From Steven's Rock Calendar: 9-17-67 Rock TV Makes History (Pt.1).
In September 17th's Rock Calendar on Twitter (not so subtle cross-plug there) I note that this day in 1967 was a pivotal one for rock music and television. On this one night, at a time when rock music on TV was still a rarity, The Doors and The Who each gave performances so memorable that handsome, virile radio people still blog about them some 43 years later.
As I am the resident dinosaur of the rock penthouse, I must point out that age brings certain advantages. Yep, you know where this is going. From the couch in my parents' living room, I saw 'em both.
This night sticks out in my mind because I distincly remember getting some major static from my father. We were visiting a co-worker of his that afternoon, and he wasn't particularly anxious to leave just because his 11-year-old son wanted get home in time to watch The Ed Sullivan Show.
Ed Sullivan knew everyone in entertainment. A former entertainment columnist for The New York Times, Ed hosted America's most popular variety show, a format whch doesn't exist any more. In the three-channel days, shows had to appeal to a universal audience. Sullivan's show featured acts from every genre. It really WAS something for everyone. In one show, you might see a musical number from Broadway, a performace by circus acrobats, a dramatic reading from Shakespeare, a magician making a pretty girl disappear, and a string quartet playing chamber music.
And rock music, too. Ed brought Elvis Presley and The Beatles on his show, and our parents figured that if Ed said it was okay to like this new rock-and-roll music, then it probably was.
My parents liked Ed Sullivan as much as the next guy. We always watched his show when we were home on Sundays, even the rock bands which I watched and listened to with one ear, My other ear was occupied by my father's observation that he couldn't even tell if those long-haired things were boys or girls.
This was usually followed by his speculation that it was all strictly Communist (Dad, like many Americans of that era, was convinced the Commies were responsibile for all the evils of society), that I had better not ever want to grow my hair long like them nasty-looking things on TV, and that Ed must be losing his hearing as he gets older, and can't tell how bad that rock music sounds.
So Dad was unimpressed that Ed's show that night featured an appearance from some doors, or windows, or some other silly bunch of noise they play (to use his oft-repeated phrase) on "that shitass WKLO," the radio of station of choice in Mr. Forree's sixth-grade class at Shawnee Elementary.
Luckily for me, the kid got his way. My famiIy and I saw The Doors, and they were great. Or so I thought. Most kids I talked to the next day in school thought so, too.
Ed didn't share our opinion. In fact, althought they wouldn't say such things on TV in those days, Ed Sullivan, one of the most powerful people in television, was royally pissed off at The Doors. They had broken their promise to tone down their lyrics.
Bear in mind this was 1967, in the days of sanitized television. References to sex and drugs just didn't happen. TV couples slept in seperate beds. Women weren't "pregnant," they were "expecting." If bad guys appeared on TV, you could rest assured they would get their comeuppance before that final commercial break. And drugs... aw, don't even go there.
With that backdrop, The Doors received notice that Sullivan and CBS would prefer they not sing the lyric "we couldn't get much higher" in their song "Light My Fire." Sure," they said, "no problem." After all, The Rolling Stones, the second biggest rock band in the world, had agreed to replace "Let's spend the night together" with "Let's spend some time together" when they appeared on the Sullivan show.
As a sidenote, most bands did actually play live on Sullivan. No lip-synching, no pre-recorded tracks. Well, The Doors didn't change the lyric. Jim Morrison sang it as written, and Ed was furious. He refused to shake hands with the band after their performance, and sent word that they would never be invited on his show again.
The irony is that Sullivan, the squarest of squares, had really liked the members of The Doors, as well as their music. Before the show, Ed had told his bookers to schedule The Doors six more times in the coming months.
Of course, all this information came out later, so at the time, I and other viewers had no idea of the brewing tempest. What I do remember most is thinking that Vox keyboard with the inverted colors was so cool. The 'black" keys were white and the "white" keys were black.
Wow. We were easily impressed in those days, I guess this was because changing the color of the keys was probably a Communist idea, and listening to that shitass WKLO was obviously turning our brains to mush.
NEXT: After Ed, it was time for The Who on the Smothers Brothers. They fell down and went boom.