TV’s Most Surreal Musical Performances: Elvis Costello Sabotages the Beastie Boys
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In the annals of ‘Saturday Night Live’ history, Elvis Costello‘s infamous 1977 performance of ‘Radio Radio’ will go down as one of the most memorable of all time.
The show — which featured Costello and his Attractions playing just the first few bars of their scheduled tune, ‘Less Than Zero,’ before breaking into a surprise version of the anti-corporate radio jam ‘Radio Radio’ — resulted in a ban from ‘SNL’ for the singer that lasted 12 years, and brought him substantial international attention just a few months after he issued his debut album.
Costello first returned to ‘SNL’ in 1989, but it was his surprise appearance on the show’s 25th Anniversary Special a decade later that came close to matching the glory of his 1977 gig.
Beastie Boys were among the announced musical guests on that Sept. 25, 1999, anniversary episode, and when they hit the stage of NBC’s famed Studio 8H, they quickly broke into a suitably punkish version of their ‘Ill Communication’ classic ‘Sabotage’ playing their own instruments: Mike D on drums, MCA handling bass duties and Ad-Rock playing guitar and singing.
‘Sabotage’ lasted all of 10 seconds before Costello unexpectedly appeared onstage and, in an homage to his original ‘Radio Radio’ performance, nudged Ad-Rock away from the mic, waved the band silent and broke into the exact same speech he used to interrupt ‘Less Than Zero’ in 1977: “I’m sorry, ladies and gentlemen, there’s no reason to do this song here,” Costello announced, before a quick “one-two-three-four” count launched Costello, backed by the Beasties (with Rock shifting to keyboards), into ‘Radio Radio.’
The whole spectacle may have come across to viewers as another off-the-cuff act of subterfuge, but this time around it was anything but. The collaboration was planned and rehearsed ahead of time, and ‘SNL”s producers were in on things from the beginning.
Trying to pay homage to such an iconic act of TV rebellion during a nostalgia-driven anniversary show with a scripted performance certainly was a daring move — Costello and the Beasties closely skirted the fine line between a genuinely exciting television moment and a cheesy recreation of one.
But the foursome pulled it off in grand style by turning in a raucous version of the song on the back of a truly unique collaboration. Elvis Costello backed by the Beastie Boys — Who would’ve thought they’d ever see that? Even though it lacked the subversive nature of Costello’s original, the once-in-a-lifetime ‘Radio’ jam was one for the ages.