Long before the Rolling Stones became a giant corporation and people made jokes about the band members being too old to rock, the Rolling Stones were young and hungry hitmakers in the 1960s who had an interesting dichotomy of being mainstream pop stars yet still considered dangerous enough that they were censored by CBS’s “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
The two-DVD set “6 Ed Sullivan Shows Starring the Rolling Stones” is a trip back in time to the Rolling Stones’ six appearances on “The Ed Sullivan Show” from 1964 to 1969. (The New York City-based “Ed Sullivan Show” was on the air from 1948 to 1971.)
By now, many Rolling Stones have seen these “Ed Sullivan Show” clips, either on the Internet or in documentaries, but this DVD set is worth getting just to have them all in one collection. The audio and video quality made this DVD set well worth the wait.
The DVD set has the entire episodes (including other guest performers and commercials), but that should not be considered a flaw, since one can easily fast-forward to the Rolling Stones sections. And of you are interested in watching the other performers in these episodes, they include Phyllis Diller, Dusty Springfield, Tom Jones, Louis Armstrong, Joan Rivers, Red Skelton, Robert Goulet, Flip Wilson, Alan King, Rodney Dangerfield and Robert Klein.
Here are the contents of the DVD set (Rolling Stones songs listed here only):
October 15, 1964: Rolling Stones perform “Around and Around” and “Time Is on My Side.” (Filmed in black and white.)
May 2, 1965: Rolling Stones perform “The Last Time,” “Little Red Rooster” and “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” and (under the end credits) “2120 South Michigan Avenue.” (Filmed in black and white.)
February 13, 1966: Rolling Stones perform “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” “As Tears Go By” and “19th Nervous Breakdown.”
September 11, 1966: Rolling Stones perform “Paint It, Black,” “Lady Jane” and “Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadow?”
January 15, 1967: Rolling Stones perform “Ruby Tuesday” and (with title and lyrics altered) “Let’s Spend the Night Together.”
November 23, 1969: Rolling Stones perform “Gimme Shelter,” “Love in Vain” and “Honky Tonk Women.”
(The DVD release “4 Ed Sullivan Shows Starring the Rolling Stones” has the same episodes except for the one in 1964 and the one in 1969.)
Of course, these episodes show how much the Rolling Stones changed over those years. In their first “Ed Sullivan Show” appearance, the band was a bundle of nervous politeness in their sweaters and slacks, as their performance was nearly drowned out by the frenzied screaming from the audience.
By the second “Ed Sullivan” appearance, Jagger had developed more of his on-stage cockiness, and he blatantly mugged for the cameras. The band also started to dress more like rebellious rock stars in this appearance. And the audience screaming is still there.
By the third appearance (the first filmed in color), the band was at the top of its game in arguably the Rolling Stones’ best “Ed Sullivan Show” performance. It was the band’s first “Ed Sullivan Show” appearance to have a set consisting entirely of original songs from the Rolling Stones. On a trivia note, this is a rare TV appearance of drummer Charlie Watts wearing a moustache.
By the fourth appearance, the Rolling Stones had a darker, drug-influenced vibe, and there was less hysterical screaming from the teenybopper audience that the band attracted in its early years. The performance of “Paint It, Black” was good but somewhat disappointing since the band (maybe due to time constraints) let the song sort of trail off and skipped the rousing, tribal rhythms that ended the song with such force on the studio version.
By the fifth appearance, some of the hysterical audience screaming was back, but guitarist Brian Jones had completely gone off the rails and didn’t even try to play the flute in sync with the band on “Ruby Tuesday.” It’s quite sad to see how much he deteriorated here, compared to the vibrant musician he was in the 1964 and 1965 appearances. This was also the notorious episode in which “Ed Sullivan Show” censors allowed the band to perform on the show only if the Stones changed the title/lyrics of “Let’s Spend the Night Together” to “Let’s Spend Some Time Together.” The band reluctantly obliged, but you can tell what they really thought of this censorship from Jagger’s eye rolls during the performance and guitarist Keith Richards sneaking in “let’s spend the night together” a few times in his background vocals.
By the sixth and final appearance, Jones is gone (dead from a mysterious drowning, after being fired from the band in 1969), and he’s been replaced by a baby-faced Mick Taylor, whose earnest guitar playing still can’t distract from how much Richards looks like a junkie who’s about to overdose on any given day. Although some live-performance purists may not like that the Stones performed “Gimme Shelter” with the pre-recorded Merry Clayton vocals to enhance their performance, let’s face it: The song would not sound as good without Clayton’s vocals, and since she wasn’t there to sing it live with the band on the show, they did the next best thing by performing along to the pre-recorded vocals. Everything else sounded live though.
Since “The Ed Sullivan Show” was a variety show, not a talk show, the Rolling Stones were not interviewed. The only time you hear any of the band members say anything is when host Sullivan makes small talk with Jagger.
Finally the packaging of this DVD set is better-than-average. It’s in booklet form, with background information in the liner notes, several photos and even a replica of what an “Ed Sullivan Show” ticket inserted in one of the DVD sleeves.
If you don’t mind doing a lot of fast-forwarding through a lot of footage to get to the Rolling Stones’ performances, then this DVD set is worth your time and money.