As for The Beatles, their performances were marred by the technical limitations of the era in which they were taped. The original mixes were horrible, with background vocals often overpowering the lead. Ringo Starr's drumming is often nearly inaudible, becoming more prominent during the few shots where the camera moves in for a close-up. Microphones were often too low to be effectively sung into, or wobble over to one side mid-song. Apparently there were no stagehands able to make adjustments. Peak limiters clip much of the more boisterous singing. None of this should be attributed to the DVDs themselves, which are accurately presenting the irreparable audio/visual experience as transmitted in 1964 and '65.
The Beatles first appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show on February 9th, 1964. This was the first of three weeks in a row that the group would be featured. That first appearance is justifiably the most famous. Paul McCartney is featured most prominently, singing lead on three of the five songs. On the remaining two songs, though performed as duets with John Lennon, McCartney's voice is so much higher in the mix it gives the impression of a lead vocal.
Taped in Miami the following week, their February 16th appearance is the most satisfying. For whatever reasons, the group's sound packs a great deal more punch during their six songs. Though plagued by badly placed microphones, The Beatles sound much more alive. Maybe they were less nervous and able to rock harder.
Originally airing February 23rd, 1964, their third appearance was actually a pre-taped set from February 9th. Quite savvy on Sullivan's part to have an additional set in the can, milking the hysteria for all it was worth. While there were only three songs performed, two of them were not featured on either of the earlier broadcasts.
The fourth and final performance comes from a September 12th, 1965 broadcast. The six song set was pre-taped on August 14th, 1965. It's an interesting contrast, since the group was now performing more mature pieces from the Help! era. As a live band they had not improved. By their own admission they had grown sloppier as live performers in the year and a half since the initial Sullivan appearances. Songs like "I'm Down" and "Ticket To Ride" are sorely lacking when compared to their studio counterparts, though still interesting to hear performed live. Ringo Starr gets a moment in the spotlight with a charming run-through of "Act Naturally." And George Harrison, though never given a lead vocal on Sullivan, at least gets to speak when he introduces McCartney before "Yesterday."