In the history of music on television, there are any number of key moments the define the marriage of the two mediums. The Beatles’ first appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show” ranks right up there, as does the simulcast of “Live Aid” and Madonna’s performance of “Like a Virgin” on the very first MTV Video Music Awards. One of the more controversial moments in music on television happened on this day in 1956, when Elvis Presley performed for the first time on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” Sullivan famously bristled at the idea of having Elvis on his show (he thought Presley’s whole idiom was entirely too sexual, and Sullivan considered his show as a family-friendly program), but he ultimately caved to popular demand (as well as a ratings war with Steve Allen). Presley performed a handful of tunes on that episode, including “Don’t Be Cruel” and his then-new single “Love Me Tender” (the lead track from the movie he was filming at the time). Though the mythology states that Elvis was only shot above his waist during his performances, his entire body was visible throughout most of the songs. The gambit paid off for Sullivan, as the episode attracted over 60 million viewers, which at the time was around 82 percent of the total television viewing audience — a truly staggering number.
A handful of music videos have been based around parodies of “The Ed Sullivan Show,” including Outkast’s “Hey Ya!” and Billy Joel’s “Tell Her About It.” But the most playful is certainly Nirvana’s “In Bloom,” in which each band member wears a tremendous wig and a hideous suit and ends with the utter destruction of the television set. Though “In Bloom” isn’t their finest song, no other video distilled Nirvana better.