The aim of this report is to summarize the main points of the talk titled 'Music and the Counterculture in the 1960s' given by Dr Daniel Fyfe, ULPGC lecturer, in our school. As the talk covered a wide range of topics and presented an important amount of information, this report will focus on the first half of the talk, the one with regard to 'Censorship and Mass Media: The Ed Sullivan Show'.
The Ed Sullivan Show
Ed Sullivan was one of the most important and influential personalities in USA, and by extension, in the world. His Sunday night broadcast reached an average audience of 40 million people. In fact, he was known as the 'starmaker' because the ability launched artists to instant fame. However, Ed wanted his show to remain conservative and clean, that is to say, suitable for all audiences, from children to their grandparents.
However, this attitude confronted with the new batch of artists that started to become popular in the 1960s. That is the case of Elvis Presley, whose 'pelvic shake' was considered by Ed to have a sexual connotation which did not match with his idea of the show. But an artist with such popularity had to be in Ed's show, so, he eventually invited Elvis, but showing just a waist-up scene of him on screen.
A different story happened with Bob Dylan a few years later. The most important troubadour of the era was invited to the show, but the song he wanted to perform was banned by the CBS sponsors because it made fun of conservators. When asked to change the song, Dylan refused and walked off the show.
After that event, The Beatles landed in grief-stricken USA, the recent death of JFK and the Vietnamese War. Their melodic hits took people away from their problems in a way that reached its peak when they played on the Ed Sullivan Show in front of 73 million people. It was a historic live performance.
The Rolling Stones
When The Rolling Stones were invited to Ed's show, the censors asked them to change one of the lines from the lyrics. When they sang 'Let's spend the night together', they were 'politely invited' to sing 'Let's spend some time together'. The Stones agreed, and they performed that song with the lyrics changed. However, as a sign to their fans and disapproval of the censorship, Jagger clearly exaggerated with face gestures the censored line while he was singing it.
Jim Morrison and The Doors
Things got more controversial regarding Jim Morrison. The Doors were also asked to change one of the lines of their song, specifically the one that said 'Girl, we couldn't get much higher', because it was considered a reference to the use of drugs. In the rehearsals, the group agreed to change the line. Nevertheless, Jim did not keep his word and sang clearly and provocatively the original line. Ed was furious after that and promised that Jim would never appear again in his show. Morrison’s eventual suicide, not long after that appearance must have seemed poignant even to Sullivan.
All these are examples of the mainstream of the era, sex, drugs and politics were topics liable to be censored. It was the way the mainstream culture had to sabotage this counterculture, trying to bring it in, but without hiding or changing all aspects that did not match with their ideology.