On December 17, 1977, Elvis Costello & the Attractions appeared on Saturday Night Live
as last minute replacements for the Sex Pistols, whose various criminal records had made getting visas in time difficult.
At the urging of his record label, Costello was slated to play his current UK single "Less Than Zero
," a song about a British politician named Oswald Mosley. Costello launched into a few bars of "Less Than Zero," but then turned to his backing band and told them to stop. He then apologized to the live audience, saying, "I'm sorry, ladies and gentlemen, but there's no reason to do this song here," and broke into a full rendition of "Radio Radio," which had not yet been released.
Costello was banned from Saturday Night Live
. It is often reported that the corporate brass at NBC (which owned radio properties) objected to the lyrics of "Radio Radio," but it was really because Costello went off-script, and such antics throw the show into turmoil since it's a live production.
Costello's ban was lifted in 1989 when he returned as musical guest, performing "Veronica" and "Let Him Dangle" without incident. His 1977 act of defiance became part of Saturday Night Live
lore, and is often recounted in retrospectives of the show's history. On Saturday Night Live's
25th anniversary show in 1999, Costello parodied the incident when he interrupted the Beastie Boys while they were playing (appropriately) "Sabotage
," leading them in a full version of "Radio Radio."
Costello later claimed that his act of subversion was inspired by Jimi Hendrix, who in 1969 stopped a performance of "Hey Joe
" on the show Happening for Lulu
and launched into the Cream song "Sunshine Of Your Love
," earning him a ban from the BBC.