Hey there music lovers, join me as we climb into the old-guy time machine for a visit to CBS-TV Studio 50, now known as the Ed Sullivan Theater.
For those too young to know, Ed Sullivan was television’s grandmaster of variety shows, a host whose collection of acts penetrated living rooms across America for 23 years on the CBS Network. In its heyday, the show generated mountains of revenue as ratings for the Ed Sullivan Show were rivaled by few. For performers, it was the crown jewel when it came to bragging rights and potential exposure. Remember that the Beatles American debut occured on the Sullivan show in February 1964.
Much like Johnny Carson years later in late-night, if you appeared on Sullivan’s show and he called you over at the end of your act for an on-camera moment, you had truly made it. Many a rock star found his or her way over to the spot on stage for a quick handshake and maybe a plug for a tour or album.
As square as he could appear to be, Sullivan knew a hit when he saw one. That explains six appearances by the Rolling Stones over six years, four of which have been collected on this unique two-disc package. Twelve songs that give us great insight into the evolution of the Stones from an R&B combo to a pop group to a rock and roll band greatly influenced by the kaleidoscope of the sixties.
Spanning 1965-67, the performances are a video jukebox filled with hits: “The Last Time,” “Little Red Rooster,” “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love,” “Satisfaction,” “As Tears Go By,” 19th Nervous Breakdown,” “Paint It Black,” “Lady Jane,” “Have You Seen Your Mother Baby Standing in the Shadows?” “Ruby Tuesday” and the infamous “Let’s Spend Some Time Together."
Performing live in the early shows, the band seems to have fun while playing it pretty straight. Giving way to singing with recorded backing tracks as the hits became bigger, the charade is too distracting and it’s almost comical to watch Brian Jones play a flute no one hears or to see Keith banging on a piano that is drowned out by the volume of the backing tracks.
Take note of “2120 South Michigan Avenue” as it plays under the credits of the May 1965 show. You can hear the foundations of what became the harmonica jam in the live versions of “Midnight Rambler.”
It is fascinating to see the Stones as they are on the verge of shedding their screaming girl fan base and heading toward a period in which they are one of the world’s most dangerous and vital bands. Such was the transition for many groups but few succeeded, particularly with the power and sustainability shown by the Stones.
Along with the Stones, we witness a cavalcade of entertainment from a range of acts: a puppeteer, an incredible female contortionist, jugglers, clog dancers, singing nuns, a ventriloquist and the Romanian Folk Ballet. It sounds dry to today’s ADD generation, but all are truly entertaining and put the variety in each show.
Names of the day appearing as performers include Tom Jones in a stunning take on “Watcha Gonna Do When Your Baby Leaves You,” Louis Armstrong, Robert Goulet, Dusty Springfield, comedienne Totie Fields (who had an encounter with Gene Simmons of KISS on the Mike Douglas Show ten years later), pre-plastic surgery Joan Rivers, ground-breaking comedian Flip Wilson, all-world actor Hal Holbrook, and the Muppets.
This is a fantastic package made with the collector/aficionado in mind. Watching full shows which include the classic Sullivan opening, each of the unedited performance segments, the end credits and the original commercials helps to recreate the entire viewing experience nearly 50 years on.
SOFA Entertainment is to be congratulated for releasing this material in context as part of a historic Ed Sullivan project. We are able to enjoy a proper look back in time at the Stones and the world that was the mid-sixties, be it in crisp black and white or full living color.
A deluxe package containing all six Stones appearances, a 24-page booklet and other cool things is also available.