The genius of Elvis Costello (and the Beastie Boys)

My friend Clint (read a guest post of his, The ‘Socalled’ Movie movie review (of course, after this blog post!), while you are at it, note his good writing skills, unlike someone else…!) recently suggested Elvis Costello’s second album, This Year’s Model. I have been listening to it a good several times since. He initially told me about the track “Lipstick Vogue,” as the drumming is very fast, and precise at that! Now I quite enjoy the entire album, definitely up there as one of the best albums of all time, and Elvis was only 23 when it was released!

In the course of reading about the album online, I saw how he was invited to play Saturday Night Live to fill in for the Sex Pistols (apparently a work permit issue) at the last minute. He was scheduled to play “Less Than Zero” from his first album, My Aim is True. Lorne Michaels did not want Elvis Costello and the Attractions to play their newer song “Radio Radio” due to the lyrical content (from the info on linked Vimeo page). Wikipedia says Columbia Records wanted Elvis to play an already established song, being “Less Than Zero” (keep reading to know why Elvis Costello did not want to play it).

About “Radio Radio” From Wikipedia:

The song is a protest song concerning the commercialization of radio broadcasts and the power wielded by the recording studios and radio companies who decided what songs were heard over the airwaves, especially the more politically explicit side of punk rock.

So, cut to their performance. Elvis and the Attractions played a few bars of “Less Than Zero,” before Elvis abruptly stopped the performance, saying, “Stop! Stop!,” then said to the audience, “I’m sorry, ladies and gentlemen, there’s no reason to do this song here.”” Elvis writes in the liner notes from the 2002 Rhino edition with a bonus disc, “I honestly believed that the words of “Less Than Zero” would be utterly obscure to American viewers.” “Less Than Zero” being about British fascist politician Oswald Mosley.

Later in the same liner notes he writes:

I believed that we were just acting in the spirit of the third word of the show’s title, but it was quickly apparent that the producer did not agree. He stood behind the camera making obscene and threatening gestures in my direction.

And continues: “When the number was over, we were chased out of the building and told that we would “never work on American television again.” Indeed, we did not make another U.S. television appearance until 1980.” He was then not allowed again on the show till 1989.

Of course he was back again for the show’s 25th anniversary to re-create the moment, but with the Beastie Boys as his backing band!

The Beastie Boys, introduced by Will Ferrell and Ana Gasteyer’s characters the soft-spoken music school teachers, then started playing “Sabotage” until interrupted by Elvis in the similar manner he interrupted his own song “Less Than Zero,” to go into “Radio Radio” once again, all those years later! Pay attention to see Ad-Rock put down his guitar and rush over to play keys for “Radio Radio!”

Unfortunately the clip with Elvis Costello and the Beastie Boys clip cuts off just before the end, but nowadays it is hard to see SNL clips online, especially music guests, so better than nothing certainly applies!

Vimeo video was deleted (which is too bad, it had some useful information), so here it is on (link added December 3, 2012)

Alternate link for Elvis Costello and the Beastie Boys on SNL, that does not cut off (link added December 3, 2012)


2 thoughts on “The genius of Elvis Costello (and the Beastie Boys)

  1. Radio, Radio bristles with more prickly attitude than a mohawk with half a can of spray varnish on it! Great to see a contemporary band like The Beastie Boys giving credit where credit is due. As an unrepentant Elvis Costello fan I love this sh_t! Thanks to TMM for putting this out there.

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