Don’t Stop the Carnival

The story of the rise and fall of the Smothers Brothers in the late 1960s is fairly well-known: clean-cut folksinger types start doing political commentary on their TV show to the consternation of CBS officials, who eventually yank them off the air. Many of the details are less well-known, though. Tommy Smothers became politically radicalized after being beaten by police following a 1964 concert, and while The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour imploded in March 1969, the seeds of its destruction were planted practically from its beginnings two years before.

For the last couple of evenings, I have been engrossed in Dangerously Funny: The Uncensored Story of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour by David Bianculli. I can’t recommend this book enough—I’ve read plenty of behind-the-scenes TV books, but this might be the best one. The book has reminded me how The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, which at first was carefully designed to straddle the generation gap, was instrumental in boosting (and in some cases, launching) the careers of several prominent rock bands.

For example, the Turtles appeared on the second episode, broadcast on February 12, 1967, and performed “Happy Together,” which had cracked the Billboard Hot 100 just the day before. A month or so later, after “Happy Together” had blasted into the Top 10, the Turtles would return to perform it again.

Also appearing that spring was the Buffalo Springfield, performing “For What It’s Worth” as it was climbing the charts. There’s a fragment of it at YouTube, which will give you a taste of how the Smothers Brothers tried to have some fun with it. The clip will also give you a look at Neil Young as you may never have seen him before.

More classic performances are on the flip.

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