On May 12, 1963, Bob Dylan was supposed to perform on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
He intended to perform “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues,” a song that he had recorded onApril 24, 1962 at Columbia Studio A in New York.
The suits at CBS decided they didn’t want Dylan to do that song, and he walked out. Check out the whole story, via Wikipedia, below.
“Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues”:
WBAI radio performance, 1962:
Live version at Town Hall, April 1963:
A different live version, terrific!:
Here’s Wikipedia’s version of what happened:
“Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues” was at the center of a controversy that brought national attention to Dylan and played a significant part in shaping his second album, Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. On May 12, 1963, with the album about to be released, Dylan was scheduled to appear on The Ed Sullivan Show on CBS. The Sunday evening variety program, among the most popular shows on American television, had earlier introduced Elvis Presley to national audiences and in 1964 would do the same for The Beatles.
Dylan had auditioned for the show in early 1962, before the release of his first album. He played a few songs from the recording, but the network executives who sat in on the set weren’t exactly sure what to make of him. Unhappy with the experience, Dylan thought he wouldn’t hear from the network again. More than a year passed when the call came inviting him to make a guest appearance on the show.
For his one selection, Dylan chose “Talkin’ John Birch Society Blues” (as it was then titled). Sullivan and his producer heard him play it at the Saturday rehearsal on May 11 and were delighted with the song. However, when Dylan showed up for the dress rehearsal the next afternoon, the day of the show, a CBS program practices executive told him the song would have to be replaced because of possible libel against John Birch Society members. Refusing to do a different song, Dylan walked off the set.
The incident drew national attention with reports running in the New York Times, Billboard and Village Voice. Sullivan, meanwhile, backed Dylan, arguing that if network programs could poke fun at President John F. Kennedy, the John Birch Society should not be immune from similar treatment. Concerned about possible reprisals from the John Birch group, the network held to its decision. Worse, the controversy spilled over into Columbia, CBS’s records division. When the company’s lawyers learned that “Talkin’ John Birch” was slated for the album, they ordered the song removed.
Dylan was in a delicate situation. His first album had sold poorly, and he didn’t have the power at this point to fight his record company. Though upset by the order, he relented. The initial shipments of “Freewheelin”, which had already been sent out, were recalled, and the album was re-issued without “Talkin’ John Birch Society Blues”.
Dylan ultimately profited from the affair. Besides the favorable publicity from the Ed Sullivan Show walk-out, it gave him a chance to re-consider his selections for “Freewheelin”, which he felt had too many “old fashioned” selections, songs closer in style to his earlier material. In addition to “Talkin’ John Birch Society”, he dropped three of his other older songs, including “Let Me Die in My Footsteps”, “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Willie” and “Rocks and Gravel”. In their place, he substituted four tunes recorded during the last of the Freewheelin’ sessions: “Masters of War”, “Girl from the North Country”, “Bob Dylan’s Dream” and “Talkin’ World War III Blues”.
[In August of this year I’ll be publishing my rock ‘n’ roll/ coming-of-age novel, “True Love Scars,” which features a narrator who is obsessed with Bob Dylan. To read the first chapter, head here.]
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