When The Rolling Stones Got Censored On Ed Sullivan

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

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The Rolling Stones on Ed Sullivan in 1964
The Rolling Stones on Ed Sullivan in 1964; Photo: Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

It was a busy, and controversial, start to 1967 for The Rolling Stones. On January 13, 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 January 15, The Rolling 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 Rolling Stones had the word “night” bleeped out of their record and some stations went as far as banning it altogether, which meant “Ruby Tuesday” got a lot more airplay. “Ruby Tuesday” ended up topping the charts, while “Let’s Spend The Night Together” could only make a lowly No.55.

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In Britain, things were a little different, but as it proved, no less controversial. The Rolling Stones were greeted after the Ed Sullivan situation by the release of their new album, Between The Buttons. And, a few days later, on Sunday, January 22 they were at one of London’s most famous theaters 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 Rolling 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.”

One reason for their appearance was that opportunities to appear on TV were less as Ready Steady Go!, the best of the 1960s pop programs 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.

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. It was not the miming that was controversial, though. 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 The Stones “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 wondered why The Stones had bothered at all. 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 cutouts of all five Stones, created by Gerald Scarfe.

Oh. And how did The Rolling Stones do on the charts amidst all the Ed Sullivan controversy? “Let’s 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.

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  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?

  2. LEE

    January 15, 2021 at 7:01 pm

    The Stones complied even though Jagger rolled his eyes when he sang “some time”. The Doors don’t have to explain their appearance on this show. “hey man, we already DID Ed Sullivan” LOL

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