The late Ed Sullivan was a pioneering TV personality, one who hosted his own show for 23 years from 1948 to 1971 and remains one of the most revered music shows in history. The programme welcomed the likes of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Elvis Presley and almost anyone of note that you can think of from that time period.
It ran on CBS every Sunday night from 8–9 PM and is one of the few entertainment shows to have run in the same weekly time slot on the same network for more than two decades. It was a true variety show in every sense with Sullivan welcoming virtually every type of entertainment appeared on the show. It ranged from classical musicians, opera singers, popular recording artists, songwriters, comedians, ballet dancers, dramatic actors performing monologues from plays, and even circus acts were regularly featured.
We are reminiscing on eight of the best who ever appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show during it’s 23 year reign including the likes of Elvis and The Beatles.
8 iconic performances from The Ed Sullivan Show:
When The Beatles made their debut on The Ed Sullivan Show in the midst of Beatlemania in 1964 it was always going to be a special occasion, one which has now become a key part of the iconic group’s history. As Paul McCartney remembers in Anthology: “Seventy-three million people were reported to have watched the first show. It is still supposed to be one of the largest viewing audiences ever in the States.
“It was very important. We came out of nowhere with funny hair, looking like marionettes or something. That was very influential. I think that was really one of the big things that broke us – the hairdo more than the music, originally. A lot of people’s fathers had wanted to turn us off. They told their kids, ‘Don’t be fooled, they’re wearing wigs.’”
The Beatles performance was nothing short of ground-moving for those who witnessed it. They sang ‘All My Loving’, ‘Till There Was You’ and ‘She Loves You’, in the first half of the programme — before returning to perform ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ and ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ following the ad break.
Following the rise of their chart-topping single ‘Light My Fire’, The Doors were the hottest band around and were a shoo-in for a special spot on the variety show. Led by Jim Morrison, The Doors represented the devilish side of art.
“You boys look great, [but] you ought to smile a little more,” said the typically stone-faced Sullivan when approaching the band as they rehearsed in the CBS Studio before the big night on September 17th, 1967. Following Sullivan’s words, a producer duly followed up after him to discuss a much more serious matter, a contentious lyric in the single ‘Light My Fire’ — which was “Girl, we couldn’t get much higher” with the suggestion of changing the word form “higher” to “better”.
The Doors, of course, refused to oblige and after they were informed that the group were now banned from the show by CBS even though Sullivan wanted them to do six more, Jim Morrison’s response was poetic: “Hey, man. We just did the Sullivan show.”
Diana Ross led The Supremes through a magnificent rendition of ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’ in September, 1966, which had just become yet another number one single for the unstoppable group.
The group performed on the Ed Sullivan Show a staggering 16 times which was more than any other Motown act. By all accounts, Sullivan developed a great friendship with the three singers over the course of the show’s run which is why they were more than happy to come back with almost every single
Mary Wilson was quoted as telling reporters, “At first, being young, there was a little distance, but he became very close to us when he found we were kind of, you know, nice girls. He really liked that.” Sullivan played a key part in giving them the mainstream attention they deserved and they were grateful towards him.
On March 16th in 1969, Sullivan welcomed Janis Joplin for her one and only appearance on the programme which saw her tear through a devastatingly brilliant rendition of ‘Maybe’ as only she could.
Following her performance on the programme, her stardom surged emphatically over the following eighteen months, which would see her become internationally adored as the world fell head over heels for her infectious voice.
This appearance in front of millions watching on at home helped widen Joplin’s audience and played an integral in her becoming this revered iconic figure in the history of music as she announced her unique voice to America with this performance of ‘Maybe’.
The Rolling Stones
On the evening of October 25, 1964, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Brian Jones, Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts all sat backstage anxiously awaiting their call time to go on air in front of the majority of Americans sitting patiently at home.
Dutifully, the band performed the Chuck Berry classic ‘Around & Around’ and ‘Time Is On My Side’ with Jagger doing his usual swashbuckling best and flanked by Keith and Brian to deliver a memorable performance. As soon as the last notes of the song landed, the curtain dropped on the band to the shrieks of excitement from the crowd in front of them and at home.
They didn’t stop screaming either. As the next act got ready to come onto the stage, the crowd were still screaming so loudly that it had become intolerable for the older heads in the production team. In fact, Sullivan lost his temper and shouted “quiet!” several times.
According to Mick: “Ed told us that it was the wildest, most enthusiastic audience he’d seen any artiste get in the history of his show. We got a message from him a few days later, saying, ‘Received hundreds of letters from parents complaining about you, but thousands from teenagers saying how much they enjoyed your performance.’”
The Beach Boys
The Beach Boys’ performance of ‘Good Vibrations’ on October 13, 1968, was utterly magnificent as they performed this timeless classic with a psychedelic twist on it which caused mass hysteria with the audience of the programme.
Following the release of Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, psychedelic music became more mainstream in a culture which helped make The Beach Boys decide to rejig the track for their appearance which is one of their most iconic performance of ‘Good Vibrations’.
They were completely different men from the innocent youths who first appeared on the programme four years earlier to perform ‘Wendy’ as their sounds progressed and their music became even more beautiful at the same time.
The King had a close affiliation with the programme performing on an array of different occasions over the years but his most notorious moment on the show came on September 1956 when he treated the crowd to a provocative rendition of ‘Don’t Be Cruel’.
Elvis’ jovial performance of ‘Hound Dog‘ on another TV show which drove his young fans into a feeling of euphoria but the parents and conservative media thought otherwise, almost blacklisting The King from TV as he didn’t leave much to the imagination with his performance.
When Ed Sullivan was asked if he would book Elvis on his show, he initially said he wouldn’t because he didn’t want to be the recipient of scathing criticism yet again from the media. Thankfully, he caved and 60 million tuned in for this iconic performance.
The Byrds made their first and only appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show when they performed their two number one hits on December 12th 1965, when they performed glorious renditions of ‘Turn! Turn! Turn!’ and ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ which went down a treat but, unfortunately, they would never be invited back.
In The History of Rock N’ Roll, bass guitarist Chris Hillman revealed that “We had a problem. David [Crosby], that devil, got into an argument with the director and we were never asked back.”
David Crosby recalled the importance of the programme and regretfully stated: “It was like you could go there and kind of feel that you were part of the crowd, but you had been watching Sullivan since you were a kid and it had tremendous authority. I don’t know how I got so mad at him and almost blew it, ‘cause I should’ve been very respectful.”