For 23 years from 1948 to 1971, families gathered in front of their TV sets at 8 PM every Sunday to watch The Ed Sullivan Show. With its impressive high ratings, a booking on the variety show was a golden opportunity for any performer to boost their career and hopefully become a household name across the country. To wrap up 2020, we decided to compile the top 10 most viewed videos on our rapidly growing YouTube Channel that commemorate some of the biggest acts that took center stage at the historic Ed Sullivan Theater.
Presley’s second appearance was on October 28, 1956, and he performed Don’t Be Cruel and Hound Dog along with Love Me Tender. Prior to the performance, Presley told the audience this was “probably the greatest honor I have ever had in my life,” before kicking things off with Don’t Be Cruel. He said, “Thank you, ladies,” to the screaming fans and then introduced Love Me Tender as “completely different from anything we’ve ever done.” At the end of his performance, Sullivan called Presley “a real decent, fine boy. … we’ve never had a pleasanter experience on our show with a big name than we’ve had with you.”
On December 1, 1957 Buddy Holly And The Crickets made their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. They would perform their hits Peggy Sue and That’ll Be The Day from the recently released The Chirpin’ Crickets. They all wore bow-ties and sported coats, and Buddy fashioned his trademark horn-rimmed glasses. This appearance sent the songs to the top of the charts in the U.S. and enabled Buddy Holly and the Crickets to find fame in the U.K. as well as influence a generation of British rock bands such as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and many more.
On September 24th, 1967 The Mamas & the Papas performed their hit record California Dreamin on the show. The group brought Ed love beads that he wore when he sat and chatted with the foursome on stage. Michelle Phillips attributed much of their success to Sullivan when she said, “The minute we started doing Sullivan, people started buying those records, you think of him (Ed) as being a very conservative guy, but look at the people he brought onto his show. He was the one who had control of that — nobody else.”
On September 9, 1956, Elvis made his debut on The Ed Sullivan Show. That day, neither Elvis nor Ed were in the Ed Sullivan Theater for filming. Ed had injured himself in a car accident and was at home recuperating, while actor Charles Laughton filled in for him on the show. And Elvis wasn’t in New York City, where The Ed Sullivan Show was traditionally filmed. Instead, he was being broadcasted from CBS studios in Hollywood, where he was in the middle of filming Love Me Tender. Despite these challenges, the show was a massive success with 60 million people, or 82.6% of the entire television audience, tuning in to watch Don’t Be Cruel, Love Me Tender, Ready Teddy and a few verses of Hound Dog.
On April 21, 1968, Ed introduced Tom Jones with the line, “While every American kid starts playing baseball when he is about 6, every Welsh youngster starts singing when he is about 6.” Jones opened with his signature It’s Not Unusual before transitioning to the old Irish ballad Danny Boy. Before he sang, Jones joked “I’m Welsh myself, but I’m not prejudiced.” He concluded the appearance with his current UK hit single Delilah. Jones returned to The Ed Sullivan Show about a month later on June 13, 1965, and showcased his hit Whatcha Gonna Do with backup go-go dancers.
“He sang and danced like he was born to be on a stage.” After their performance, Sullivan remarked, “The little fella in front is incredible” while referring to Michael. Sullivan then introduced Diana Ross as the person who discovered the Jackson 5. It no longer mattered who had discovered the Jackson 5. The momentum had already started to pick up and there was no turning back. The Jackson 5’s appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show skyrocketed the group to crossover fame.
It was a surprise when Ed announced in the summer of 1956 that Elvis would perform not just once, but three times on his show. Ed had watched Elvis’ career unfold and knew he’d pull in big views and ratings if he allowed Elvis to perform. Elvis’ manager, Colonel Tom Parker, negotiated hard, and the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll signed a deal that would guarantee him $50,000 for all three performances, this was both a bold risk and an unprecedented amount of money at the time.
On December 14, 1969, The Jackson 5 appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show. Sullivan introduced them as a new sensation and the boys took to the big stage for a memorable three-song set. Their first song was a cover of Sly and the Family Stone’s Stand, followed by Smokey Robinson’s Who’s Loving You. After that song, the J5 sang their first single, I Want You Back. In this last song, little 10-year-old Michael set himself apart as the future King of Pop.
On October 28, 1956, Elvis Presley made his second appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. Ed had recovered from his injuries and resumed his duties hosting the show. Following an innocent act by an Irish children’s choir called The Little Gaelic Singers, Elvis Presley took the stage and sang, Don’t Be Cruel and Love Me Tender. After Señor Wences’s ventriloquism act, Elvis returned to perform “Love Me.” During this song the camera moved in for a close-up of Elvis’ face, and then, as if on cue, he smiled and snarled his upper lip. The studio audience went wild. Elvis closed with an extended version of his hit, Hound Dog.
On November 30, 1969, Neil Diamond debuted on The Ed Sullivan Show. He showcased his hit single Sweet Caroline while sitting on a stool in front of a packed theater. After a short intermission and re-introduction by Sullivan, Diamond returned to sing Holly Holy on top of a multi-colored pyramid. These two records ended up becoming Neil Diamond’s two biggest hits that year. Sweet Caroline was on the charts for 12 weeks and peaked at #4. Holly Holy also spent 12 weeks on the charts and peaked at #6.
We appreciate you stopping by our blog and going back in time with us. Don’t forget to subscribe and look out for new videos every week, as we keep bringing back the most memorable performances from The Ed Sullivan Show in 2021. We wish you all a great New Year ahead!