When The Rolling Stones arrived in America in the autumn of 1964 things had turned a bit crazy for the band. Following their disappointing arrival earlier in the year, a run of chart hits had ensured the band were the talk of the town and were met at JFK by a hoard of fans screaming “we want The Stones” following their return trip across the pond. It was enough to confirm them as the new saviours of rock ‘n’ roll.
They sold out two nights in New York and were being asked to appear on countless television shows. One such appearance was for the illustrious Ed Sullivan Show and things were never going to be sane again. It was the kind of mania that had previously been reserved for the Fab Four, AKA The Beatles. But now, the Stones saw their opportunity across the pond and were not about to let it run through their fingers.
The Stones’ manager responsible for booking them on the show, Andrew Loog Oldham, had cut his teeth as a publicist for The Beatles and clearly understood the power of The Ed Sullivan Show and the impact The Rolling Stones appearing on it could have on record and ticket sales. A smart man with a direction to follow—The Stones were in good hands and were poised, ready to capitalise on the opportunity.
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. It may sound an over-estimation but in a time with limited entertainment, Sullivan represented a must-watch moment for the entire family. While they waited they were treated to an eclectic bunch of acts.
The Ed Sullivan Show was a variety performance after all so the boys were treated to the husband and wife comedy duo of Stiller and Meara as well as an incredible nineteen-year-old Israeli violinist called Itzhak Perlman—but the audience was getting impatient. It was clear by this point, that variety shows were mere fodder. The real event was the music.
Soon enough the call came and The Rolling Stones took their spots under the spotlight and in front of a highly-charged studio. It was a studio full to the brim with screaming fans all desperate to catch a glimpse of one of the hottest bands on the planet. The curtain raised to reveal a fresh-faced Mick, Keith, Brian, Bill and Charlie staring back at their adoring crowd. The Rolling Stones had arrived in America after all and they weren’t ever going to leave again
Dutifully, the band performed the Chuck Berry classic ‘Around & Around’ with Jagger doing his usual swashbuckling best, 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 horror from the crowd in front of them and at home. They had taken the band away form their fans too soon and the audience weren’t afraid of telling them.
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. The audience eventually subsided to allow acts of The Kim Sisters and the acrobatic Berosini family to take place—but the crowd still wanted more.
The Rolling Stones were soon back to close the evening’s show with their newly shared single, ‘Time Is on My Side.’ The Stones were in a compliant mood and were clearly keen to impress and make good long-lasting impressions on their hosts—they ran straight to their spots ready to start it all over again. The fresh face of Mick Jagger is that of a young man finding his mettle. He exchanges knowing glances of bubbling lust with the audience and generally tries to rile up the crowd with every move he can. The audience duly reciprocated.
As the performance came to a close Sullivan challenged the crowd for more noise saying: “Come on, let them hear it!” — the crowd met his challenge and then some, delivering a fearsome roar. The noise was so loud that Sullivan’s quick chat with Jagger after the performance was almost entirely inaudible.
The response of those outside the studio was a little different, however. The show had managed to stump up a whole host of ticket sales for the group but it had also landed the band in hot water with America’s brooding conservative faction who, at the time, were unhappy with the inclusion of a debauched rock and roll on their family-friendly show. They wrote to The Ed Sullivan Show in their droves to condemn the band.
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.’”
However that wasn’t the view a reporter from a Canadian newspaper had, they wrote: “Ed Sullivan wrote to say that he agreed with my description of the Stones as a grubby lot, and to pledge that he won’t have them back. I am bucked up by Ed’s promise that ‘So help me, the untidy Stones will never again darken our portals’.”
Watch The Rolling Stones make their Ed Sullivan debut below: