Ann Wilson: The Beatles On Ed Sullivan "Changed My Life"

Heart frontwoman recalls the enormous impact of watching the Beatles' debut on "The Ed Sullivan Show"
  • Photo: Jay West/
    Heart's Ann Wilson
February 06, 2014 -- 12:54 pm PST
By Ann Wilson /

(On Feb. 9 The Recording Academy, AEG Ehrlich Ventures and CBS will present "The Beatles: The Night That Changed America — A GRAMMY Salute." The two-and-a-half-hour special will celebrate the legacy of the Beatles and their groundbreaking first appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show" exactly 50 years to the day, date and time of the original event.)

(As told to Paul Zollo)

I saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan that first time. Like so many American kids, Nancy and I, and our other sister Lynn, were seated cross-legged in front of the TV. I was 12, Nancy was 8. So we were just little girlies watching that thing. And it changed our lives. There was something about it that really messed with our minds, and we were never the same after that! [laughs]

It wasn't because they were sexy. It was because Nancy and I were budding musicians, so it was more about the music — mixed in with their characters. And that came out on that show, in that short time that they had to play.

Seeing that made us pressure our parents, and our grandparents, to help us get guitars. We didn't want to be the girlfriends of the Beatles, we wanted to be the Beatles! That's a different reaction than a lot of girls had. The day after the show we wanted to learn how to play an E chord, and play "P.S. I Love You" and all that stuff. From that time on, we were gone. We were goners!

But unlike a lot of parents who don't know what their kids are doing behind locked doors, our parents knew what we were doing up in our bedrooms. They could hear the guitars! We were in there learning.  

Singing in harmony, like they did, was a great inspiration for us. We always sang harmonies in the family, just for the fun of it. My older sister Lynn, who was 16 then, was probably the biggest Beatles fan of all. Nancy and I, thinking of ourselves as musicians, looked at what kinds of guitars they played, or if one of them broke a string, which we thought was cool.

I still love them so much. I have all their albums on vinyl, and I put one on the turntable, and wow, it's such amazing music.

So yes, that night changed my life. It got me here. 

(Alongside sister Nancy Wilson, Ann Wilson has reigned as the lead vocalist of Heart for nearly four decades. Heart have received four GRAMMY nominations to date, including Best Rock Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal for 1985's Heart. The group will release a new live album/DVD, Fanatic Live From Caesars Colosseum, on Feb. 24. Heart were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013.)

(Paul Zollo is the senior editor of American Songwriter and the author of several books, including Songwriters On SongwritingConversations With Tom Petty and Hollywood Remembered. He's also a songwriter and Trough Records artist whose songs have been recorded by many artists, including Art Garfunkel, Severin Browne and Darryl Purpose.)

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