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.



Reportedly
, 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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    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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