What's the real story with Elvis Costello and SNL?
September 27, 2009 7:57 PM Subscribe
Does anyone know the real story behind Elvis Costello's performance of "Radio Radio" on Saturday Night Live, specifically the real reason he wasn't invited back for so long?
posted by DecemberBoy to media & arts (13 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
OK, so I've always heard that the reason Lorne Michaels was so upset with him was one of two reasons, or a bit of both. Everything one could find with, say, a Google search for "elvis costello snl" will tell one of these two stories, without quoting anyone or citing any sources, so I'm hoping for actual quotes from people involved, etc.
1. "Radio Radio" has very anti-media, anti-corporate lyrics, and the network had specifically refused to allow Costello to play it for that reason, he agreed to do "Less Than Zero" instead, then played it anyway. This got Michaels heat from above. The problem with this story is while "Radio Radio" is certainly something that 1970s network exec types might balk at, SNL was doing far more controversial stuff than that, and it doesn't seem like that big a deal compared to all the blatant drug references, etc. that they got away with every week.
2. Costello had done "Less Than Zero" at all the dress rehearsals, etc. and the show's format, which has to be accurate down to the second, had planned for "Less Than Zero", then he played a completely different song and fucked up the whole show. The problem with this story is that I have Season 3 on DVD, and in the episode with Costello (hosted by Miskel Spillman), "Radio Radio" is the second song he does (after "Watching The Detectives"), and it's done right before the closing credits. The only thing it could have screwed up is cutting the closing "I'd like to thank...", etc. scene's time. Now, it could be that the DVD version of the episode is edited from what originally aired, but the musical guests on SNL did play their second song right before the end of the show quite often.
If anything, given the hip, countercultural image that SNL tried to cultivate in the 70s, you'd think that everyone would have been happy. It's certainly one of the show's most celebrated moments. So why was Costello blackballed for over 10 years? Is the whole "he wasn't invited back" story even true at all? Maybe he just didn't happen to play on SNL for that long.