Great ‘SNL’ Musical Performances of the ’80s
Throughout its nearly 40 years on the air, ‘Saturday Night Live’ has not only offered some of TV’s funniest moments, it’s also boasted countless amazing musical performances. With a long list that includes everyone from the Grateful Dead to the Beastie Boys, many legendary artists have rocked those floorboards. We’re paring down that long list of favorites to performances from the ’80s. Unfortunately, clips of great performances by the likes of the Replacements, the Clash, Lindsey Buckingham and Captain Beefheart weren’t available. But if you can track those down, they’re all worth checking out. Trust us.
Call them kitsch, wacky, whatever you want, but the B-52’s are a great rock ‘n’ roll band. Drawing on music and pop-culture influences from the ’50s and ’60s, the group turned more than a few heads and ears with their bubbling 1979 debut album. By the time they made their first ‘SNL’ appearance in January 1980, their buzz was high. And they more than delivered on ‘Dance This Mess Around’ and their signature classic ‘Rock Lobster.’
The Specials brought their rock-steady ska moves to ‘SNL”s stage in April 1980, not too long after their classic debut album came out. Even though it wasn’t a big seller in the U.S., it had a sizable underground following. The band flat-out cooks on this version of its single ‘Gangsters,’ delivering a hyper and intense performance. Ditto for ‘Too Much, Too Young,’ the other song they performed.
After losing original bassist Tom Petersson, and racking up less- than-spectacular sales for their latest album ‘All Shook Up,’ Cheap Trick forged full speed ahead in 1981, recruiting bassist Pete Comita (who lasted less than a year) and hitting the road. Along the way, they made their one and only ‘SNL’ appearance, performing the thunderous ‘Baby Loves to Rock.’ And they’re in full force, with guitarist Rick Nielsen and singer Robin Zander leading the way. They also played the raw and moody ‘Can’t Stop It but I’m Gonna Try‘ that night.
We’re huge Sparks fans, so forgive our gushing here. The band began way back in 1969, and ever since, it’s been several steps ahead, and outside, of most other rock ‘n’ roll groups. Even though they had a strong run of hits in the U.K., they never broke through in their U.S. homeland. They had a small taste of success in 1984 when ‘Cool Places’ received some airplay, but a couple of years before that they made their ‘SNL’ debut to promote the ‘Angst in My Pants’ album. Singer Russell and keyboardist Ron Mael rip their band through the single ‘I Predict‘ and this amazing version of ‘Mickey Mouse.’ Ron not only gives the song an introduction, he also gets in some choice dance moves along the way.
The Bangles often had a hard time proving their rock ‘n’ roll credentials, which is a shame, because — in spite of all those pop hits — they were a solid rock outfit. Their December 1988 ‘SNL’ performance silenced any doubters as they tore through the Simon & Garfunkel classic ‘Hazy Shade of Winter’ at full volume. Perfect four-part harmonies sail on top of distorted guitars to hit that ever-so-sweet spot. Let’s see today’s pop stars do that!
After wandering the outer regions of relevance for most of the ’80s, by decade’s end Neil Young decided it was time to be Neil Young again and got back to where he belonged. Right before he released his 1989 comeback album ‘Freedom,’ Young appeared on ‘Saturday Night Live’ with Crazy Horse guitarist Frank Sampedro, bassist Charlie Drayton and Steve Jordan on drums. Something incredible happened as soon as they walked onstage. As they performed a full-throttle version of the brand-new ‘Rockin’ in the Free World,’ viewers could feel the NBC studios shake form all that volume and anger. At the end of the song, Young yanks all the strings from his guitar with a gleeful smile. This ‘SNL’ take is not only definitive version of the classic song, it’s also one of the fiercest rock ‘n’ roll moments ever televised.