The Doors: The Light My Fire Ed Sullivan Controversy

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In the fall of 1967, The Doors were beginning to gain momentum in the world of rock and roll.  Their self-titled album, The Doors, was one of the hottest albums in the world and “Light My Fire,” was the number one song in the country.  Reaching the top of the charts brought The Doors an invitation to perform on one of the most popular television shows in American history, The Ed Sullivan Show; what The Doors did not know at the time was that “Light My Fire” had also brought them to the center of a national controversy. 

The Doors arrived at The Ed Sullivan Show, rehearsed, were presumably observed by network executives, then prepared to go live on the show.  Next, according to Doors scripture, 15 minutes prior to the band walking out on stage, Ed Sullivan pops into the dressing room and says something to the effect of, “Hey you boys look great, but you should smile a little bit more.  Oh by the way, instead of saying “Girl, we couldn’t get much higher” say something like “Girl, we couldn’t get much better” when you are performing “Light My Fire.”  Mr. Sullivan was a little worried that the mention of ‘higher’ might cause people at home to think that The Doors were condoning drug use while under his roof.

In ’67 Jim Morrison had only begun to grow into the rebellious and obstinate person that he will forever be remembered. When “Light My Fire” became the number one song in the country, he was still in the early stages of the defiant and uncontrollable ‘Lizard King’ he became.  In hindsight it seems perfectly logical that Jim Morrison would do this, but he was not yet nationally recognized as unpredictable.

The facts as to what the agreement made between Ed Sullivan television producers and The Doors prior to the band beginning their performance on live television is unclear; what The Doors ultimately decided to do was very clear.  Following a rather subdued performance of “People Are Strange,” the band immediately launched into a powerful performance of “Light My Fire” where Jim has no hesitation in saying the word ‘higher’ with an enhanced emphasis.

After the show Jim Morrison and The Doors told Ed Sullivan that the taboo word in “Light My Fire” just slipped out.  A furious Ed Sullivan informed the members of The Doors they would never play The Ed Sullivan show again, to which Jim Morrison replied, “Hey man, we just did the Ed Sullivan show.”

The defiant and rebellious Jim Morrison continued to grow, perpetually fueled by drugs and alcohol, he was found in a bathtub in Paris dead at 27.  Today The Doors are in the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame, they are held up with the legends of the classic rock elite, but they never played the Ed Sullivan Show again.  The performance remains one of the most famous in television history.

Chris McDonald 

 

 

 

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