When “The Ed Sullivan Show” Tried to Censor Dylan

On May 12, 1963, Bob Dylan walked off the set of The Ed Sullivan Show after CBS executives objected to lyrics in his planned performance of “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues.” The satirical song about the conservative John Birch Society and the organization’s fear of communists had not been a problem during dress rehearsal, and Ed Sullivan had not objected to the song. But CBS lawyers were worried that the song might subject them to lawsuits. Rather than sing another song or change the lyrics, Dylan left, never performing on the popular show.

Although many have repeated the legend that Dylan had a tantrum and stormed off in anger, contemporary reports indicate Dylan was polite about the affair. When a producer explained the options to Dylan, the singer just responded that he only wanted to sing “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues,” and otherwise he would leave.

Thus, Dylan, whose second album The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan had not yet been released, passed up the big break on national TV. The incident, however, received a lot of attention, actually helping Dylan’s sales, and in interviews Ed Sullivan stated he did not agree with the decision.

Thus, there is no Ed Sullivan Show performance of the song for us to hear. So below is another performance of “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues” from the same year.

, one side effect from the Ed Sullivan controversy was that CBS’s record division, Columbia, then became concerned about the song being on The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. At that time, with only one weak-selling album under his belt, Dylan could not fight with the record company. So the song was pulled from the album, and Dylan used the opportunity to make some other last-minute song switches. A live 1963 performance of “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues” would officially be released in 1991 on The Bootleg Series Volumes 1–3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961–1991.

Should Dylan have changed the lyrics like The Doors and Rolling Stones did for the same show? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    Where Is the War of 1812 Bicentennial Celebration?

    In the years leading up to July 4, 1976 in the United States, you could not escape American Revolution Bicentennial fever and celebrations of the 200th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. There were parties, celebrations, ships, special coins, speeches, Bicentennial Minutes every night on television, and much more. But there is very little this year to mark the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, which officially started 200 years ago today when the U.S. declared war on Great Britain on June 18, 1812. Basically, we had a bicentennial and all I got was a website.

    Several years ago I worked with some young people from England and I was surprised to learn that they had never heard of the War of 1812. It is probably true that today most Americans know very little about the war, which makes it understandable that there is little about the bicentennial of a war that accomplished little. Even with some rewriting of history it is difficult to make the War of 1812 about lofty principles such as we do with other American Wars like the Revolution (freedom), the Civil War (freedom), and World War II (defeating Hitler). The 1976 Bicentennial events, in many ways, were not celebrating war but celebrating ideas. The date corresponded not to a war but to the signing of a document about equality — even though we continue to work on expanding what “equality” means.

    By contrast, the War of 1812 was largely about sea rights, land rights, and the seizing of American sailors. The war involved a lot of complicated issues, such as U.S. expansion into Native American lands, that are worth exploring but beyond the scope of a short blog post. At the end of the war when the U.S. and England signed the Treaty of Ghent on February 17, 1815, many questions were still left open. Neither side won the war, but many Americans saw it as a victory that they had held their own against the powerful British Empire.

    The war did have some lasting musical influences. A battle at Baltimore’s Fort McHenry gave Americans its national anthem “The Star Spangled Banner,” which we wrote about in a previous Chimesfreedom post. Another War of 1812 battle inspired a pop hit in the 1950s when Johnny Horton sang about the war’s most famous fight in the song “Battle of New Orleans.” The humorous take on the battle in the song is reflected in The Ed Sullivan Show performance below of the song that was number one on both the country and pop charts in 1959.

    We fired our guns and the British kept a’comin;
    There wasn’t nigh as many as there was a while ago;
    We fired once more and they began to runnin’ on,
    Down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico.

    The actual Battle of New Orleans was a big victory for the U.S. over the British, but it happened after the war had officially ended. One outcome of the battle is that it helped launch the political career of future president Andrew Jackson, referred to by his nickname “Old Hickory” in the song.

    Regarding the song, Jimmy Driftwood (1907-1998), an Arkansas school principal, wrote “The Battle of New Orleans” in 1936 as a way to get his students interested in history. Driftwood, who was born James Corbitt Morris, initially recorded “The Battle of New Orleans” but radio stations would not play it because the original version had “hell” and “damn” in the lyrics. For example, in Horton’s cleaned-up version, he sings, “We held our fire ’til we see’d their faces well./ Then we opened up with squirrel guns and really gave ’em … well.”

    Driftwood wrote several hits throughout his career, including “Tennessee Stud.” For the music to “Battle of New Orleans,” he used an old American fiddle tune called “The Eighth of January,” which is the date of the famous battle. Here is a lively rendition of that tune:

    Johnny Horton (1925-1960), who had the biggest hit with “Battle of New Orleans” in 1959, was a country and rockabilly singer who had other historical hits with songs such as “North to Alaska.” He also married Hank Williams’s widow Billie Jean Jones, and the couple had two daughters.

    If you want a video with a little more history than Horton’s song, check out this short summary of the war:

    Finally, while there is little U.S. national celebration of the War of 1812 Bicentennial, that does not mean the event is being ignored. For example, Ohio, whose own history was affected by the war, has several events over the next few years. Meanwhile, Maryland issued War of 1812 license plates and plans for a three-year commemoration. Also, Canadians recognize the war as playing an important role in their country’s national identity. But wherever you are, have a safe and happy bicentennial!

    Painting of Battle of New Orleans by Edward Percy Moran (public domain) via.

