fun. It was something I identified with." - Tom Petty (Pictured: Ed Sullivan receives some guitar lessons from Paul McCartney in between rehearsals.) Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr clown around on the set of "The Ed Sullivan Show." Bernard Gotfryd/Getty Images Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr clown around on the set of "The Ed Sullivan Show." "The night the Beatles first played 'The Ed Sullivan Show,' boy, that was something. Seeing them on TV was akin to a national holiday. Talk about an event. I never saw guys looking so cool. I had already heard some of their songs on the radio, but I wasn't prepared by how powerful and totally mesmerizing they were to watch. It changed me completely. I knew something was different in the world that night." - Joe Perry, Aerosmith (Pictured: Paul McCartney plays his Höfner 500/1 violin bass guitar during rehearsals.) Popperfoto/Popperfoto/Getty Images "The night the Beatles first played 'The Ed Sullivan Show,' boy, that was something. Seeing them on TV was akin to a national holiday. Talk about an event. I never saw guys looking so cool. I had already heard some of their songs on the radio, but I wasn't prepared by how powerful and totally mesmerizing they were to watch. It changed me completely. I knew something was different in the world that night." - Joe Perry, Aerosmith (Pictured: Paul McCartney plays his Höfner 500/1 violin bass guitar during rehearsals.) Close-up of George Harrison on set. Bob Gomel/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images Close-up of George Harrison on set. "This was different, shifted the lay of the land. Four guys, playing and singing, writing their own material...Rock 'n' roll came to my house where there seemed to be no way out...and opened up a whole world of possibilities." - Bruce Springsteen (Pictured: Ed Sullivan chats with Paul McCartney while John Lennon tunes his guitar.) Bob Gomel/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images "This was different, shifted the lay of the land. Four guys, playing and singing, writing their own material...Rock 'n' roll came to my house where there seemed to be no way out...and opened up a whole world of possibilities." - Bruce Springsteen (Pictured: Ed Sullivan chats with Paul McCartney while John Lennon tunes his guitar.) Paul McCartney and Ed Sullivan are seen backstage before their first appearance. CBS Photo Archive/CBS via Getty Images Paul McCartney and Ed Sullivan are seen backstage before their first appearance. "The lightning bolt came out of the heavens and struck Ann and me the first time we saw the Beatles on 'The Ed Sullivan Show.' There'd been so much anticipation and hype about the Beatles that it was a huge event, like the lunar landing: that was the moment Ann and I heard the call to become rock musicians. I was seven or eight at the time. Right away, we started doing air guitar shows in the living room, faking English accents, and studying all the fanzines." - Nancy Wilson, Heart (Pictured: The Fab Four and Ed in the spotlight.) Bettmann/Bettmann Archive "The lightning bolt came out of the heavens and struck Ann and me the first time we saw the Beatles on 'The Ed Sullivan Show.' There'd been so much anticipation and hype about the Beatles that it was a huge event, like the lunar landing: that was the moment Ann and I heard the call to become rock musicians. I was seven or eight at the time. Right away, we started doing air guitar shows in the living room, faking English accents, and studying all the fanzines." - Nancy Wilson, Heart (Pictured: The Fab Four and Ed in the spotlight.) The Beatles rehearse for their performance on "The Ed Sullivan Show." Bettmann/Bettmann Archive The Beatles rehearse for their performance on "The Ed Sullivan Show." "There is no way I'd be doing what I do now if it wasn't for the Beatles. I was watching 'The Ed Sullivan Show' and I saw them. Those skinny little boys, kind of androgynous, with long hair like girls. It blew me away that these four boys [from] the middle of nowhere could make that music.” - Gene Simmons, Kiss Bernard Gotfryd/Getty Images "There is no way I'd be doing what I do now if it wasn't for the Beatles. I was watching 'The Ed Sullivan Show' and I saw them. Those skinny little boys, kind of androgynous, with long hair like girls. It blew me away that these four boys [from] the middle of nowhere could make that music.” - Gene Simmons, Kiss