1977: Elvis Costello Banned From Saturday Night Live Over 'Radio Radio'

By | December 15, 2020

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Source: YouTube

When Elvis Costello played "Radio, Radio" on Saturday Night Live in 1977, he cemented his status as an angry young man. Rather than playing "Less Than Zero," the mellow single from his debut album My Aim Is True, he opted for something new, something that rocked -- and that rankled Lorne Michaels.

He didn't just opt to play a different song -- he made a show of changing his mind live on stage in studio 8H. In the now-infamous clip, Costello and his band The Attractions play the opening notes to "Less Than Zero" -- but then he stops them, apologizes to the studio audience, and  the group launches into "Radio, Radio."

The song, a trenchant critique of the commercialization of music and the way that record labels turn their artists into employees, made Costello a star to punks, art school kids, and just about everybody who thumbs their nose at authority. It also helped Costello get banned from SNL for the next decade. With one breezy pop song, Costello told anyone listening that he wasn't about to be controlled, but why did that make Lorne Michaels so angry?

Anarchy In Studio 8H

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source: NBC

Elvis Costello was only 23 years old when his debut album, My Aim Is True, was released in North America. Sales weren't bad, but he needed a big push, that's where the Sex Pistols come in. The "Anarchy in the U.K." group was supposed to play Saturday Night Live on December 17, 1977, but a Visa issue kept the band from coming to America. Costello was offered the chance to fill in for the band on live television and he jumped on it.

Thanks to the Sex Pistols, Costello was now the musical guest for Miskel Spillman, an elderly woman and the winner of SNLs “Anyone Can Host” contest. The evening wasn't exactly the center of the counter culture. Columbia Records asked Costello to play "Less Than Zero," the laid-back single off of My Aim Is True, but Costello didn't think that would be the right way to introduce himself to the American audience so he called an audible.