In February of 1964, The Beatles set an absolutely unmatched precedent when they performed on The Ed Sullivan Show for the first time. A total of 73 million Americans watched their February 9th performance, and although no artist could reasonably expect to equal that major accomplishment, they did solidify that anyone who wanted to break in American had to do so on Ed Sullivan.
The Rolling Stones had to wait seven months to get their chance to appear on the show. Much like The Beatles, the Stones were mainly a British phenomenon before they appeared on the programme. However, whereas The Beatles had a number one hit in the States with ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ by the time they hit the broadcast, the Stones hadn’t had a hit yet, with their only single on the chart being ‘Time is on My Side’ sitting at a lowly number 65 at the time of their appearance.
Also unlike The Beatles, the Stones had been in America before. A tour during the summer of 1964 was described by Bill Wyman as “a disaster”, and it culminated in their first TV appearance on Dean Martin’s The Hollywood Palace, where Martin cracked jokes about the band’s music and appearance. By the time they made it to New York in October, the band were seasoned pros and weren’t expecting too much.
Instead, the Stones garnered a much warmer reception. Hundreds of fans arrived at JFK Airport to welcome them, and their appearance on Ed Sullivan was met with the kind of frantic cheers and hysterical screams that had eluded them on their first trip. For their first song, the band elected to perform their cover of Chuck Berry’s ‘Around and Around’. The performance shows Brian Jones’ signature Vox teardrop guitar, and the audience were greeted with counter-programming to The Beatles clean-cut image: Jones and Charlie Watts wear suits and ties, but Keith Richards and Wyman are slightly more casual, with Mick Jagger electing to go with a sweater instead.
The band returned to play ‘Time is on My Side’ later in the show, and the group had already dispensed of the bows that The Beatles had made a standard requirement for all bands of the day. Following their appearance, ‘Time is on My Side’ would vault all the way up to number six on the Billboard charts, and the Stones officially had a captivated audience in America. But their chances of appearing again on Ed Sullivan were apparently low based on the ruckus they caused.
“Ed told us that it was the wildest, most enthusiastic audience he’d seen any artist get in the history of his show,” Jagger later recalled. “We got a message from him a few days later, saying, ‘We received hundreds of letters from parents complaining about you, but thousands from teenagers saying how much they enjoyed your performance.’”
Rumours persisted that the Stones had been banned from the show, but that turned out to be false, and the group would appear five more times on The Ed Sullivan Show over the course of the ’60s. Each time, the band became less and less refined, and although they agreed to mime and change certain lyrics to songs, their reputations as dangerous troublemakers was set from the very start.
Check out The Rolling Stones’ first Ed Sullivan appearance down below.