For those of you who have not seen what YouTube has to offer in the way of Jackie Wilson on The Ed Sullivan Show, this old girl is here to provide a little guidance. Jackie first appeared on Sullivan in on December 4, 1960 and Sullivan had him perform three songs, an honor reserved for only a handful of artists. Sullivan was not a demonstrative man as a rule, but his enthusiasm for Jackie Wilson showed whenever Jackie graced his stage.
Jackie is singing live, by the way, although the accompaniment and backup singers have been prerecorded. At the conclusion of “Lonely Teardrops,” the recording is permitted to run a few seconds too long, but Jackie handles it with aplomb. Now, for a few points you may not have noted.
To Be Loved. This wonderful Berry Gordy Jr ballad, Jackie’s first hit record, is performed to perfection, of course, and concludes with Jackie taking to his knees and rising again in a signature move, a lift up from the floor executed solely with lower body strength. Once he’s upright, he quickly indulges in another gesture characteristic of his earlier years, hitching up his waistband in James Cagney fashion. It never failed to draw attention to that area directly below. Don’t think for a moment that any of this is accidental. Jackie Wilson understood how to market himself.
Lonely Teardrops. If you are a guy, you may not have picked up on this, but Jackie Wilson was legendary for not wearing undergarments when he performed. Throughout “Lonely Teardrops,” Jackie jiggles his left leg and a good deal more. I was thirteen when this performance was “live,” and when I tuned in, I had only a vague notion of “guy anatomy.” My mental image of male genitalia expanded considerably by the time Jackie finished “Lonely Teardrops.”
Television crews were all male back in those days, and apparently Sullivan’s director, cameramen, and technicians (who, by the way, were the best in the business) didn’t grasp Jackie’s entire act. Or maybe some noticed but were reticent about acknowledging what they had been watching. At any rate, the television show that famously shot Elvis Presley only “from the waist up” gave Jackie Wilson all the latitude he needed from the waist down.
Alone At Last. But wait! There’s more!
Years after this extraordinary Jackie Wilson appearance, Ed Sullivan would insist that scruffy-looking Mick Jagger change the lyrics of “Let’s Spend the Night Together” to “Let’s spend some time together” because this was, after all, a program viewed by families in good American homes.
But when you put a gorgeous hunk of man, flawlessly groomed and coiffed, into a perfectly tailored suit and have him sing so beautifully lyrics written to a Tchaikovsky piano concerto . . . well, what else could be going on?
Just a bit. Sullivan and his staff failed to notice that the lyrics of “Alone At Last” describe lovers on their way to sexual climax (“Oh, my darling, at last we are one/The trip to heaven’s begun”).
“What exciting moments we share” with Mr. Excitement on stage.