How the Doors Got Banned from The Ed Sullivan Show (1967)

Getting banned from a venue can hurt a band’s career, but in most every case I’ve heard about, it’s a cloud with a golden lining. Hardcore band Bad Brains built a legacy on getting banned in all of D.C.’s clubs. Elvis Costello’s career didn’t seem to suffer much when he was banned from Saturday Night Live in 1977. Jimi Hendrix’s banning from the BBC didn’t hurt his image any. Then there’s the Doors….

The band earned the distinction of being the first to have a member arrested live onstage in the infamous “New Haven incident” of 1967. Three months earlier, they performed live, no miming, on The Ed Sullivan Show. Things did not go as smoothly as the producers may have hoped,” writes Ultimate Classic Rock. No, Jim Morrison didn’t expose himself or antagonize the audience.

On the contrary, given the Doors’ other notorious “incidents,” the offense is as mild as it gets—Morrison simply sang the lyrics to “Light My Fire” as written, defying producers’ request that he change “Girl, we couldn’t get much higher” since it sounded like a drug reference. Not only did they ask Morrison to change the lyric, but they also apparently asked him to sing “Girl, we couldn’t get much better,” which doesn’t even rhyme.

One can see why he would have resisted.

“Band members have given varying accounts of whether they ever agreed to change the line or not,” UCR notes. According to The Ed Sullivan Show site, a producer came into the dressing room, told the band they should smile more, and told them the line was “inappropriate for a family show on national television.” As soon as he left the room, Morrison said, “We’re not changing a word.”

The band went on after Rodney Dangerfield, a last-minute replacement for another comic. They played “People Are Strange,” then the offending song. Dangerfield became a regular on the Sullivan show. The Doors–booked for six more appearances–never went on again, though they had plenty of other TV bookings and wild, disastrous stage shows to keep them busy.

When informed after the show that they’d been banned, Morrison reportedly said a most Jim Morrison thing: “Hey, man, we just did the Sullivan show.”

Watch a clip of the performance just above.

Related Content: 

The Stunt That Got Elvis Costello Banned From Saturday Night Live (1977)

The Night John Belushi Booked the Punk Band Fear on Saturday Night Live, And They Got Banned from the Show

Jimi Hendrix Wreaks Havoc on the Lulu Show, Gets Banned From the BBC (1969)

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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