Radio, Radio
September 27, 2013 8:07 PM   Subscribe

SNL 1977 - Lorne Michaels "raised his middle finger at [Elvis] Costello and kept it up until the unapproved song was over."
From wikipedia: Costello wanted to play "Radio Radio" on SNL. Columbia Records, however, was interested in having an already-established song performed on SNL, to increase interest in the band before the American release of My Aim Is True and This Year's Model. In the event, Costello began the SNL performance by playing "Less than Zero." However, after a few bars, he turned to the Attractions, waving his hand and yelling "Stop! Stop!," then said to the audience, "I'm sorry, ladies and gentlemen, there's no reason to do this song here," possibly referring to the fact "Less than Zero" was written as a reply to British fascist politician Oswald Mosley. However, SNL music director Howard Shore attributes the move to Costello's bucking pressure by his music company to play "Less than Zero" on the show.[1] He then led the band in a performance of "Radio Radio." Obligatory Weird Al cover. ViaBoingBoing
posted by FiveNines (62 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
 
Man, I never hear anything really good about Lorne Michaels. He always gets painted as a dick. Every story.
posted by boo_radley at 8:27 PM on September 27, 2013 [8 favorites]


I saw that when it was broadcast. It was completely awesome.
posted by hwestiii at 8:33 PM on September 27, 2013 [9 favorites]


Hey, I was just listening to the LOTR soundtrack! I didn't know Howard Shore worked for SNL.
posted by Bokmakierie at 8:34 PM on September 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


The redo with the Beastie Boys (clearly planned) was a good time as well. Good god, I love Elvis Costello. Whatever I think of at least half his output, I owe him SOOOOOO MUCH for that other portion that I don't give a shit. He can do whatever he wants, and I'll love him even if I don't love it.
posted by sparkletone at 8:38 PM on September 27, 2013 [17 favorites]


I've never understood why the heck Lorne Michaels and Saturday Night Live cared what song Elvis Costello played. SNL was on NBC, not CBS (Columbia Broadcasting System), so the fact that Columbia Records wanted a different promo song seems irrelevant.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 8:44 PM on September 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


An homage to Hendricks, We'll stop playing this rubish.
posted by vozworth at 8:50 PM on September 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm not the biggest Elvis C. fan in the world, but this is indubitably one of the greatest moments in American television. It's genius -- it makes the song sound more subversive than it is, and for all the glory that SNL loves to revel in this is the best thing that ever happened on that program. Suck it, Lorne Michaels.
posted by Fnarf at 8:56 PM on September 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


I saw it live on TV too. I laughed because I thought for certain it was a comedy bit, and that Costello was acting like a spazz and making fun of the lack of music in punk music.
posted by surplus at 8:56 PM on September 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


For someone who revolutionized American television, Lorne Michaels sure likes to play it safe, doesn't he?
posted by Renoroc at 9:00 PM on September 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


@ Harvey Kilobit I think Michaels was mostly PO'd at the change because it messed up the scheduling of the show so all the skits no longer fit.

Michaels probably viewed it as his show got screwed up by a spat between a rookie band and their label and the rookie band should have been obedient and grateful.
posted by surplus at 9:00 PM on September 27, 2013 [6 favorites]


Man, I never hear anything really good about Lorne Michaels. He always gets painted as a dick.

How on earth does this make Michaels look like a dick? Costello fucked up the scheduling for the rest of the show because he couldn't be bothered to tell SNL what song they were actually going to play. Of course Michaels was pissed.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:11 PM on September 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think the major take-home lesson here is that this song is soooooo good, and this performance of this song is perfect.
posted by mr_roboto at 9:17 PM on September 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Hey, I was just listening to the LOTR soundtrack! I didn't know Howard Shore worked for SNL.

Knowing that just makes me want to hear GE Smith and the Saturday Night Live Band score LOTR. Some sax bleats would really punch up the first encounter with the Nazgul.
posted by jason_steakums at 9:20 PM on September 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


> Lorne Michaels sure likes to play it safe

Frank Zappa I'm the Slime w/ Don Pardo. Zappa was banned after fucking up the hosting on another episode, but safe? Nah.
posted by morganw at 9:34 PM on September 27, 2013 [7 favorites]


How on earth does this make Michaels look like a dick? Costello fucked up the scheduling for the rest of the show because he couldn't be bothered to tell SNL what song they were actually going to play. Of course Michaels was pissed.

