Tag Archives: Saturday Night LIve

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.

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.

Power Rankings: Saturday Night Live, Season 6 – 1980-81

12 Sep

(Power Rankings sum up:  Each week, we’ll pick a television show and rank the actors/actresses/contestants/correspondents/etc. based on what they’ve done after the series ended (unless we’re ranking a current series, in which case we’ll have to bend the rules).  Preference will be given to more recent work, but if the work was a long time ago, but much more important/relevant, that will be factored in as well)

Not all power rankings can be power-packed, and some of them have to sink pretty low.  Not too many will get lower than this one, I predict and hope though.  We’re going to take a stab at a ranking for the legendarily terrible 1980-81 (season 6) season of Saturday Night Live.  A quick backstory:  Before this season, Lorne Michaels, SNL’s famous producer left, along with the entire cast.  After the season, the entire cast aside from two members were replaced.  Get ready, because this could get brutal.

7.  Ann Risley – it’s never a great sign when your wikipedia article mentions the number of movies you’ve been in the first lines, and it’s in single digits.  Even those movies were all before SNL.  After, Risley’s got a bunch of TV movies from the early ‘90s with names like Telling Secrets, Jericho Fever, and Four Eyes and Six Guns (I really want to know what these are about).

6.  Joe Piscopo – Piscopo was actually kept on SNL and stuck around ’til 1984, becoming one of the most important actors on the show.  Sadly, that was the highlight of his career.  He appeared in the 1986 “Let’s Go Mets Go” music video (one of the many elements which dates the video) and films Johnny Dangerously, Wise Guys and Dead Heat.  He had a voice role in 2000’s Nickelodeon series 100 Deeds for Eddie McDowd.  He also appeared in three episodes of Law & Order.

5.  Gail Matthius – Matthius, who co-hosted Weekend Update, did about nothing live action, but had a bit of success with voice acting.  The most notable of these roles were as Bobby’s mom Martha Generic in cult favorite Bobby’s World and as Shirley the Loon in Tiny Toon Advenures.  She also appeared in several episodes of Animaniacs and Pinky and the Brain.

4.   Denny Dillon – the shortest ever SNL cast member by stature at 4’11”, she had to be one of the shortest by tenure as well.  It took a while, but unlike many of the cast members, Dillon was actually able to find some regular work.  She showed up in a couple of episodes of the TV show Fame, and then in the main cast of one season sitcom Women in Prison, about, well, women in prison.  She got her big role on HBO’s Dream On, one of HBO’s first sitcoms, which employed a gimmick of using old black and white clips to show the main character’s feelings.  Dillon appeared on much of the series as Toby Pedalbee, the main character’s assistant.

3. Charles Rocket – the other half of the Weekend Update team, Rocket was fired immediately after cursing during a sketch on air.  Rocket actually had a far more productive career than I had realized.  He appeared in episodes of Remington Steele, Hardcastle and McCormick, and Miami Vice, and four of Max Headroom and six of Moonlighting.  He appeared in three separate failed series over a decade, Tequila and Bonetti in 1992, The Home Court in 1995, and Normal, Ohio in 2000.  He appeared in Earth Girls Are Easy, as Pat-stalker Kyle in It’s Pat (which is sadly how I best know him) and as villainous Nicholas Andre in Dumb and Dumber.  Later he appeared in 10 episodes of Touched by an Angel, and single episodes of Law & Order: Criminal Intent, The King of Queens, and 3rd Rock From the Sun.  Sadly, he killed himself in 2005.

2. Gilbert Gottfried – probably the second biggest name to come out of this season, Gottfried is best known for his irritating voice, but apparently didn’t use it much in SNL.  Because of this voice, he is probably best known for his vocal roles – chief among them Iago from Aladdin in the movie and many other tv and video game incarnations.  He also lent his voice to Fairly Oddparents and Cyberchoice and as Mr Mxyzptlk in Superman: The Animated Series.  Amongst his most famous non-vocal roles are his role as a sleazy orphanage employee in Problem Child and well, appearing at just about every Comedy Central roast.  He also told one of the most memorable renditions of the title joke in the movie The Aristocrats and was the voice of the Aflac duck until he was fired for insensitive comments about the Japanese tsunami.

1. Eddie Murphy – so this isn’t really fair.  I don’t think there’s been a power rankings yet where the #1 has been so far ahead of the #2.  Piscopo and Murphy were the only two cast members asked back from this miserable season, and of course Murphy became a massive star.  His film roles are too numerous to name, but include bona fide ‘80s classics like Trading Places, 48 Hours, Beverly Hills Cop, and Coming to America.  Murphy fell into a bit of a slump in the early ‘90s, but came back with box office success, if not the critical success he enjoyed earlier with films like The Nutty Professor, Dr. Doolittle, Daddy Day Care (the movie made $164 million – I didn’t believe it either) and voice roles in Shrek and Mulan (we’ll forget about Holy Man and The Adventures of Pluto Nash)   His non-Shrek career hasn’t been so great at least, but he was nominated for an Oscar for his work in Dreamgirls.