50 Years Ago: Rolling Stones Change Lyric for Ed Sullivanby Best Classic Bands Staff
It might be hard for younger generations today raised on cable and satellite TV as well as streaming to understand the power and importance of The Ed Sullivan Show.
Broadcast on CBS – the largest of the only three TV networks – on Sunday nights from 1948 to 1971, and hosted by New York entertainment columnist Ed Sullivan, it was the premier showcase for new entertainers.
For many American families it became a Sunday evening tradition to gather around the TV console and watch the Sullivan show from 8-9 PM Eastern every week.
For rock music acts a Sullivan appearance could provide an immediate route to stardom. When Elvis Presley debuted in October 1956, the show was viewed by a record 60 million, which at the time was 82.6 percent of the television audience and the largest single audience in television history. (How did word get around without social media?) Similarly, when The Beatles first appeared in February 1964 it was a milestone moment in American pop culture and the beginning of Beatlemania and the British Invasion in music. The broadcast drew an estimated 73 million viewers, at the time a new record for US television viewership.
The Rolling Stones made six appearances in all on the Sullivan show in the 1960s, performing a total of 17 songs. The classic rock song in question on January 15, 1967 was “Let’s Spend The Night Together,” which they were asked to clean up to say “Let’s Spend Some Time Together.” After all, CBS did have censors, and in those times the actual sex act was not something mentioned in polite company, much less before a mainstream, prime-time TV audience.
The Stones relented and performed the song as requested. In the top video clip, you can see Mick Jagger roll his eyes as he delivers the altered line at 1:17. Some fans were disappointed that the oft-rebellious band gave in. Later in the year, The Doors appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show and were asked to substitute the word “better” for “higher” in “Light My Fire,” said they would, then sang the actual lyric on the broadcast, incurring Sullivan’s ire and being banned from the show.