Sunday, August 8, 2010

Why Elvis Costello Owns

When a talent like Elvis Costello can just jump into a band as radically different as the Beastie Boys and pull off a classic performance of "Radio, Radio", you know you are viewing four extremely skilled musicians.

For those that don't know the history, Elvis Costello and the Attractions were invited to perform on Saturday Night Live in 1977 while they were touring North America. The scheduled performers, the Sex Pistols, had trouble getting visas in time due to the various criminal records among the members and couldn't make the commitment.

Costello's debut album, My Aim is True, wasn't yet available in North America, and his record label wanted him to perform his song "Less than Zero." "Less than Zero" is essentially a response to British politician Oswald Mosley. So when the time came to perform, Costello and the Attractions play a few bars, then Costello interrupts his own performance and says "I'm sorry, ladies and gentlemen, there's no reason to do this song here." He then launches into "Radio, Radio." "Radio, Radio" is basically a rant on record companies, radio stations, and their poor treatment of musicians. The powers that be weren't pleased about this, and Costello was banned from SNL for over two decades.

This performance was included on an SNL DVD during the show's 25th anniversary. In that same year, Costello literally sabotages the Beastie Boys' performance of their own song, "Sabotage", and launches into "Radio, Radio." That is the performance you see in the above clip.

"Weird Al" Yankovic also will perform a straight cover of "Radio, Radio" during concerts if something goes wrong during a show. If a video clip doesn't run or he forgets the lyrics or some other mishap, he'll say "I'm sorry ladies and gentleman, but there's no need to perform this song" and launches into a cover of "Radio, Radio." Several clips can be found on YouTube.

I had the pleasure of seeing Elvis Costello open for Bob Dylan during IU-Bloomington's homecoming celebration a couple of years back. Costello performed by himself, and honestly stole the show. His songs are captivating, and unlike many acts, his b-sides are just as good as his singles. Unfortunately, Dylan was having an off-night, and my friend and I left before he finished his performance.

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