Friday, August 19, 2011


PART IV: 1987-1981
40. Laurie Anderson – “The Day the Devil” (4/19/1986)
Downtown NYC avant-garde weirdness comes to 8H. (Tony Danza was the host -- how avant-garde can you get?) Anderson sings this song like a jeremiad from a Baptist Preacher ("Everyone...please riiiiise!!"), with her voice electronically mutuated into a disturbing low growl. Then she bounces out among the audience, handing out what looks to be religious pamphlets: "'Cause in heaven, you get it all back! Here ya go!"

39. Al Green – “Going Away” (1/25/1986)
Since SNL never had Green on during his mid-1970s Willie Mitchell-produced heyday (one of their most glaring omissions), we had to settle for the Reverend's dull mid-80s, back-to-Christ output -- but you'd never know it from this bouyant and effortless performance. Love watching Green's hand gestures, as they demonstrate that being a great frontman involves how you move them to puncuate a line.

38. The Replacements – “Bastards of Young” & “Kiss Me on the Bus” (1/18/1986)
Rolling Stone once called this a "smoking shoot-out of a performance," and the 'Mat's certainly leave a lot of sweaty, beer-sozzled bar-band stink in their wake. For "Bastards," bulb-nosed punk Paul Westerberg frequently walks away from the mic in the middle of a line a la Keith Richards; for the impossibly lovely "Bus," the boys switch outfits -- save for late guitarist Bob Stinson, who wears bell-bottomed clown pants. Right after they finished their second song, Lorne Michaels banned them from returning to the show. Elvis Costello would have been proud.

37. Tina Turner – “What’s Love Got To Do with It” (2/02/1985)
Like Al Green, if you want to study how a great front(wo)man commands a stage, look no further than Ms. Anna Mae Bullock's little yelps, shimmies and wink-wink vocal inflections. Sex incarnate in leather hot pants. Meanwhile, Ike watched this from the prison lounge.

36. The Honeydrippers – “Santa Claus is Back in Town” (12/15/1984)
More an ad hoc Xmas jam than a performance from the actual Honeydrippers: spastic pianist Paul Shaffer and tattooed axegrinder Brian Setzer sit in for Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page and Nile Rodgers. (What a show that would have been.) They pull out a full doo-wop crew for this memorable track made famous by Elvis and Phil Spector's A Christmas Gift For You. Setzer smokes on his bluesy solo.

35. The Cars – “Drive” (5/12/1984)
Of course, watching this now is a bit of an eerie experience, owing as much to bassist Ben Orr's untimely 2000 death as his weirdly beautiful tenor on this lush ballad, probably the best song The Cars ever recorded. His bland good looks are given a strange angelic-metrosexual sheen with too much makeup.

34. Stevie Wonder – “Overjoyed” & “Go Home” (5/17/1983)
In his memorable hosting gig (the notorious "Kannon AE-1" ad, f'rinstance), Lil' Stevie pulled out two of the best songs from an album that wouldn't be released for another two years. This album was In Square Circle, most known for the excreble "I Just Called To Say I Love You," which cemented his late-period career as the world highest paid wedding singer.

33. Joe Jackson Band – “Another World” (10/30/1982)
Jackson's Night and Day is a song cycle about New York and chasing the Ghost of Gershwin, and this opening number to that 1982 record is the limey emigre's stunned first glimpse of the Empire City set to a persistent Nuyorican beat. Best part: Jackson's minimalist band -- no guitars! -- anchored by the great "Greek-Rican" percussionist Sue Hadjopoulos on those shimmering timbales.

32. Queen – “Under Pressure” (9/25/1982)
The late, great Freddie Mercury -- in full gay-bar-moustache form -- sings both his and David Bowie's parts. Come to think of it, who even needed Bowie in the first place?

31. Sparks – “Mickey Mouse” (5/15/1982)
WHO booked these guys? And why? Was the network asleep that week? UK-by-way-of-LA brothers Ron and Russell Mael turn in more of a performance-art piece -- check out the unprecedented "host introduction" done by Danny De Vito. A booking like this would never happen today.

