Rock Flashback: The Stones on Sullivan, 1967-1969
Some famous rock stories are eternally mis-told: for example, the one about the Rolling Stones doing “Let’s Spend the Night Together” on The Ed Sullivan Show. Some of what you’ve heard about this famous performance is wrong.
Some people believe that the “Spend the Night” controversy occurred during the Stones’ first appearance on the Sullivan show. Not so. By January 1967, the Stones had been on four times previously, and had learned to co-exist with Ed Sullivan, who was powerful enough to ask for whatever he wanted, and to get it. On this day (coincidentally, the day of the first Super Bowl), he did not want the Stones to sing the words “let’s spend the night together.” He told them to sing “let’s spend some time together” instead.
It’s often said that Mick Jagger agreed to sing the altered lyric, but then sang the original lyric on the air. Not true. (That was Jim Morrison on “Light My Fire” eight months later.) Jagger agreed, but was annoyed when the show’s talent coordinators kept reminding him about it during the dress rehearsal. On the air that night, he did as he was told, but he exaggerated the line and rolled his eyes as he sang it.
It would be nearly three years before the Stones appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show for a final time. On that occasion, Ed came to them, flying to California where the band taped performances of “Gimme Shelter,” “Love in Vain,” and “Honky Tonk Women.” On November 23, 1969, Mick “laid a divorcee in New York City” without incident, Keith Richards looked spectral, the audience screamed, Ed promised to visit the band backstage later in the week, and the Sixties were nearly over.