Saturday Night Live: The best, worst and most controversial performances
Five Best Saturday Night Live Performances
5. Beck (October 28, 2006)
"Clap Hands" isn't Beck's best-known song, but that didn't stop the enigmatic artist from playing it during his visit to SNL in 2006. Maybe it was because it was just before Halloween, or maybe it's just how Beck rolls, but when the song kicks off, the one thing no one expected was a percussion section played entirely on a dining room table. Glasses, plates and the table itself are jammed on by four guys while Beck, holding a small guitar and dressed in a tux and red bowtie, stands alone behind the mike. The percussion breakdown about a minute and a half into the song is crazy, as is the moment when the screen randomly flashes to puppet versions of the players. This might not be Beck's greatest song, but it definitely showcases his flair for the peculiar. There's not another performance like this.
4. Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention (December 11, 1976)
When Zappa and the Mothers of Invention appeared on Saturday Night Live, it was assured that the band would go out of their way to raise the bar for weirdness. They didn't disappoint. Besides being one of the larger bands to ever appear on the stage (there's gotta be fifteen people playing instruments), they super-imposed Zappa's face over the kick drum mid-song, got the show's announcer to sing part of a verse, and then used a blackboard to teach the crowd the words. There's a TV that oozes slime and most of the performance is seen via a small screen. This has to be one of the most bizarre and incredible performances ever. Don't cut it off too soon or you'll miss the killer guitar solo.
3. Patti Smith (April 17, 1976)
The early days of SNL musical performances are totally badass. The show was a huge deal, but it didn't yet have the budget to match, so the music side of the show appears stripped down and intimate in comparison to later iterations of the set. That intimacy is amplified by the greatness of the talent appearing there. A perfect example of this is when the Patti Smith Group performs "Gloria." There's a plodding piano line chased by her disdainful opening line "Jesus died for somebody's sins, but not mine..." before the song builds into a foot-stomping rendition of the classic tune. The camera work is minimal and fairly straightforward -- unlike the fast cuts and dolly action that adds "energy" to the performances now.
2. The Blues Brothers (November 18, 1978)
This is a great performance on so many levels. It's still two years before the act gets translated onto the big screen, but Akroyd and Belushi had just released their debut record together, Briefcase Full of Blues. Akroyd actually had some musical chops from playing with a blues outfit in Canada before crossing over to American TV, but Belushi was a more recent convert. It's an act that was born from an SNL sketch returning to the show as a real band. It's life imitating art. Disco, punk and the earliest incarnations of hip-hop are out in the streets of New York, but here are Akroyd and Belushi, backed by a group of veteran players from Memphis and Muscle Shoals, deliver a masterful take on rhythm and blues. Their energy is just incredible.
1. Nirvana (January 11, 1992)
This was the band's first SNL performance, and Nevermind had just kicked Michael Jackson off the top of the Billboard charts. It was the debut of grunge on the show, and it lived up to all expectations. The band thrashed on versions of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and "Territorial Pissings," eventually smashing a bunch of equipment on stage. Speakers, meet Kurt's guitar. America, meet Nirvana.
Page down to see SNL's Top Five Most Notorious Performances.