Stoned on Sullivan

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(Pictured: Bill Wyman, Brian Jones, Mick Jagger, Charlie Watts, and Keith Richards’ elbow on The Ed Sullivan Show, October 1964.)

Fifty years ago this weekend, the Rolling Stones appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show for the last time.

Ed Sullivan did not care much for the Rolling Stones, but he knew that his audience did, and so he brought them on his long-running Sunday night CBS variety show not just once, but six times between 1964 and 1969.

The first time, October 25, 1964, Stones fans went so crazy after “Around and Around” that Sullivan had to ask for quiet to continue the show. After “Time Is on My Side” at the end of the show, Sullivan followed an old showbiz reflex by saying, “Come on, let them hear it!” No more unnecessary exhortation has ever been given to any audience anywhere. The resultant screaming made it difficult for Sullivan to talk briefly to Mick Jagger and plug the next week’s guests. The crazed audience disturbed him; so did the Stones’ dress and deportment, which caused a few viewers to write and complain. After the show, Sullivan is said to have remarked, “I promise you, they’ll never be back on our show.”

Shrewd as he was, however, Sullivan was willing to listen when the Stones’ management approached him about another appearance. But he wanted something in return: “Before even discussing the possibility of a contract, I would like to learn from you,” he told them, “whether your young men have reformed in the matter of dress and shampoo.” They had. They appeared again on May 2, 1965, wearing jackets and performing to an audience far less amped that the one that had greeted them seven months before.

On February 13, 1966, the Stones appeared for a third time. This time, the show’s director cut to screaming girls in the audience as the band performed “Satisfaction,” which had been a #1 hit the previous summer, and he focused mostly on Mick in closeup. Later in the show, Jagger and Keith Richards performed “As Tears Go By” as a duo, and the band closed with “19th Nervous Breakdown.”

On September 11, 1966, the Stones were among the guests for Sullivan’s season-opening show. Heedless of their superstar status, Ed ruled them with an iron hand, demanding that the members wash their hair before going on. But they were rebellious rock stars, too, and so they refused Ed’s edict to stay in the theater between the dress rehearsal and the live show. They ended up having to escape from a mob of fans in the street before performing “Paint It Black,” “Have You Seen Your Mother Baby,” and “Lady Jane.” Sullivan told the audience, “You’re screaming much better this year.”

So: after four appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, and with a firm understanding of both the show’s value to them and the quirks of its host, you might think the Stones would cruise through later appearances without a hitch. But their January 15, 1967, appearance was the most rebellious of all. On that night, Sullivan did not want the Stones to sing the title line of their hit, “let’s spend the night together.” He told them to sing “let’s spend some time together” instead. Jagger agreed, but was annoyed when the show’s talent coordinators kept reminding him about it during the dress rehearsal. On the air that night, he did as he was told, but he exaggerated the line and rolled his eyes as he sang it.

(It’s often said that Mick agreed to sing the altered lyric, but then sang the original lyric on the air. Not true. That was Jim Morrison on “Light My Fire,” eight months later.)

It would be nearly three years before the Stones appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show for a final time. On that occasion, Ed went to them, flying to California where the band taped performances of “Gimme Shelter,” “Love in Vain,” and “Honky Tonk Women.” On November 23, 1969, America watched while Mick “laid a divorcee in New York City” without incident. Keef looked spectral, the audience screamed, Ed promised to visit the band backstage later in the week, and the Sixties were nearly over.

(Originally written for back when that was a thing, and first posted here in 2013. If you’re interested in reading about the other acts appearing with the Stones on each night’s Sullivan show, click here.)

2 thoughts on “Stoned on Sullivan

  1. T.

    My older sister was a teenager during the British Invasion. She saw the Stones in 1965 in Indianapolis. According to her, they were an hour and half late, they were dirty and they were out of tune. After a half hour a riot started, the police showed up and everyone was chased out. Sounds like punk rock to me.

    She preferred Chad & Jeremy.

  2. Brian L Rostron

    These appearances remind me of a Peter, Paul, and Mary episode of “The Jack Benny Program” in early 1963. They sang “Blowin’ in the Wind” and Jack made jokes about topical humor, some of which involved Calvin Coolidge.

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