Many people often wonder why wasn’t Bob Dylan on The Ed Sullivan Show without knowing how close he actually was to making a performance. Here is how the Bob Dylan Ed Sullivan Show story unfolded:
In May of 1963, Bob Dylan was still an aspiring young musician who was preparing for the release of his 2nd album The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. At this point in his career, Dylan had received little national attention. It seemed if that was all about to change when he received an invitation to perform on The Ed Sullivan Show.
Bob Dylan was slated to make his first nationwide television appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show on May 12, 1963. For the show, Dylan decided to perform “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues”, a satirical blues number skewering the conservative John Birch Society and the red-hunting paranoia associated with it. A few days earlier, Bob Dylan auditioned the song for Ed Sullivan who seemed to have no issue with it. However, on the day of the show during the dress rehearsal, an executive from the CBS Standards and Practices department decided Dylan could not perform the song due to its controversial nature. When the show’s producer, Bob Precht, informed Dylan of the decision, Dylan responded saying, “No; this is what I want to do. If I can’t play my song, I’d rather not appear on the show.” Rather than choose a new song to perform or change the lyrics (as the Rolling Stones and the Doors on Ed Sullivan would agree to do), a young Bob Dylan walked off the set of the country’s highest-rated variety show.
The story got widespread media attention in the days that followed helping to establish Dylan’s public reputation as an uncompromising artist. The publicity Bob Dylan received from this event probably did more for his career than the actual Ed Sullivan Show performance would have. Unfortunately, this leaves us with no performance footage of Bob Dylan on The Ed Sullivan Show.