Stepping in for The Sex Pistols for the December 17, 1977 episode of Saturday Night Live's Christmas episode, Elvis Costello stepped in last minute and filled in. Apparently, Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren screwed up the visa applications. If you look at the video close enough, you can see Costello’s drummer, Pete Thomas, with a t-shirt that reads, “Thanks, Malc.”
SNL producers also reportedly asked The Ramones to fill in, but theyrefused the offer. "We don’t substitute for anybody,” Joey Ramone wrote in this autobiography, Commando, which was the correct response.
Costello was touring and in the area, so his label accepted and talked him into playing his recent UK single, "Less Than Zero" even though knew that American's could never connect with a song about England's Oswald Mosley, the founding leader of the British Union of Fascists.
As Costello and the Attractions were a few seconds into the down tempo "Less Thank Zero," he stopped his band, told the audience “I’m sorry, ladies and gentlemen, but there’s no reason to do this song here.” Then told his band, "Radio Radio... 1, 2, 3, 4..." then launched into "Radio, Radio," a song that takes a jab at corporate-controlled broadcasting -- the perfect response to what CBS was trying to do to him.
My only question is, how far in advance did Costello come up with this plan? Was it spur of the moment, or was he cooking something up early on? He band obviously looked bewildered. Either way, it got him banned from SNL for 12 years.
In an interview with Details, Costello admits it wasn't an original idea, "They’ve run that [SNL/ "Radio Radio"] clip forever and every time anybody does anything outrageous on that show, I get name-checked. But I was copying Jimi Hendrix. Hendrix had done the same thing on "The Lulu Show," when he went into an unscheduled number. I remember seeing it and going, 'What the hell’s going on?'"
It wasn't until 1999 SNL's 25th anniversary show where Costello referenced the moment when he rushed onto the set as the Beastie Boys were a couple bars into "Sabotage," pushed Ad Rock off the mic, and told the audience "there was no reason for this song." They then crushed a raw version of "Radio Radio" together.