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 birthday today (August 25) 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 he would spoof this incident during the show’s 25th anniversary special by interrupting the Beastie Boys’ performance of “Sabotage” before he and the Beasties launched into “Radio Radio.”
Erica Banas is a rock/classic rock reporter that loves the smell of old vinyl in the morning.