"LIVE FROM NEW YORK, IT'S SATURDAY NIGHT"
On this evening in 1975, George Carlin hosted the very first episode of Saturday Night Live. Joined by musical guests Janis Ian and Billy Preston, he kicked off one of the longest running comedy variety shows in TV history.
Each Saturday night for a good chunk of each year, the 90-minute NBC series has honed young talent and offered up a satirical eye on popular and political culture. But beyond the yucks, SNL has also had a profound impact on music, offering many new acts their first taste of a multi-million size viewing audience. Though the show has become considerably less bold and far more market driven in recent years, their first season included Gil Scott-Heron, Betty Carter, Preservation Hall Jazz Band and Randy Newman. Over the years they've offered the stage to blessed weirdoes like Kinky Friedman, Sun Ra, The Specials and Tom Waits, as well as legends like Eric Clapton, David Bowie, Elton John and Elvis Costello. The show is a tastemaker and a barometer of future luminaries, again, especially in the first two decades, and occasionally a direct influence on popular music (Blues Brothers anyone?).
While NBC has a vise-like grip on almost all vintage performance clips for the show (as well as fan-fave segments like the "More Cowbell" sketch with Christopher Walken), there are bits and pieces floating around the tubes of the Internets that offer glimpses of SNL's astute understanding of the music biz and those ensnared by it. We've gathered up some amusing flotsam & jetsam for y'all, beginning with the classic '70s cast offering us an unsentimental look backstage at the "Rock Against Yeast" benefit concert in 1979.
One gold star for the current cast is Andy Samberg, who's managed to draw some sizeable talent into some potently funny music video parodies, none more funny bone rattling than his holiday slow jam with Justin Timberlake, "Dick In A Box" Yo, this won an Emmy!
Here's Samberg with that replicant lookin' dude from Maroon 5 singing about a little peace treaty of the heart with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on "Iran So Far."
The show has a knack for luring musicians into their mischief, often most effectively on their fake commercials like this one for Booty Bidness with Ludacris
Dipping into the past, here's Paul Simon and George Harrison dueting on "Here Comes The Sun." The pair also sang Simon's "Homeward Bound" together (see clip here). Harrison agreed to the live performance in exchange for a chance to air his video for "This Song," a tune commenting on his then ongoing legal troubles around "My Sweet Lord" (see video here).
Lastly, SNL was intimately involved with one of Eric Idle's first big post-Monty Python projects, a mockumentary about The Rutles, a group modeled after The Beatles (read: based entirely and mercilessly upon The Beatles story but renamed to avoid litigation). Much of the Saturday Night Live cast played cameos and producer-creator Lorne Michaels helped bankroll it. All You Need Is Cash is a delight that introduced many Yanks to Neil Innes of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, a gift some of us really should send Michaels flowers for from time to time. Innes did the lion's share of the adaptations of Beatles songs for the film, and they are, in a word, brilliant. Here is the introductory section of the movie.
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