September 17, 2010

The Doors Defy Ed Sullivan

The Ed Sullivan show was an important and influential variety television show that aired on Sunday evenings for more than 20 years! About every kind of act appeared on the show, and the Ed Sullivan Show was famous for making acts famous (to American, mainstream audiences, at least).

Some of the famous appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show were Elvis Presley, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and The Doors.

To some observers, at least, an appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show was the hallmark of success. Many acts appeared multiple times...but not The Doors.

On this date in 1967, The Doors were about to go on the air, live, to perform their hit “Light My Fire.” They had been told that they had to change one of the lines, “Girl, we couldn't get much higher,” to “Girl, we couldn't get much better.” The Doors told the producer they would make the change, but Jim Morrison, the lead singer/songwriter, performed the song just as usual, with the word higher.

Sullivan was reported to be furious and refused to shake the band members' hands. Instead of booking the band for multiple appearances, as planned, The Doors were never invited back again. However, Morrison and the others were reported to be gleeful—the one appearance gave them a ton of exposure, and the controversy gave them publicity. Morrison was never one to bow down to conventions, anyway.

I have seen a lot of situations in which musicians or bands are asked to change the lyrics for a live performance. In one situation, the lead singer was so mad that he couldn't use a certain 4-letter word, he ranted to the audience about the censorship for minutes and minutes (without saying the banned word) and managed to get the audience to yell the word multiple times. On a live awards show, Alannis Morissette didn't smoothly change a banned word, but instead left a glaring silence—the accompanying musicians ceased to play for a beat or two, as well, leaving a noticeable silence—where the word had been. Morissette's song was well known, and the context of the lyrics made clear the word that was missing, and in my opinion, the whole thing drew attention to the word—even though the words wasn't uttered at all. One last anecdote is another from the Ed Sullivan Show: The Rolling Stones complied with lyric changes, singing “let's spend some time together” instead of “let's spend the night together,” but Mick Jagger rolled his eyes every time he sang the changed line, and afterwards the group came out on stage in Nazi uniforms with Swastikas. (Sullivan, pictured above, was furious and never had them back on the show.)

Censorship sometimes calls attention to whatever is being censored. What do you think about this topic?

  • Kidspeak is an organization created as a reaction to some people's efforts to ban Harry Potter books and movies. It's about freedom of speech and censorship.  
  • Here is a survey of kids about censorship and who should decide what materials are okay for kids to see and hear.  

  • Here is a mature article on the topic of music lyrics and their possible negative influence. Older kids and adults might enjoy reading it.

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