The Top Ten Strangest Saturday Night Live Musical Guests, Part 1

17 Jan

Inspired by the awkward performance of Lana del Rey, and the strange decision to put her on the show in the first place, I’ve decided to try my hand at a list of the strangest Saturday Night Live musical guests.

Note on what I mean by strangest:  First, this has absolutely nothing to do with their actual performance on the show.  This is based entirely on the strangeness of the choice of guest.  Second, this has nothing to do with the particular sound of the artists.  This is based on how odd it feels for the particular guest to have been chosen to appear, in terms of general popularity in the US, popularity with SNL’s audience, popularity in terms of the type of music, and a couple of general oddities.  There’s a lot of arbitrariness as there has to be in any list like this.

One more caveat:  This started out as a top ten, but I can’t count.  When I realized I had an eleventh artist I wanted to include, I didn’t feel like eliminating any of the artists I had already written about.  Consider it a bonus artist..  Enjoy.

First a couple that didn’t quite crack the list, a few of which didn’t because they were from the early seasons of SNL and everything was kind of wacky back then so their lack of inclusion says more about the show at the time than how odd the artists were.  Maybe I’ll do an add on for these artists at a later date.

Honorable mentions:  Leon Redbone, Preservation Hill Jazz Band, Leon and Mary Russell, The Notting Hillbillies, Queen Ida & the Bon Temps Zydeco Band, Mink DeVille

Now to the actual list:

11.  Pervis Hawkins – Lily Tomlin hosted a season 8 episode in 1983.  She also appeared as the musical guest in the guise of her character Pervis Hawkins, an African American male R&B singer.  Yes, this sounds as ridiculous to me as it should to you, unless you’re already familiar.  I found out more by digging up a New York Times article from 1982 in which Tomlin spoke of the character.  “Purvis is expansive, elevated, easy, real smooth in a wholesome way. I don’t feel as if I portray characters, though. They have a life of their own. It’s more like I imitate an essence.,” Tomlin commented.  I suppose die-hard Tomlin fans are familiar with the character, but I doubt most SNL viewers were then or now.

10.  Chris Gaines – This isn’t here for how unlikely it was to have the person on SNL; it was after all an alter ego of Garth Brooks, one of the most popular artists of the decade.  It’s here rather for what a bizarre circumstance it was for said popular artist to be portraying an entirely different persona as the musical guest, while hosting the show as himself.  If Garth Brooks was the Michael Jordan of country in the 1990s, Chris Gaines was his retirement to play baseball.   It’s kind of mind blowing and it never really took off the way he wanted it to, but he did come out with one legitimate hit single, Lost In You, which was his only Hot 100 top 40 single of his career.  Other popular artists have halfheartedly taken on personas, but none as fully as Brooks with Gaines since.

9.The Roches – Who are the Roches?  I’m glad you asked, because I had no clue.  Three Irish-American sisters  who record folk music and appeared on SNL in 1979.  Their most well-reviewed album was 1979’s The Roches, which was #11 on the Village Voice’s annual Pazz & Jop poll.  How do these people get on Saturday Night Live?  Well apparently Paul Simon had a lot of say on Saturday Night Live around that time, and he asked for them to be on and got his way.  Two of the sisters had backed him on his There Goes Rhymin’ Simon album.  Apparently being on Paul Simon’s good side has historically been a good way to get on SNL.  Edie Brickell has been on three times essentially off of one song, on the basis of her marriage to Simon.  I’ve kept this as the only entrant from the first five years of SNL, as there’s enough in those seasons to make a whole other list, and they were probably still figuring out what exactly the criteria was to be a musical guest on SNL.

8. The Busboys – A bar band that was known (and I am using known in the most liberal sense, in that if you did know them, this is why) for two things when they were put on Saturday Night Live in Season 8, in 1982.  First, for having two songs on the soundtrack of Eddie Murphy-Nick Nolte film 48 hrs., including their most “famous” song, “The Boys Are Back in Town,” which I falsely thought was a Thin Lizzy cover.  Second, for opening for Eddie Murphy on his comedy tour and appearing and being referenced to by Murphy in the subsequent HBO special made of the tour, Delirious.  Afterwards, they had their only Billboard Hot 100 hit with “Cleanin Up The Town” off the Ghostbusters soundtrack, which hit #68.  More likely though, you’ve never head of them, and you wouldn’t have in 1982 either.

7.  Ellie Goulding – If the US were the UK, Goulding’s appearance would more than make sense, it would be expected.  Goulding is very popular there and has released several successful singles from her debut album.  Here, she’s had one charting song, which didn’t pick up steam until after her SNL appearance, and although anyone with an ear to the UK music scene would have heard of it, it’s not as if she’s buzzing on top of pitchfork or other music media lists. Honestly, though it could be a coincidence, after some quick investigation my guess is that what her got this plum spot was her appearance in the much-watched wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.  Hopefully though, SNL is just importing female singers from Britain.  Maybe Kate Nash or Katy B are next.

2 Responses to “The Top Ten Strangest Saturday Night Live Musical Guests, Part 1”

  1. Beardface January 21, 2012 at 3:08 am #

    Two of the three Roches took songwriting classes from Paul Simon when he was randomly teaching such things at NYU in the late 60s. Their Christmas album is one of the few I can actually stomach, and my mother would be very disappointed to know you’ve never heard of them.

    The Garth Brooks/MJ analogy is particularly entertaining since Garth also thought he could play baseball professionally.


  1. Top Ten Strangest Saturday Night Light Musical Guests, Part 2 « Television, the Drug of the Nation - January 20, 2012

    […] of the ten, but really eleven, strangest Saturday Night Live musical guests.  You can find part 1 here which contains the first five and the criteria for appearing on the […]

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