This Song Almost Got The Rolling Stones Banned From American TV

There’s no question that the Rolling Stones are one of the most iconic and trailblazing rock bands in all of history. Side by side with the Beatles, they paved the way for hard rock and controversial lyrics way back in the ’60s.

In fact, in 1964, their signature rebellious nature nearly got them permanently banned from American television programming. How? Why? We can’t help but wonder. 

The Stones vs. moral television programming

Ronnie Wood and Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones perform onstage
Ronnie Wood and Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones | Rich Fury/Getty Images

After all, the U.S. was right in the middle of the rock and roll movement which was started when The Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan show. The very show that nearly booted the Stones off for good for not being wholesome enough.

Way back then, The Ed Sullivan Show was the single biggest, hippest television program in the whole US and everyone who had a television set watched it.

At the time, the entire ’60s was notoriously censor-happy but Mr. Sullivan himself has a particular reputation for editing the lyrics, comments, and content of guests to make sure they were family-friendly enough for the wholesome American audience. The Stones almost didn’t make it.

The fateful day

In 1964, The Rolling Stones made their first national appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show to a wildly enthusiastic American teen population. When they reappeared in 1967 for an encore to screaming fans in the live audience, they managed to get on the bad side of Ed Sullivan by not adhering closely enough to his request for censorship. The problem, of course, was the song they were going to play.

“Let’s Spend the Night Together” is, by today’s standards, an adorable diddy about teen love with a touch of lust with racy lyrics like “I need you more than ever” and “I feel so strong that I can’t disguise, oh my.” 

Mr. Sullivan’s simple request? That they change the titular line “Let’s spend the night together” said at least a dozen times throughout the song to “Let’s spend some time together.”

You would think they’d cover that before the booking, or choose a different song. But no.

The Mick mumble fumble

Unfortunately, the request was at the last minute and Mick Jagger, not known for off-the-cuff censorship, settled for what he thought was a happy medium. He mumbled the line.

According to Jagger, he mumbled the line each time it went through, trying to adhere to Sullivan’s request without fully changing the lyric of their hit song. 

Optimists watching at home could choose to hear “Let’s spend the time together” if they so chose, but what was really sung that night was “Let’s spend the mmmm together” about 18 times as the live audience went wild.

This wasn’t enough for Sullivan, who thought he had been very clear about changing the lyrics. He swore that the Stones would never be seen on television again. Of course, by that time it was too late to stop the Rolling Stones who had rolled into national fame.

A little mumbling certainly wouldn’t stop them and the fans already knew the true lyric. After all, it was the name of the song.

The Stones never stop rolling

Except for a brief hiatus in the 80s, ever since The Rolling Stones have been an unstoppable force. In fact, in the past 57 years, there’s barely been a point where the Stones haven’t been on tour.

Mick Jagger, that rebel who mumbled the lyrics on the Ed Sullivan show instead of adhering to overt censorship, is now 75 and is once again on tour singing and, yes, dancing on stage as if the party will never stop. Who knows, for the Stones, maybe it never will.