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The Top Ten Strangest Saturday Night Live Musical Guests, Part 2

18 Jan

Time for part 2 of our countdown 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 list.

6.  Ray LaMontagne – Super hot critically acclaimed but not singles charting indie rock bands have become a bit of a minor mainstay on SNL.  TV on the Radio and the Fleet Foxes have appeared, and Bon Iver is slated to shortly. Even though Ray LaMontagne actually charted, albeit barely with a #90 hit on the Hot 100 and a #34 Rock hit, his appearance seems much stranger to me due to the type of music he plays.  At least TV on the Radio and Fleet Foxes are probably big hits with the type of audience which Saturday Night Live is most likely to draw.  LaMontagne is certainly more popular than a couple of the artists on this list overall in the US, but just seems like an odd fit for the program.  This is especially true considering that I would wager that LaMontagne’s music is  best known for his song “Trouble” being used in a Traveler’s Insurance commercial with a cute dog.

5. Johnny Clegg and Savuka – Clegg and his backing band Savuka are apparently important pop music artists in South African music history.  In 1988, when Clegg and Savuka performed, I suppose America was only two years removed from Graceland making all things South African music hip and with apartheid still in place, political music with songs on such topics as advocating the release of Nelson Mandela was very relevant.  The most prominent song by Clegg may have been “Scatterlings of Africa” which appeared on the Rain Man soundtrack.  Still, this is a stretch, even in a year when SNL was clearly into world music; the Gipsy Kings appeared later in the season.

4.Lana del Rey – in a year or two, or even a month or two, this choice of musical guest might seem rote and hip, but this is Saturday Night Live taking its role as cultural curator more seriously than it ever has.  Usually an artist appearing on Saturday Night Live has some semblance of mainstream popularity (exactly what mainstream is of course needs to be defined) but also more than two songs.  The bands mentioned in the Ray LaMontagne section were certainly independent but had all released super critically acclaimed albums, and all of them sold enough albums to chart fairly high on the Billboard 200 (all relative of course since no one buys albums anymore).  Lana del Rey’s album doesn’t even come out until after her SNL appearance, and her appearance is basically coming on the heels of the success of her song “Video Games,” which has made critical waves (she was one of the most polarizing figures in the indie community in 2011) but not broken through to the mainstream.

3.  The Tragically Hip – if this was Canadian Saturday Night Live, I’d expect them to have appeared a dozen times.  I started counting how many top forty hits they had in Canada and then lost count and stopped.  It’s not Canadian though, and the closest to chart success The Tragically Hip have had in the US is three appearance on the mainstream rock chart, the highest of which was #16.  The highest album chart appearance was #134 for 1996’s Trouble At The Henhouse.  Haven’t heard of it?  Not surprising.  I can’t imagine that most people south of Buffalo, New York had heard a Tragically Hip song in 1995 when they were the musical guest.  Allegedly fellow Canuck Dan Aykroyd played in influential role in getting them onto the show.

2.  Ms. Dynamite – maybe there’s a parallel universe in which this appearance looks prescient instead of strange, and heralds the coming of a new star female British rapper, like, well, there haven’t really been any in the US, but Lady Sovereign at least kind of had a hit.  It’s true that Dynamite was having a huge rookie year in the UK, with two top 10 singles and a third in the top 20 from her debut album A Little Deeper, but she hadn’t even scratched or sniffed or anything else the slightest bit in the Western Hemisphere.  Sure, the album hit the Billboard 200, at the ripe spot of 179.  Basically nobody in America knows who she is now, and nobody ever knew who she was.

1.Fear – The early years of Saturday Night Live are strange, as the institution has changed over the years, and the rules about what kind of musical acts came on probably hadn’t hardened completely even by the 7th season in 1981, the year Fear appeared on Halloween.  Still even by the more lax early season standards, Fear was unique.  A strong statement is to be made when the most famous thing about a band is their appearance on Saturday Night Live, which is pretty much the case for Fear.  They appeared as a personal favor for fan and former cast member John Belushi, who got them the gig in exchange for breaking his arrangement to have them soundtrack his movie Neighbors, after the producers of the movie did not agree to use Fear.  They brought moshers, and caused 20 thousand dollars in damage to the studio.  They didn’t even release an album until half a year after their appearance on the show, though they had been together for five years.  I almost put them lower on the list, but the more I looked, the more I felt I’m not even sure there is a close second to Fear.  There’s no other band like them that’s ever played on SNL.  SNL was extremely eclectic in those early years, and had many acts which were not pop or rock, but nothing else even resembling the hardcore punk of Fear.