It was live TV. An artist improvised something. And had a pretty relevant reason for doing so. Also -- punk rock (while that still meant something, even if Elvis C was more New Wave than punk). What makes Michaels a dick isn't being pissed at the moment, it was his banning Costello from the show for twelve years.

not a huge Elvis Costello fan, but I do like the first three albums, and Radio Radio's always been a standout
posted by philip-random at 9:38 PM on September 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Dear God, Elvis Costello, were you ever really so young?!? 23??!!!! Damn.

I read the oral history of SNL, and it's chock-full-o' tales of Michaels being a complete and total ass. Great read, btw.
posted by MoxieProxy at 9:41 PM on September 27, 2013


Dear God, Elvis Costello, were you ever really so young?!? 23??!!!! Damn.

21 when My Aim Is True was recorded. Totally sick.

I always liked being an Elvis Costello fan because we aren't afraid to admit that the man has put out some crap work. That being said, some of his recent output is supreme. The Delivery Man is easily in my Top 10, and I quite liked Secret, Profane and Sugarcane as well.

(I wanted to love the hell out of the Roots collab, but was bummed to discover a lot of it is just the band vamping over his old lyrics. Oh well.)
posted by mykescipark at 9:58 PM on September 27, 2013


I always liked being an Elvis Costello fan because we aren't afraid to admit that the man has put out some crap work.

So true, they just never agree on what's crap! Spike and Mighty Like a Rose are always a point of contention.
posted by jason_steakums at 10:09 PM on September 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


I just had an involved discussion with a couple Elvis Costello fans at a bar just a couple weeks ago. I really like this idea that does seem, if not more prevalent, at least more vocal, of clearly separating the love/hate relationship with the albums from a love/hate relationship with the artist.

I learned a great deal about Mr. Costello's work from the conversation - and also it did produce one vaguely wise phrase that I'm rather fond of:

"Many people forget that the goose that lays the golden eggs also has to shit now and then."
posted by chambers at 10:23 PM on September 27, 2013 [24 favorites]


21. "May Aim is True" was recorded when he was 21?

/me puts her guitar back in the closet
posted by Annika Cicada at 10:27 PM on September 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


It was live TV. An artist improvised something.

You say this like it's some kind of defense. You understand that choosing to suddenly improvise on live TV is a bad thing, right? The show has timings it has to hit. They have to show certain ads and do their sketches and everything has to fit together and not leave dead air. This is the least improvisation-friendly environment on television.

Also, no, he probably did not improvise anything. Probably he knew exactly what he was going to do before he went on stage. What he did was choose to do a different thing than everyone else thought he was going to do without telling anybody about it. It was tremendously unprofessional. You can argue that it was in the spirit of the music or whatever, but you can't reasonably argue that anyone other than Elvis Costello was being a dick here.
posted by IAmUnaware at 10:37 PM on September 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


This is hardly "sticking it to the man". Lorne Michaels is not "the man" (have you seen Weekend Update?). This is more like being invited to a party and backing up the toilet with your underwear. It's unprofessional and disrespectful to everyone involved in the making of that episode.
posted by Brocktoon at 10:41 PM on September 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


Every time I listen to Elvis Costello he just comes across like a twerp whose auditioning for a role as the villain in Rushmore a few decades before Wes Anderson would film it... There's something about him that seems pretentious and dickish but also clueless, like Max Fischer but without the charm or good intentions.

But then again, I only know him from my aim is true (whose nadir is definitely Alison, a song which is clearly written by a condescending jerk who doesn't really know how love actually works and doesn't know how terrible he is) and from an esquire interview where he said "There are about five things to write songs about: I'm leaving you. You're leaving me. I want you. You don't want me. I believe in something. Five subjects, and twelve notes." - as if his conceptual limits as a songwriter really defined the limits of what musicians could do.
posted by Kiablokirk at 10:45 PM on September 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


I saw it live, too. And what people who weren't alive then don't realize is that back then, subversiveness was the whole point of SNL. It was live television when no one did live television. It had musical guests that no other show would touch. It did comedy skits on subjects no other show would dare do. (See Dan Ackroyd's Julia Child skit, for example.) The performers were called The Not Ready For Prime Time Players, implying that they were too wild for any other show. The only people who watched the show in the early years were damned hippies and pot heads. And when Elvis Costello did this, it was exactly in keeping with the feel and attitude of the show, and it was the coolest thing any of us had ever seen.
posted by MexicanYenta at 10:48 PM on September 27, 2013 [10 favorites]


King of America, that's the record, right there. King of America.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 11:01 PM on September 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


