Wednesday, June 22, 2011


(For Part I of this ongoing masterpiece, go here.)

PART II: 1999-1992

79. Garbage – “Special” (3/20/1999)
Can't take my eyes of Shirley M. stalking the stage in those wicked looking domanitrix boots!
For a show with notoriously shitty sound, the force of this performance is quite exceptional.

78. Alanis Morrissette - "Thank U" (10/24/1998)
Rather than doing her usual knock-kneed, damaged-marionette "dancing," the artist simply stands and emotes. One of the few instances when a singer overcomes a bad sound mix through sheer will.

77. Metallica w/ Marianne Faithful – “The Memory Remains” (12/06/1997)
Dear Lars: you're a motormouth asshole. Dear James: you're a full-of-yourself hillbilly. But bringing out Rolling Stones paramour Marianne Faithful to back this turgid wallower about faded celebrity? Inspired. I'm sure you would agree.

76. Bjork – “Bachelorette” (10/18/1997)
Originally written for Bernardo Bertolucci, this track from Homogenic comes equipped with Icelandic sweep and full orchestra. Bjork wears a green satin dress, the hem of which she clutches in her left hand, revealing blue jeans underneath. Maybe she's thinking about swans...

75. Beck – “Devil’s Haircut” (1/11/1997)
Beck's great geek-gang touring band of 1996-98 freaks out the New York sophisticazzi.
"What the hell is going on out there in California?"

74. Rage Against the Machine – “Bulls on Parade” (4/13/1996)
The host was Steve "Flat Tax" Forbes, the vole-faced Republican Presidential Candidate. The musical guests were, again, some freaky-deaky and deadly serious Los Angelenos whose album titled Evil Empire dropped at #1 that week. Who do you think won?

73. Smashing Pumpkins – “Zero” (11/11/1995)
Ah, this was the apex for the Pumpkins, right after the release of Mellon Collie brought 72-track proggy rock back to life. They were never as great as they were during this period.

72. Rod Stewart – “Leave Virginia Alone” (5/13/1995)
Rod had already been on SNL once before in 1981, with a sloppy duet with Tina Tuner that was fun and then a solo take on "Young Turks" that was just plain embarrassing. Rod returned to success with this Tom Petty-penned trifle and turned out one of his effortless-pro performances. A true master of the mike stand when he wants to be. He even has a chance to run over behind host David Duchovny and give a cheeky wave. Ah Rod, ya rascal.

71. The Tragically Hip – “Grace, Too” (3/25/1995)
Thank God for Dan Aykroyd! He brought his favorite band of Canadian cult heroes down from Kingston (Ontario, not Jamaica). Lead singer Gordon Downie has a sonorous yawp and a disturbing, crash test-dummy stage presence, and this road-hardened bar band just builds this song with an almost unbearable intensity.

70. The Beastie Boys – “Ricky’s Theme/Heart Attack Man” (12/10/1994)
Where the boys reminded folks: Yes, we are real musicians. They lead with Money Mark's funky electric piano, which sparks off a great chill-out jam from Ill Communication. Then they switch drummers and instruments and pound out a quick blast of D.C.-style hardcore, with Ad Rock unhooking his guitar and slamming it into the stage. Beautiful.

69. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers w/ Dave Grohl – “Honey Bee” (11/19/1994)
In the documentary Runnin' Down a Dream, Dave Grohl reflects on how awesome it was to play this broiling, dirty rocker just months after the suicide of Kurt Cobain. Can't you tell?

68. Snoop Doggy Dogg – “Gin & Juice” (3/19/1994)
Quite honestly, it took us a looong time to cozy up to Snoop's top-down mellow grooves. His lazy Dean Martin-style stage presence on this episode was off-putting -- not so crazy a notion after Cypress Hill and Public Enemy's antics. I didn't yet realize the guy had been stoned on garbage bags of weed since he was four. Watched it again and changed our minds.

67. Counting Crows – “Round Here” (1/15/1994)
Terrific, Springsteenesque ballad gets a terrific, passionate read from a band who nobody knew -- and who nobody had been annoyed by yet. This version is also enjoyably different from the studio version, with Adam Durtiz (wearing a Cracker t-shirt) changing his phrasing and even the tune's "Bob Dylan" to "Alex Chilton." Man, talk about wearing your indie-cred on your sleeve...

66. Tony! Toni! Tone! – “If I Had No Loot” (12/19/1993)
Now we know him as Raphael Saadiq, crooner of penthouse-sophisticate retro soul, but back then he was Raphael Wiggins and there were three of him. The wacky band behind this thumping dance-floor fave includes a tiny sprite-like violin player who dresses like one of Prince's band members. Could this be an 18-year-old Lili Haydn?

65. Cypress Hill – “Insane in the Brain” (10/02/1993)
The second song they performed is more famous in an Elvis Costello kind of way: lighting up a joint onstage before the camera cut to commercial. But we prefer the first song, live or not. B-Real's floppy-dick watch cap and landscaping-tool voice are, as always, highlights.

64. Paul Simon & Willie Nelson – “Graceland” (5/15/1993)
This duet appearance was to promote Uncle Willie's star-studded, Daniel Lanois-produced comeback album, of which this is the first track. Willie makes the already-classic song his own and Paul stands and watches happily. Warm, informal, and off-the-cuff -- something SNL was really hurting for during this period.

63. Soul Asylum - "Black Gold" (3/20/1993)
For those of us music nerds clustered around the TV in frozen-ass Minneapolis, this was like winning the Super Bowl. We knew how hard and how long these guys had worked for this -- we had seen them do it. They were like the New Orleans Saints in this respect. Then, everyone turned on them.

62. Mary J. Blige – “Reminisce” (3/13/1993)
This was not the older, wiser Mary J. but the younger, fiercer, crazier Mary J. -- and wearing a coat of leather garbage bags to boot! D-I-V-A.

61. Annie Lennox – “Why” (4/18/1992)
Arguably the most arresting performance in SNL's history. No one really knew what to expect from this ex-Eurythmic when she went solo. Then she appeared in a men's tuxedo like a Weimar cabaret androgyne and didn't so much sing this heartbreaker as method-act it, saluting like a Titanic sailor ("This boat is sinking, this boat is sinking..."), grimacing like a kabuki princess ("I can still read what you're thinking") and then ending with a seething, whispered "You don't know how I feel!" The crowd was speechless before giving her a deserved ovation.

60. Nirvana – “Territorial Pissings” (1/11/1992)
They came, they saw, they played "Teen Spirit" and then this song, after which they trashed the stage. Cobain dyed his hair with red Kool-Aid. Seattle had arrived.

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