    Why do you think most people are ignoring the 1812 Bicentennial? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    Don’t Let (Badlands) Be Misunderstood

    Recently during a talk at the South by Southwest (SXSW) music conference, Bruce Springsteen explained that he found the lick for “Badlands,” which appeared on Darkness on the Edge of Town (1978), in “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” by the Animals. Then he exclaimed, “Listen up youngsters, this is how successful theft is accomplished!” The video starts right where he tells about stealing the riff. [October 2013 Update: The video of the entire speech is no longer on YouTube, but there are segments available, including the video below, which is set to start where he begins talking about the Animals.]

    The whole speech is worthwhile, as Springsteen explains the role that music has played in his life, including Elvis, Roy Orbison, and the Beatles. He discusses The Animals complete with an acoustic rendition of “We Got to Get Out of This Place,” saying “that’s every song I’ve every written.”

    I found the story about the “Badlands” riff interesting because I had not made the connection. But one may hear it now that he pointed it out. Here are the Animals performing “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” on The Ed Sullivan Show. The lick appears at several points, including the beginning and the end of the song.

    Here is Springsteen performing “Badlands” at the Pinkpop festival in 2009.

    Can you hear it? He did not mention the lyrics, but one might wonder whether “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” also inspired the “understood” line in the “Badlands” chorus:
    “We’ll keep pushing ’til it’s understood / And these Badlands start treating us good.”

    After the speech, Springsteen performed at SXSW and was joined onstage by Eric Burdon, the lead singer of the Animals (Chicago Tribune review here). So apparently there are no hard feelings about the larceny — or Springsteen’s comments earlier in the speech about how Burdon’s ugliness made him realize he could be a rock star too.

    What do you think? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    Beatles Arrive in America This Date in 1964

    On February 7 in 1964, the Beatles landed at New York’s Kennedy airport, arriving in the United States for the first time and taking the country by storm. Two days later, on February 9, Paul McCartney (21), Ringo Starr (23), John Lennon (23), and George Harrison (20) appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show in front of screaming fans.

    The four continued on a short American tour before returning to England on February 22. In the next few months, they had several hits in the U.S. and released their film, A Hard Days Night (1964). And then they returned to the U.S. in August to play sold-out arenas.

    On their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, during the first half of the show, the Beatles performed “All My Loving,” “Till There Was You,” and “She Loves You.” They returned later in the program to sing “I Saw Her Standing There” and “I Want To Hold Your Hand.”

    Before the last two songs, Sullivan announced that Elvis Presley and Colonel Tom Parker had sent the group a congratulations telegram.

    The video below features the Beatles performing “I Want to Hold Your Hand” at this appearance. So, remember when rock was young while watching The Beatles play during their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show around a half century ago.

    What do you think of the performance? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    Time Is On My Side

    On October 25, 1964, the Rolling Stones made their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show.  On the show, they first performed Chuck Berry’s “Around and Around.” And then they closed the show with their own “Time Is On My Side.”

    At the time, the Stones were still finding their footing in the U.S., following the release of their second U.S. album 12 x 5.  Meanwhile, “Time Is On My Side” was climbing the U.S. charts. The performance on The Ed Sullivan Show would help take them to another level.

    “Time Is On My Side” & Irma Thomas

    The formulation of “Time Is On My Side” that we all recognize was written by Jerry Ragovoy and Jimmy Norman and recorded by Irma Thomas in early 1964. The song would go on to be a hit, but not for Thomas.

    Months after Thomas’s recording, the Rolling Stones recorded their version of the tune.  They added a guitar lick but otherwise changed very little from Thomas’s version. For the Rolling Stones, it would be their first U.S. top ten hit, and they would perform the song on The Ed Sullivan Show.

    Although Irma Thomas did not match the success of the Rolling Stones with the song, she continues to perform and is especially loved in her hometown of New Orleans.

    Prior to “Time Is On My Side,” Thomas had a Top 20 hit with “Wish Someone Would Care.” But she never got anything near the paycheck that the Stones got for their version of “Time Is On My Side.”

    In The Heart of Rock & Soul, critic Dave Marsh notes that Thomas was “ripped off not just once but twice, and by two of the best.” Otis Redding also took her “Ruler of My Heart” and changed it to “Pain In My Heart,” altering and improving on her version more than the Stones did with “Time Is On My Side.”

    It is unfortunate that Thomas never saw the success that the Rolling Stones had, as it was their time. They were the bigger stars, but they also had the unfair advantage of being a white rock and roll band in the market at that time.

    Yet, it is great that Irma Thomas’s music is still out there for us to hear. Below is a video from 2014 of Thomas performing “Time Is On My Side.”

    The Rolling Stones on the Ed Sullivan Show

    On October 25, 1964, the Rolling Stones brought “Time Is On My Side” to a wide audience on The Ed Sullivan Show.  About halfway through the show, the band appeared to play “Around and Around.”  Then, they returned to close the show with “Time Is On My Side.”

    After the performance, Sullivan encouraged the screaming audience, saying “Come on, let them hear it!”  But then the screams were so loud that viewers at home could not hear Sullivan’s short conversation with Mick Jagger.

    The performance brought a great deal of attention to the Rolling Stones.  It helped boost ticket sales for their fall concert tour.  At the same time, the performance and their unkempt appearance also drew criticism from some more conservative viewers.

    Here are the Rolling Stones performing “Time Is On My Side” in 1964 on The Ed Sullivan Show.

    The Rolling Stones returned to The Ed Sullivan Show the following spring. They ultimately would make six appearances on the show, performing many of their songs that would become classics.

    What do you think about the versions of “Time Is On My Side”? Leave a comment.

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