One of the defining moments in Elvis Costello’s career happened on December 17, 1977, when he appeared on Saturday Night Live. 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 (see their last live concert here), Costello and his recently formed band, the Attractions, got their big break.
They were supposed to play his single “Less Than Zero,” a catchy tune about a loathsome politician in England. But only a few bars into the song, Costello put a stop to it. “I’m sorry, ladies and gentlemen,” he said, “but there’s no reason to do this song here.”
At that point he and the band launched into “Radio Radio,” a song that takes a jab at corporate-controlled broadcasting. Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels was furious. According to some reports, he raised his middle finger at Costello and kept it up until the unapproved song was over. Costello was banned from the show for nearly 12 years. You can learn more about the incident by watching this video from the Daily Guru:
The rift between Costello and Michaels eventually healed, and Costello was invited to appear again on Saturday Night Live in the spring of 1989. Ten years after that, on SNL’s 25th anniversary show, Costello went on the show again and parodied his notorious 1977 appearance by bursting onstage while the Beastie Boys were playing “Sabotage” and ordering them to stop. He and the Boys then launched into a raucous 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,” he says, “and every time anybody does anything outrageous on that show, I get name-checked. 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.