When live television goes awry, it's one of two things: Awkward/cringe-inducing or absolutely brilliant. The still celebrated bait-and-switch executed by Elvis Costello, who celebrates his 61st birthday today (August 25th) is the latter.
You don't cross Lorne Michaels and the brass at NBC and live to talk about it, but in an awesome example of rebellion, Costello did just that. On the December 17, 1977 episode of Saturday Night Live, he stops his backing band The Attractions who began their second performance of the night with "Less Than Zero" and launches into a version of "Radio Radio" that is actually better than the studio recording found on This Year's Model. (At least that's what this writer thinks.)
"Radio Radio," of course, is a protest song about the restrictions many broadcasting corporations put on their outlets to prevent the playing of music from the rising punk scene, particularly the restrictions from Costello's native BBC.
And to think, The Sex Pistols were originally booked for this episode!
Costello was infamously banned from SNL, but would return to the show as musical guest in 1989. The iconic moment cannot be found on YouTube due to various copyrights, but if you subscribe to Hulu, you can find it here. You can also enjoy the audio from the performance with some stills of what it looked like. You can feel the raw energy.
On December 17, 1977, when he appeared on Saturday Night Live, Elvis Costello was 23 years old. His debut album, My Aim Is True, had just come out in America a month earlier. When the Sex Pistols were unable to appear on the show as planned, Costello and his recently formed band, the Attractions, got their big break.
Erica Banas is a rock/classic rock reporter that loves the smell of old vinyl in the morning.