As it turns out, the first time I ever heard Elvis Costello was exactly 38 years ago today.
By late 1977, Saturday Night Live was pretty much my favorite thing in the universe, so damn straight I was watching live (or “live” since I’m on the best coast) when Elvis Costello did his infamous Lorne Michaels-pissing-off stunt of stopping “Less That Zero” and launching into “Radio, Radio.”
I’d read about Elvis, whose debut album My Aim Is True had just come out in the U.S., but of course in 1977, I didn’t believe that anybody who looked like he did in his pictures could actually, you know, rock.
Rock stars looked like Steven Tyler, not some dude who wore big glasses.
His first song, “Watching The Detectives,” was a little, er, weird: exactly the type of hard to comprehend song a guy who looked like that would play.
But I remember being instantly mesmerized by “Radio Radio,” which, of course opened with Steve Nieve’s big organ riff, instantly activating my Deep Purple pleasure circuits, and I also loved the repetition at the end of the song.
It’s hard not to hear “Radio Radio” under any circumstance and not chant the title to yourself for the rest of the day.
A couple of years later, when I bought This Year’s Model, I realized that the words were equally great, especially the eviscerating last verse:
Some of my friends sit around every evening
And they worry about the times ahead
But everybody else is overwhelmed by indifference
And the promise of an early bed
You either shut up or get cut up
They don’t wanna hear about it
It’s only inches on the reel-to-reel
And the radio is in the hands of such a lot of fools
Tryin’ to anesthetize the way that you feel
Of course, the second half of that verse features The Attractions backing down with only Pete Thomas stop-time drums helping drive the point home: radio sucks. Which I knew and ignored because all I wanted to do was be a guy on the radio playing music for people.
Here’s a question: has any other song ever climaxed with the word “anesthetize?” Or even have it in a lyric?
Elvis his the word hard, like he’s damn proud of sneaking it into a song. Which he should be: I can’t even pronounce “anesthetize,” much less sing it.
Meanwhile, Elvis was banned from SNL until he became enough of an institution that Lorne — who I’m sure eventually realized how instantly cool that moment was — lifted the ban, and as the years went on, it naturally became a thing to parody. As always, first they try to lynch you, and then they put you into a museum.
Official Video for “Radio Radio”
“Radio Radio” performed live on SNL in 1977 (audio only) (but still)
Elvis Costello & The Beastie Boys do “Radio Radio” on SNL’s 25 Anniversary Show