Saturday Night Live: The best, worst and most controversial performances
Five Most Controversial Saturday Night Live Performances
5. Replacements (January 18, 1986)
The Replacements were notorious for not giving a shit during shows. They could either blow you away with the performance of a lifetime, or be so wasted they'd vomit and pass out halfway through the first song. Hitting several bottles of champagne before their SNL debut, the band gave each cameraman the chore of avoiding them mouthing obscenities into the lenses, while Bob Stinson looked snappy in Paul Westerberg's wife's onesie. After a bumbling yet stunning performance of "Bastards of Young" -- where Westerberg yelled "fuck" into the microphone and Stinson stumbled and dropped his guitar -- the band swapped clothes with one another and returned, barely sober enough to get through "Kiss Me on the Bus." Afterward the band joined the ranks of those banned from ever playing SNL again.
4. Elvis Costello (December 17, 1977)
Fortune found Costello in 1977 when the Sex Pistols, originally slated to perform SNL that night, had trouble with their visas due to criminal incidents in England earlier that year. The Buddy Holly sycophant happened to be touring Canada at the time and was happy to fill in. At the request of NBC, he began his performance with his debut hit, "Less Than Zero," though Costello famously stopped his band a few bars in saying "I'm sorry, Ladies and Gentleman, there's no reason to play this song," then launched into "Radio Radio" a song about commercialism controlling pop music. A thinly veiled reference to the Sex Pistols anti-monarchy songs being banned from airwaves can be heard in the lyric "they don't give you any choice/Cause they think that it's treason." Twenty two years later, halfway through a Beastie Boys performance of the song "Sabotage," Costello interrupted the Jewish rappers by saying "I'm sorry Ladies and Gentleman, there's no reason to play this song," and the four of them then launched into "Radio Radio."
3. Rage Against the Machine (April 13, 1996)
When the geniuses at SNL paired Billionaire Republican Presidential candidate Steve Forbes with anti-corporate rap-core band Rage Against the Machine, a predictable incident forced the set list, traditionally comprising two songs, to be cut in half. SNL producers took issue with the band's upside down American flags, a common stage prop for any RATM show, during rehearsals earlier in the week. The band agreed to take them down, then twenty seconds before show time on Saturday night, roadies unrolled flags over the band's amps and a minor panic ensued. The SNL crew was victorious in removing the flags, the band performed, and then was rushed out of the building by security. The second performance of "Bullet in the Head," was abandoned, as was the typical hugs and waves goodbye at the end of the show -- which is too bad: it isn't every day you get to see the world's most recognizable billionaire hugging the world's most recognizable anti-capitalist rock band, all broadcast on a network owned by General Electric.
2. Fear (October 31, 1981)
After seeing the band on the iconic documentary, The Decline of Western Civilization, John Belushi successfully lobbied to get Fear a guest spot on the 1981 Halloween episode of his former show. Ratings were poor that year and producers didn't know what to expect from this obscure L.A. punk band. After corralling the legion of chain and razor wearing punk fans in an upstairs room for the first performance (where they smashed sinks and tore wires out of a piano), Belushi spoke on their behalf once again, saying if they were allowed to dance before the band, he would join them. The mess of punks slam danced, invaded the stage and crowd surfed before the cameras, eventually devolving into a riot of camera smashing and pumpkin throwing. The producers cut to commercial, but the band played on, with Minor Threat's Ian Mackay hopping on stage to shout "fuck New York!" into the microphone. When security couldn't contain the crowd, the NYPD was called in, who chased the punks into the streets, where they easily blended into the costumed Halloween crowd. In the end, damages to the studio totaled $20,000.
1. Sinead O'Connor: October 3, 1992
In 1992, long before Bill Maher was casually snapping jokes about priests molesting Justin Bieber, Sinead O' Connor was martyring herself before a live audience by claming Pope John Paul II was responsible for child abuse. Performing an a cappella version of Bob Marley's "War," O' Connor finished the song by holding up a picture of his holiness, shouting the words "fight the real enemy!" while tearing up the image and hurling it toward the camera. No applause followed. Days later protesters steamrolled copies of her CD's in New York, and when Sinead attempted a performance at Bob Dylan's 30th Anniversary Concert in Madison Square Garden, she was booed off the stage. In 2002 the Irish singer was asked if she regretted sacrificing her career as a pop sensation for the incident, she responded "hell no!" Years later, after cases of priests molesting children had swept the globe like wildfire, documents surfaced that proved that the deceased Pope John Paul II had, in fact, been working behind the scenes to protect the pedophiles.
Page down for SNL's Five Worst Performances.