When Bob Dylan Bailed On Ed Sullivan Over 'Talkin John Birch Blues'

By | May 11, 2021

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American musician Bob Dylan (born Robert Zimmerman) performs 'Talkin' John Birch Paranoid Blues' during rehearsals for an apperance on the Ed Sullivan Show, New York, New York, May 12, 1963. After the rehearsal, Dylan was asked to perform a different song

For a 21-year-old Bob Dylan, a shot at playing the Ed Sullivan Show in 1963 was a priceless. It was the biggest of big breaks. Most artists in such a situation would acquiesce to any request from the network, but as we all would learn, Dylan was not "most artists." Loaded with talent and uninterested in compromise, the young folk prodigy from Hibbing, Minnesota, wanted to play "Talkin' John Birch Paranoid Blues" -- a song that remains obscure in his catalog to this day -- and would not budge.

Dylan had released his self-titled album, his first, on March 19, 1962. The album did not garner much attention after its release, but his second album, Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, was released a year later. “Talkin’ John Birch Blues” also known as “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues,” and “Talking John Birch Paranoid Blues” was initially recorded for the album.

Publicity For A Relatively Unknown Artist

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The show Dylan did not appear on. Source: (IMDb).

Dylan was till relatively unknown, and an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show would have provided a necessary boost to his career. He was slated to appear on the show on May 12, 1963, 12 days before his 22nd birthday. He auditioned “Talkin John Birch Blues” for the show, and Sullivan apparently had no problem with it. However, a CBS executive heard Dylan perform it during dress rehearsal and thought it was too controversial and may potentially result in a defamation suit by the members of the John Birch Society. CBS told Dylan he would have to change the lyrics or sing a different song.

In the years to come, both The Rolling Stones and Jim Morrison of The Doors would face the same request. The Stones would comply, altering the words of "Let's Spend The Night Together," while Morrison would pretend to go along only to sing "Light My Fire" his own way when he performed live. For that, The Doors were banned from performing on the show again.