30. Daryl Hall & John Oates – “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)” (2/27/1982)
Our biggest heartbreak. When Comedy Central used to run SNL reruns from ALL seasons back in the day (not just the newest ones, where the cloying Justin Timberlake seems to be in every episode), we saw this performance and were shocked at how funky it was. H&O's best song has since become sampled by everyone from De La Soul and 2 Live Crew to Girl Talk and Simply Red. So, in a way, we were watching history -- LOST history, as we have no been able to track down a video of this online. If anyone out there knows where to find it, you know where to find us.

29. Lindsay Buckingham – “Trouble” (2/06/1982)
Our second biggest heartbreak: we once had this on VHS tape but lost it during a move. Was this the same guy who stood at the forefront of the sensitive, self-obsessed California rock of the 1970s? Buckingham's jarring metamorphosis from Me Decade yippie to twitchy New Waver came on the heels of this masterful dream-pop classic -- his only hit as a solo artist (not counting "Holiday Road" -- and who ever would?) He could be a frontman for the Fabulous Poodles for chrissakes!

28. Jennifer Holliday – “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” (1/30/1982)
The Great White Way had a bit more of a presence in earlier days of SNL. The cast of The Pirates of Penzance, "anti-mime" Bill Irwin and ironic juggler Michael Davis were some of the acts brought over from Broadway. Jennifer Holliday's star-making performance of this rageful yawp from Dreamgirls is now preserved for posterity in case anyone brings up the name "Jennifer Hudson."

27. Billy Joel – “She’s Got A Way” (11/14/1981)
The first time Billy Joel appeared on SNL back in 1978, he had to cancel his high school reunion in order to make his first live-TV gig. This time, SNL came to him. Joel sang two ballads from his quasi-live album Songs in the Attic in a darkened loft studio blocks away from 8H. We surmise that back then, this was seen as the pinnacle of broadcast technology. This song, of course, is one of his gems.

26. Fear – "I Don't Care About You," "Beef Bologna,"
“New York’s Alright If You Like Saxophones” & "Let's Have A War" (10/31/1981)
L.A. puke-punk brought to your parents' living room courtesy of John Belushi and Michael O'Donoghue, this infamous pogo rally led by a gaggle of nihilistic shitheads (who, interestingly enough, were shipped up from the D.C. hardcore scene) is all over the Web, more often than not voted "the best-ever live performance on SNL" by those of the post-everything generation. Not for the first time, Angelenos will knock Gothamites on their Brooks Brothers bee-hinds (see also: Beck, Fishbone). Producer Dick Ebersol was reportedly so incensed that he cut the cameras and booted a metal folding chair into the second-tier bleachers.
25. The Kinks – “Art Lover” (10/10/1981)
How many times was the Beast almost moved to tears by an SNL performance? This one. Ray Davies, at his British music-hall best, tells a song-story about what first appears to be a creepy, Aqualungy old dude who ogles little girls in a park. Then he reveals why he's really there. Cue heartstrings.

24. Junior Walker & the All-Stars – “Shotgun” (4/11/1981)
After the disatrous Jean Doumanian dominion of 1980-81 season, producer Dick Ebersol retooled and re-rallied SNL for one more show, hosted by old standby and collossal prick Chevy Chase. Walker simply showed up and did what he'd been doing since the mid-1950's: blowing the roof off the mutha, both with his sax and his eloquently gritty voice.

23. Prince – “Partyup” (2/21/1981)
Say what you want about Miss Doumanian, her brief, bloody reign at the show yielded the best crop of eclectic artists who hadn't yet seeped into the mainstream. Case in point: the Kid from Minneapolis. Even at 22 years old, he commands his band of Victorian-laced funk freaks like James Brown at his peak, with little points and arm twirls to signal the band to get nasty. Best part: Prince's pants, which aren't really pants. BTW: This was also the episode where cast member Charles Rocket said "Fuck" on the air. Prince got off scot-free!

22. The Funky 4 + 1 More – “That’s The Joint” (2/14/1981)
Bronx-bred hip hop in its dirty, scruffy infancy. Once again, someone on the SNL music-booking team was way ahead of the curve. And the fact that the song performed became one of the most influential and sampled songs in the pantheon makes this clip one for the time vaults. Note how they put the DJ in front of the MCs. How quaint!

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