Weekend Retrospective | The Stunt That Got Elvis Costello Banned From "SNL"
A new season of "SNL" is set to begin tonight. Season 39 to be exact. In commemoration of this fact, the Daily Guru's Michael Springer came out with a story detailing one of the defining moments in Elvis Costello’s career as well as a notorious incident in one of the first five legendary seasons of "Saturday Night Live." It happened the night of December 17, 1977.
Originally slated to appear were The Sex Pistols. When they had to cancel (visa issues), Lorne Michaels tapped a 23-year-old Elvis Costello an his band, The Attraction, to appear instead. Costello's debut album, My Aim Is True, had just been released in the UK and would be released in the States later that winter.
Elvis Costello & The Attraction were scheduled to play their single “Less Than Zero,” a "catchy tune about a loathsome politician in England." Upon being announced the band started the song but Costello immediately cut short the set. “I’m sorry, ladies and gentlemen,” he said, “but there’s no reason to do this song here.” He and the band then launched into their track “Radio Radio,” a song taking a jab at corporate-controlled broadcasting. Needless to say "Saturday Night Live" producer Lorne Michaels was none too pleased. Rumor has it that he raised his middle finger at Costello and kept it up until the unapproved song was over. Some speculate that the whole ordeal was a stunt - In those early years "SNL" wasn't known for playing things by the book. But in all likelihood it was hardly a planned stunt, because as a result of his actions, Costello would be banned from the show for nearly 12 years. While that may mean nothing today, in the late 70s and 1980s it was not a good for a band to get banned from such a show.
Relations between Costello and Michaels eventually healed, and Costello would appear on an edition of "Saturday Night Live" in March of 1989. In 2000 during "SNL’s" 25th anniversary show, Costello would parody the notorious 1977 appearance by bursting onstage during a Beastie Boys performance of "Sabotage" and, just as he had to his own band 23 years earlier, ordered them to stop - and then leading them into a Beastie Boyz'd version of “Radio Radio”:
In an interview this month with Details magazine, Costello talks a little about the 1977 incident. “They’ve run that clip forever ... But I was copying Jimi Hendrix. Hendrix had done the same thing on "The Lulu Show," when he went into an unscheduled number. I remember seeing it and going, ‘What the hell’s going on?’” To see for yourself what Costello is talking about, visit our post, Jimi Hendrix Wreaks Havoc on the Lulu Show, Gets Banned From BBC.