By Brian Ives
These days sex on TV—even network TV—is no big deal. Steamy scenes on Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and How To Get Away With Murder border on being NC-17… and those are just Shonda Rhimes’s shows. On cable, things get even hotter, with scenes in Westworld, Game of Thrones, Masters of Sex and Girls bordering on porn.
Ah, how far we’ve come. It was fifty years ago this weekend (January 15, 1967) that the Rolling Stones performed on CBS’s The Ed Sullivan Show and caused a stir because of their song “Let’s Spend the Night Together.” (Radio.com is a CBS property.)
The song’s title, back in 1967, was a bit too controversial for television. According to the official Ed Sullivan website, CBS and Ed Sullivan demanded that Mick Jagger change the lyric “let’s spend the night together”—which suggested, of course, that sex would occur during the aforementioned night—to the much less racy “let’s spend some time together.” This, for some reason, seemed acceptable although technically, “some time” could take place during “the night,” and even if it didn’t, it’s conceivable that R-rated stuff could go down during the daytime hours.
Semantics aside, the Stones weren’t happy to comply, but ultimately they did. Although during the performance, Jagger sang the altered lyrics, rolling his eyes and sarcastically exaggerating the “safe” line (you can see this in the above video at about 4:28). Which was apparently more acceptable than not complying at all; they also performed “Ruby Tuesday,” and on the following week’s replay, only “Ruby Tuesday” made the broadcast. That was the Stones’ fourth appearance on the show, and they returned one more time to perform more than two years later on November 23, 1969. By then, it seems, the Sullivan team had lightened up: they performed “Honky Tonk Woman” (along with “Gimme Shelter” and “Love in Vain”), and apparently, the narrative about meeting a “gin-soaked, bar-room queen in Memphis” who, as Jagger claims in the song, “Tried to take me upstairs for a ride,” was not a problem for the show or the network.