It may not be the case today, but there was a time in the middle of the 20th century when a performance on a late-night talk show was the most important thing in show business. And if the host took a shine to you? Fuhgetaboutit—you were made in the shade.
Such was the case when acts performed on The Ed Sullivan Show, which ran on CBS from 1948 through 1971. Over the course of those several decades-plus, Sullivan, a former New York entertainment columnist, played host myriad acts from a range of talents. But some transcended the rest, often when it came to rock music, as you will see here below.
1. The Doors
Few performers and few frontmen could own an audience like Jim Morrison. Not the bubblegum pop person, not the flirty guy, he was like a flame flickering onstage with sex appeal, poetic sensibilities and a talented rock band to back him up. But one of the problems several (many?) acts faced while performing on The Ed Sullivan Show, which garnered giant audiences, was that the show’s producers asked its bands to change lyrics so as not to offend its viewership. (Others to deal with this include the Rolling Stones and Buddy Holly, with more on him below). But Morrison, who used the platform to both reach millions and to rebel, did not change the “Light My Fire” lyrics, as asked. As a result, despite the performance, the Doors were banned from Sullivan’s show post-September 16, 1967 because Morrison sang, “couldn’t get much higher.” Check it out here below.
2. Buddy Holly
Like Morrison, though done in 1958 nearly a decade before the Doors’ lead singer, Buddy Holly also faced a confrontation with the late night show’s titular host. After promising his hometown friends he would play his hit, “Oh, Boy!” on the show, Sullivan countered, telling Holly to cut it because the lyrics were too suggestive. Holly, however, did not acquiesce. The result? Sullivan had Holly’s amp turned down (except for his solo) and even mispronounced his name in the intro. Despite that, the performance proved a boon for Buddy Holly & The Crickets and the band was invited back. Holly’s response to the request? Sullivan couldn’t afford them. What an icon!
3. The Beatles
This is the most famous performance by any band on Sullivan’s show and it went on without a hitch. It was February 9, 1964 when the Mop Tops took the stage on Sullivan’s show and it was seen by an astonishing 73 million people. The appearance also marked the first time in seven years Sullivan hit No. 1 in the nightly ratings (typically, he garnered some 21 million viewers). The moment also started “Beatlemania,” which swept the nation and soon the globe, making the band the biggest in the moment and catapulting them to the title of best rock band ever. Ahead of the Beatles on the show, the group had released their debut single, “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” The song hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 on January 25, 1964, just two weeks before their Sullivan appearance. Check them out performing that very track here below.
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