Listen To This Eddie: The Who, The Doors And The Most Explosive Evening In Late Night Television History

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Listen To This Eddie is a bi-weekly column that examines the important people and events in the classic rock canon and how they continue to impact the world of popular music.

By all accounts, September 17 was a typical Sunday evening in homes across the America in 1967. Those that owned televisions had three, action-packed channels to draw entertainment from as they relished in the last few waking hours before the working week began. ABC aired episodes of Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea and The F.B.I., while NBC broadcast the final moments of an AFL Football game, then followed that up with episodes of The Mothers-In-Law and Bonanza. It was over on CBS however, where things got really interesting.

Sandwiched between Gentle Ben and Mission Impossible, during the hours of 8 and 10 PM, CBS aired their two, marquee variety programs. The Ed Sullivan Show, renowned for playing host to the Beatles and The Rolling Stones was on first that night, heralding the network debut of a slinky new band out of Los Angeles named the Doors. Shortly after that, The Smothers Brothers were prepared to introduce their audience to a rising Mod outfit from the UK cryptically called The Who. Neither the hosts, the bands, nor the viewing audience at home could have ever anticipated that they were about to witness two of the most incredible moments of either group’s entire careers.

The late summer and early fall of 1967 was, without question, the pinnacle of The Doors cultural potency and commercial appeal. The second single from their debut, self-titled album, a jaunty organ-fueled ballad titled “Light My Fire” shot up the charts, taking the top spot for three consecutive weeks in July in August, before ultimately ceding the position to no less than the Beatles and their monstrous offering “All You Need Is Love.” Led by their shamanic, black leather-clad front man Jim Morrison, the Doors were being feted as the greatest American rock band since the Beach Boys. It only made sense that the talent scouts for the Sullivan show would try and book them for an appearance.

As disciples of Elvis, The Beatles, and The Stones, the members of the Doors were obviously excited to follow in their footsteps and bring their sound to a large, live viewing audience. When they got to New York, the band set up their equipment in the afternoon for a quick sound check then retired to their dressing room to wait the evening out. The mood was light, and everything seemed like it was going fine. Their lead-in that night was the self-deprecating comedian Rodney Dangerfield, who paced nervously in the hallway trying to put together his act in his head.

Shortly before show time, the host himself, wandered into the band’s midst. “You know, you boys are really handsome. But you’d look a lot better if you’d smile more,” organist Ray Manzarek remembered Sullivan saying in his autobiography. But that was just the primer. A few moments after Sullivan exited, a producer came rushing in. There was a problem. “Jim glared at the producer, ‘What kind of problem?’ he snarled,” Manzarek wrote.

Apparently, the network took exception to the line in “Light My Fire” were Morrison croons, “Girl we couldn’t get much higher.” They felt that it carried a negative, drug-inspire connotation. If the band was going to play the show, the line had to come out.