Elvis Costello on SNL, 1977


Ancient history: thirty-seven years ago yesterday one of the most electrifying live performances on American network television ever was broadcast. Elvis Costello, making a last minute appearance on Saturday Night Live with his band The Attractions, interrupted his own song “Less Than Zero” and broke into a performance of “Radio Radio.” The former is a plenty acerbic song on its own, being at heart a denunciation of a British fascist politician, but the latter, which still stands as among the best of Costello’s many, many superb compositions, was a clear flipping of the bird to media powers—it includes the lines “I want to bite the hand that feeds me/I want to bite that hand so badly.”

Watching Costello upend the proceedings and then, before anyone realizes what’s happening, rally his band to perform an entirely different song is still startling—a perfect marriage of the power of live television and the then still nascent punk spirit. The stunt enraged SNL producer Lorne Michaels who reportedly watched it with his middle finger raised, and who subsequently banned Costello from the show for over a decade.