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The Ed Sullivan Show: Top 10 Musical Performances

VO: Rebecca Brayton
“The Ed Sullivan Show” ran from June 20th, 1948 until June 6th, 1971, and in that time the show featured comedians, circus performers, actors and more. However, what Ed Sullivan was most adept at doing was discovering up-and-coming musical talent and bringing that to American homes. Acts like The Beatles, Elvis Presley, the Jackson 5 and many other made memorable appearances on the show, and charmed all of America in the process. Others, like The Doors and The Rolling Stones, were less gracious to their host – but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a “really big show.” In this video, counts down the Top 10 Musical Performances from "The Ed Sullivan Show."

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This show was famous for its revolutionary rock and roll performances. Welcome to, and today we’ll be counting down the top 10 most memorable musical performances on the Ed Sullivan Show.

The Ed Sullivan Show was the longest-running variety show in television history, and it ran from June 20th, 1948 until June 6th, 1971. While it showcased comedians, circus performers, actors and more, the show became famous for its cutting-edge musical performances.

#10 – The Lovin’ Spoonful

(22 January 1967, 19 March 1967, 15 October 1967)

Ed Sullivan’s audience had a tendency to produce frenzied, screaming reactions, and The Lovin’ Spoonful was no exception. For their Sullivan appearances, this American band sang in front of colorful and elaborate sets, and even used some early technical effects to highlight their music.

#9 – The Beach Boys

(27 September 1964, 13 October 1968)

This band was the American equivalent to The Beatles. In the fall of 1964, The Beach Boys appeared on the season premiere of the Ed Sullivan Show singing about sandy beaches, cute girls and fast cars. Four years later they performed again, and proved that they and the music industry had changed.

#8 – The Temptations

(Six performances between 28 May 1967 – 31 January 1971)

Ed Sullivan was considered a champion for African American performers, and The Temptations became famous in part due to their appearances on the show. Their tight harmonies, coordinated dance moves and jazzy outfits appealed to Sullivan’s audience, and helped bring African American music and R&B into the mainstream.

#7 – Bill Haley & His Comets

(7 August 1955, 28 April 1957)

One groundbreaking Ed Sullivan performance was August 1955’s appearance by Bill Haley & His Comets. The band played the first rock and roll song performed on national television, and it brought that style of music into the living rooms of America.

#6 – The Doors

(17 September 1967)

Ed Sullivan was intent on keeping his Sunday night show appropriate for the whole family. So, when L.A. rockers The Doors appeared to sing their song “Light My Fire,” they were asked to alter the lyrics of the track. However, whether Jim Morrison forgot or did it intentionally, the real lyrics went out on live TV and The Doors were never asked back.

#5 – The Rolling Stones

(Six performances between 25 October 1964 – 23 November 1969)

The Beatles are credited with starting the British Invasion, but the Rolling Stones are recognized for increasing its effects. These rock and rollers courted controversy instead of shying away from it. Like any good bad boys, the Rolling Stones had suggestive lyrics that needed to be censored. While Mick Jagger did oblige, he showed the audience he was not impressed with having to spend “some time” together.

#4 – The Supremes

(16 performances between 27 December 1964 – 15 February 1970)

This female vocal harmony trio from Detroit was one of the most successful girl groups in history, and was a personal favorite of Ed Sullivan. The Supremes’ evolution can be traced through their performances on the show, as they appeared almost 20 times. Feminine costumes and dance moves made them stand out, and Diana Ross and The Supremes became legends.

#3 – The Jackson 5

(14 December 1969, 10 May 1970)

The Jackson 5 had just started to make their mark on the music world when they charmed the nation with their performance on the Ed Sullivan Show. An eleven-year-old Michael Jackson wowed the audience as the group sang live. Another performance followed the next year and, as always, the band was dressed in bright and colorful costumes.

#2 – Elvis Presley

(9 September 1956, 28 October 1956, 6 January 1957)

Despite the fact that Sullivan deemed him “unfit for family viewing,” Elvis appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show for the first time in September 1956. This performance was watched by 60 million people, and made Elvis a household name. Legend has it The King’s gyrating hips were censored by Sullivan; however, audiences were able to see Elvis the Pelvis in full for his first two performances on the show.

#1 – The Beatles

(9 February 1964, 16 February 1964, 23 February 1964)

Undoubtedly the most famous performers on the Ed Sullivan Show were The Beatles. For three consecutive Sundays in February 1964, the Fab Four performed live on the show, and brought Beatlemania to North America. These boys from Liverpool sparked the British Invasion with these performances, drew in 73 million viewers and gave Sullivan the best ratings of his career. And, like Elvis, The Beatles caused teenage girls to go wild.

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