Huh. I was always pretty sure the POINT of "Alison" was that the narrator was a condescending jerk who doesn't know how terrible he is.
posted by Rev. Syung Myung Me at 11:09 PM on September 27, 2013 [17 favorites]


Still, I and the rest of the audience in the theater at Weird Al's alma mater (Cal Poly San Luis Obispo) LOVED hearing him do "Radio Radio" as the ONLY thing in the entire show he hadn't written himself. That's a sign of respect from an artist as classy as he is Weird.
posted by oneswellfoop at 11:24 PM on September 27, 2013 [9 favorites]


Some 23yr old gets a break, pulls off a wee rebellion and tv highlight that was pretty cool but causes the cast to scramble for one episode.
"Dang those rotten unprofessional kids"!
'Shakes fist at sky while adjusting waistband higher on torso'.
posted by qinn at 11:42 PM on September 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


flapjax at midnite: "King of America, that's the record, right there. King of America."

I can't favorite this enough. Not entirely all downhill from there, but certainly all uphill before that.
posted by chavenet at 12:09 AM on September 28, 2013


>Every time I listen to Elvis Costello he just comes across like a twerp whose auditioning for a role as the villain in Rushmore a few decades before Wes Anderson would film it... There's something about him that seems pretentious and dickish but also clueless, like Max Fischer but without the charm or good intentions.

Let it go Bruce. Just, let it go....
posted by Wrick at 12:18 AM on September 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


His genius is so rich that I even find myself loving the shaggy dogs in his collection.
Goodbye Cruel World is a terrific pop album.
The Juliet Letters is a thrilling chamber pop record.
Painted From Memory has some wonderful heights.
For me the least impressive work in his last 20 years has been his "return to form" stuff like Delivery Man and Brutal Youth. That stuff seems like obligatory from him every 8 years of so just to give the old school fans that think he's sucked since 1989 (he hasn't) a reason to come out to the live shows.

Oh and as for the subject at hand, Fear's SNL performance was the real deal.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 12:46 AM on September 28, 2013 [2 favorites]




I saw that when it was broadcast. It was completely awesome.

Same here. It was the end of my first semester of college, and I had just discovered Elvis Costello. Fantastic.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:56 AM on September 28, 2013


Anybody remember when Joe Jackson performed on SNL with a watch on his piano, and cut the song short declaring, "We're out of time"?
posted by ardgedee at 4:52 AM on September 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have no memory of seeing this, but it's hard to believe I didn't as I was a huge Elvis Costello fan - his anger perfectly matched mine at the time. If I did see it I can't imagine even thinking anything was at all unusual about what happened.

Also: Radio, Radio was never one of my favorite songs so I wasn't all that excited about watching the video, but that really was a great performance.
posted by maggiemaggie at 5:51 AM on September 28, 2013


I've been a massive Costello fan from day one, I was watching SNL that night too, and if you're looking for the very best EC album, it's "Get Happy".
posted by davebush at 6:23 AM on September 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


An homage to Hendrix, We'll stop playing this rubbish.

Ah! Now this makes sense.
posted by flabdablet at 6:26 AM on September 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


The clip is 2:58, so I don't think Lorne was angry about the impact on the show timing- a live show like SNL is always going to have some wobble, and it's not like they decided to play inna gadda da vida or something.

Seems like more of a control thing.
posted by jenkinsEar at 6:37 AM on September 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


I loved this when it was released over here in the UK, but was only dimly aware of the controversy mentioned above.

I was surprised that the video itself isn't linked, it is available here:



but that may of course be unavailable to the US audience.

It was also discussed on the green here:


posted by dash_slot- at 6:42 AM on September 28, 2013


Dunno what happened to my links!

http://videos.mediaite.com/video/Elvis-Costello-Radio-Radio-1977

http://ask.metafilter.com/133972/Whats-the-real-story-with-Elvis-Costello-and-SNL
posted by dash_slot- at 6:43 AM on September 28, 2013


Alison, a song which is clearly written by a condescending jerk...

"My aim is true" is one of the greatest lines of any pop song. I would call someone planning to murder their ex a jerk.
posted by bhnyc at 6:56 AM on September 28, 2013


*something stronger than "a jerk".
posted by bhnyc at 7:06 AM on September 28, 2013


Seems like more of a control thing.

