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When The Rolling Stones Got Censored On Ed Sullivan

After releasing their new single ‘Let’s Spend The Night Together’, The Rolling Stones had to perform a censored version on the Ed Sullivan show.

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It was a busy, and controversial, start to 1967 for The Rolling Stones. On 13 January 1967, Decca released ‘Let’s Spend The Night Together’, backed by ‘Ruby Tuesday’ and the following day it was released by London Records in America. The day after that, on 15 January, the Stones appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, and were forced to change the lyrics to the a-side of their single so as not to offend the delicate sensibilities of American TV viewers.

In the weeks that followed The Stones had the word “night” bleeped out of their record and some stations went as far as banning it all together, which meant ‘Ruby Tuesday’ got a lot more airplay, with the result being, ‘Ruby Tuesday’ topped the charts, while ‘Let’s Spend The Night Together’ could only make a lowly No.55.

In Britain things were a little different, but as it proved, no less controversial. Having flown home from New York, The Stones were greeted by the release of their new album, Between The Buttons. A few days later, on Sunday 22 January they were at one of London’s most famous theatres to rehearse for an appearance on TV’s, Sunday Night at the London Palladium.

Having frequently been asked to appear, and never doing so, they had relented yet no one from The Stones can quite remember why they did so. According to Charlie at the time, “Personally I didn’t want to do it, and I’m not sure why we did. I suppose it was a challenge. It’s always done more harm than good to anybody I’ve ever seen on it.”

On the TV show, The Stones mimed, while Mick sang live to ‘Ruby Tuesday’, ‘Let’s Spend The Night Together’, and ‘Connection’, the latter being a track from Between The Buttons. One reason for their appearance was that opportunities to appear on TV were less as Ready Steady Go!, the best of the 1960s pop programmes had been taken off the air; it was also true that Sunday Night At The London Palladium had a huge audience, close to 10 million.

According to the show’s producer, “They arrived with all their music on a tape. Their manager Andrew Oldham sat alongside me checking the sound level. I was so disappointed in my dealings with them. Not only were they late for rehearsal but I feel I was confronted with ill-mannered, studied rudeness.” But then again, according to Keith, “The show’s so bad we couldn’t rely on them to get the sound we wanted. It’s not as if we can’t play live,” is what he told Disc a week or so later.

It was not the miming that was controversial, it was The Stones refusal to appear on the closing sequence of the TV show. They refused to stand on the revolving stage, when all the performers and the show’s host, Dave Allen, were expected to smile and wave to the audience. Andrew Loog Oldham had a row with Mick about it, and in the following days angry viewers took to writing letters to the press.

One lady from Oxford suggested that, “They should take a lesson from the real stars like Gracie Fields, Margot Fonteyn, Frankie Vaughan, etc., none of whom would dream of being so rude to either their fellow artists or the public.” While another disgruntled Home Counties viewer said, “It is too late to prevent this record going on the market, but for goodness sake let us ban any sequels before the entire business has a harmful effect on our nation as a whole.”

The row seemed to go on for weeks after. Those of a certain age couldn’t comprehend why The Stones had been invited to appear, Younger people couldn’t care less, and some others probably felt like The Stones – why did they appear?

As Mick told the NME, “The only reason we did the show was because it was a good national plug. Anyone who thought we were changing our image to suit a family audience was mistaken.”

On the following week’s Sunday Night at the London Palladium, comedians, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore were the stars of the show. Pete and Dud had become friendly with The Stones and to show their solidarity with the band they went on the roundabout with life size cardboard cut outs of all five Stones, created by Gerald Scarfe.

Amidst all the Sullivan controversy, ‘Lets Spend The Night Together’/’Ruby Tuesday’ made No.3 on the UK charts.

Follow the official Rolling Stones Best Of playlist for more than 50 Stones hits and key album tracks.

Format: UK English
1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Walters

    January 31, 2017 at 10:18 pm

    Great reminder of what (all) it took to show anti establishment credentials. Didn’t they also perform It’s All Over Now with a remarkably different arrangement to that of the hit version?

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