"Let's Spend the Night Together," Uhhh, "Some Time Together," Making Rock Acceptable: "The Ed Sullivan Show"
Stephen H. Wheeler
"The Ed Sullivan Show" of the 1950s and 1960s could launch a career and sell records, and Ed Sullivan could make or break a performer. Jackie Mason found himself unable to obtain future bookings after October 18, 1964, because of what Sullivan perceived to be an obscene gesture directed toward him as Mason finished his comedy routine. As far as Sullivan was concerned, Mason would never appear on his show again. Sullivan later recanted his decision, but Mason's career was damaged.1 However, it was the introduction of new acts that allowed Sullivan's show to influence the country's popular culture. This chapter will explain how.
The Sullivan show became ingrained into American popular culture through its enormous popularity. Going from the thirteenth overall top-rated show in the 1950s and the fifth overall top-rated show in the 1960s, "The Ed Sullivan Show" garnered a sizeable segment of the American viewing public when they turned their television dials to CBS on Sunday evenings.2 Paul M. Hirsch adroitly recounted that top-rated program such as "The Ed Sullivan Show" became part of popular culture because it could "cut across demographic boundaries and present to diverse groups of Americans a set of common symbols, vocabularies, information, and shared experiences."3
In his attempts to appeal to such a diverse audience, Sullivan may have subconsciously defined and reinforced those common cultural values that middle-class and upper-class Americans thought acceptable. One such cultural value concerned rock 'n' roll. With few exceptions, Sullivan showcased rock performers or groups who would be inoffensive. When he "requested" in January 1967 that the Rolling Stones change their lyrics of "Let's Spend the Night Together" to "Let's Spend Some Time Together," Sullivan was more than just cognizant of CBS censors. He sanitized.
Mick Jagger, lead singer for the Rolling Stones, who in February 1967, would be arrested on drug possession charges in Britain along with band member Keith