Wasn't Lorne Michaels the inspiration for Michael Meyer's "Dr. Evil" character? IIRC it wasn't his sterling qualities which were being given homage.
posted by mikelieman at 7:08 AM on September 28, 2013 [2 favorites]




mikelieman: "Wasn't Lorne Michaels the inspiration for Michael Meyer's "Dr. Evil" character? IIRC it wasn't his sterling qualities which were being given homage."

I think it was more the voice and cadence. Supposedly Jack Donaghy from 30 Rock was also based on him, as well as the CEO in Brain Candy.
posted by bluecore at 8:25 AM on September 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Thanks, flabdablet! I had no idea The Bevis Frond was on Bandcamp.
posted by whuppy at 8:37 AM on September 28, 2013


Jeez, haven't you kids heard of punk freakin' rock? It was kinda the point to be subversive, messy. This is also what made the early SNL great (and why mostly today it blows.) If Lorne didn't get this when he booked the guy he's the a-hole.

I think Elvis probably knew what he was going to do when he went on, but it doesn't stop this from being one of the best live performances on tv ever. The way the electricity came on as soon as they started playing "Radio, Radio"? That's the shit legends are made of.

(For the record I'm not a huge Costello fan, but in this case the guy deserves his due.)
posted by nowhere man at 8:38 AM on September 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


It certainly shouldn't surprise anyone that Michaels might be kind of an asshole. You don't get to be the longstanding kingmaker of comedy without bashing a few skulls. Also - keep in mind that a lot of stories about him are from comedians, who can be pretty sensitive, so we may not have an entirely accurate picture.
posted by Think_Long at 8:39 AM on September 28, 2013


Coke adds life!

(And everybody wants a little life! Coca-Cola! *blp blurp blp blip blp bip*)
posted by petebest at 9:01 AM on September 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


If I'm not mistaken, the reason why Elvis was on that night was to substitute for the Sex Pistols, who had been scheduled, but had broken upon the interim.
posted by hwestiii at 9:07 AM on September 28, 2013


Oops, should have RTFA.
posted by hwestiii at 9:08 AM on September 28, 2013


So Mr. just_ducky were on our honeymoon in Belgium this summer. We walk into the lobby of our hotel in Ghent, and there is this guy sitting on a couch there that I think looks just like Elvis Costello We walk by and I say to Mr. just_ducky "I think that's Elvis Costello". Mr. just_ducky thinks it looks NOTHING like him, other than the guy had similar black frame glasses. He proceeds to make fun of me the whole rest of the day for thinking that was Elvis Costello.

Cut to three days later. We are in the hotel elevator, going to check out. The elevator stops in the 3rd floor, and in walks the same guy. It is obvious to me, standing next to him in a tiny elevator, that it is Elvis Costello. We ride the elevator all the way down, and get out. The hotel manager walks up to the guy and asks him for an autograph, which ends the debate in my mind. I say triumphantly to Mr. just_ducky that I was right all along. He agrees of course, but he was already convinced in the elevator that it was Costello, because he saw that the guy had a giant purple vinyl bag that said ELVIS on it. The thing is, I'm pretty certain the bag said LEVIS.

I'll take the win either way.
posted by just_ducky at 9:20 AM on September 28, 2013 [7 favorites]


I've been a massive Costello fan from day one, I was watching SNL that night too, and if you're looking for the very best EC album, it's "Get Happy".

What a strange way of spelling "Imperial Bedroom"!
posted by jason_steakums at 11:26 AM on September 28, 2013 [7 favorites]


Love Elvis. Love this moment. But no, Daily Guru nerd, it was not "one of the greatest acts of rebellion in the entire history of music." Let's have a little perspective here.
posted by slkinsey at 1:32 PM on September 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


fucked up the scheduling for the rest of the show

I can't remember what skits were back then, if that was a good season or not, but now? I'd thank the high heavens if a skit has to be cut short. Most are just so painfully long past the point of being funny, maybe they are (were?) just long to fit into a schedule or something.
posted by usagizero at 2:08 PM on September 28, 2013


yay! I was a faithful SNL viewer back then, so of course I was watching that night when Elvis Costello famously performed "Radio, Radio". And I also got to see Costello and the Attractions in a small union hall when they played our small city in Northwestern Ontario. Good times.

He must be cool; Diana Krall married him.
posted by Artful Codger at 7:40 PM on September 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


The aforementioned FEAR performance - totally hilarity.
posted by alex_skazat at 10:48 PM on September 28, 2013


fucked up the scheduling for the rest of the show

Meh. As any SNL fan will tell you all the sketches past Weekend Update are potential cuts. The shows are structured a little like a "top-down" AP wire story, in other words. Running long? Sketch goes poof. The show has from the beginning been live, with hosts who are often non-actors, and all sorts of unpredictable shit happens from forgotten lines to someone starting a sketch over in the middle (or was that one on Fridays? I forget) to corpsing to the simple fact that a sketch that is working can convulse the entire room in laughter and make the sketch go long. So it's really hard to believe that his one time a guy played the wrong song that Lorne was mad about the timing.

