Dec 17, 1977: Elvis Costello Changes Songs on SNL

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Elvis Costello (forefront) and Steve Nieve on SNL, December 17, 1977

From its first airing on October 11, 1975, Saturday Night Live aka SNL was a hit. Ergo any musical artist who performed on the show in its early years automatically earned a certain substantial degree of pop-cultural cachet. Early in season three, the Sex Pistols were booking their first (and only) U.S tour and slated to play the show on December 17, 1977. Visa issues postponed the band’s arrival.

A replacement act was sought. The Ramones were asked to play the show but turned SNL down. “We don’t substitute for anybody,” Joey reportedly told them on saying no, or so he claimed in his autobiography. Okay…. How about Elvis Costello & The Attractions? Booked.

The band was scheduled to perform “Less Than Zero,” a number that appeared on My Aim Is True, Costello’s debut album. They launched into its intro, but then the singer waved his hands and told the band to stop. “I’m sorry, ladies and gentlemen, there’s no reason to do this song here,” Costello said and launched into his anti-corporate radio screed “Radio Radio” from his follow-up album, This Year’s Model.

The word at the time is that SNL producer Lorne Michaels was furious at the song switch and banned Costello from ever appearing on the show again for life. (The ban was later lifted and the song became a bit of a running joke on the show.)

These were the days of Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Jane Curtin, Garrett Morris, Bill Murray, Laraine Newman and Gilda Radner. Anyone remember Miskel Spillman? She was the 80-year-old German immigrant and grandmother who won the contest to host the episode.

Related: The inside story of Columbia Records’ U.S. launch of Costello’s My Aim is True

When Costello tours, tickets are available here and here.

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