Besides, the other thing they do is fix the show for the West Coast feed by subbing material from the dress rehearsal, if they have any issues, ranging from actor flubs to timing to audience response. It's basically a flexible show by design and always has been by necessity.
posted by dhartung at 2:11 AM on September 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


I've always thought of it as a cosmic get-even for when Ed Sullivan had his crew turn down the volume on Buddy's guitar.
posted by Twang at 2:12 PM on September 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


I saw it live, too. And what people who weren't alive then don't realize is that back then, subversiveness was the whole point of SNL. It was live television when no one did live television. It had musical guests that no other show would touch. It did comedy skits on subjects no other show would dare do. (See Dan Ackroyd's Julia Child skit, for example.) The performers were called The Not Ready For Prime Time Players, implying that they were too wild for any other show. The only people who watched the show in the early years were damned hippies and pot heads. And when Elvis Costello did this, it was exactly in keeping with the feel and attitude of the show, and it was the coolest thing any of us had ever seen.
posted by MexicanYenta at 10:48 PM on September 27 [10 favorites +] [!]


Actually, they were called the Not Ready for Prime Time Players as a dig at ABC's Saturday Night Live, hosted by Howard Cosell, which ran during the 1975/76 fall season, until being cancelled. Their repertory company was called the Prime Time Players, and included Bill Murray, Brian Doyle-Murray, and Christopher Guest, among others.

In fact, what we now know as SNL was originally titled NBC's Saturday Night, and didn't acquire the Saturday Night Live moniker until 1977, after the ABC show was safely off the air.
posted by stenseng at 4:09 PM on September 30, 2013


Also, anyone who thinks fucking with the scheduled lineup of a live broadcast at air is no big deal doesn't know a damned thing about live television production, especially back then.

Back then you'd have issues with set prep, wardrobe, lighting cues, cue cards, and actors scrambling in and out of costume from set to set, as well as commercial break timing to network affiliates, you name it, all which would have to be adjusted on the fly because of a stunt like this.

Lorne Michaels is a known control freak, and SNL is his baby. Still is, but back then, it's future and place in television was not so clear, and I could well see (and somewhat understand) his lasting ire at anyone who messed with the show during air.
posted by stenseng at 4:21 PM on September 30, 2013


Indeed, stensenq. I spent a couple years in college directing, technical directing, and producing half-hour and hour-long live news broadcasts 3 times a week, 8-camera live sporting events, and all sorts of other programs, and even in that little penny-ante situation, re-arranging, stretching, and cutting segments on the fly is an incredible pain in the ass.

In this situation, it's not just a logistical issue. A live TV show on a broadcast network with changing guest hosts and musical acts has to have a boss with absolute power to make it run right. Although Elvis' stunt was for the most part just a harmless bit of rebellion on his part, and a headache for those running the show that night in the control room, Lorne saw the bigger issue at hand, and that bigger issue is what fueled 90% of his anger about it.

That other issue is control - not in some petty tinpot dictator way, but in a very practical, logical way. If he just let something like this slide, he's opening the door for others to also pull their own stunts, and through people's general trait to one-up the previous stunt, eventually things start to really interfere with the show, the network, the ad revenue, and Lorne's own job. Lorne had an obligation to make an example of out of this - the ban, the anger, all of it, not because it messed with the timing of the show, but that it was messing with his ability to properly run a live TV show watched by millions. The future of the show depends on it. Lorne needs to let it be known that there are consequences to things like this - one guest host or musician steps too far out of line on live TV could, at worst, be the end of the show, or at best, have the network execs start to question his ability to control the his show, and either reduce his ability to work fairly autonomously, which would compromise so much of the show in other ways.

Lorne has been so successful over the last 30-some years partly because he has been able to be both trusted (and a little feared) by the network and trusted (and perhaps a little more feared) by the artists he employs. Even if there is a little more fear in the artists, they also know he'll go to bat for them when it counts. He built a machine where you can be as creative as possible, mess with the audience, push boundaries, and anything else to make a good show, as long as what you do does NOT fuck with the machine itself.
posted by chambers at 10:27 AM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


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