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‘Saturday Night Live’ Rocks: 25 Greatest Musical Performances

From Nirvana to Queen, we rank the 25 greatest musical performances in the history of ‘Saturday Night Live’

The Tonight Show would have Crosby, Stills and Nash in 1987. They would wait until there was no danger at all,” Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels told Spin in 1993, “whereas we were more in touch with music, I think, because we were just putting on the music we were listening to. We were fans.” For its first decade, SNL had some of the most adventurous music booking on television – giving a national stage for punk, hip-hop and Devo. What followed was three more decades of providing one of the biggest possible platforms for the biggest possible stars. 

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Fear: October 31st, 1981

Saturday Night Live has frequently brought new underground sounds to a wider audience.
But no one was prepared for the mayhem that erupted when John Belushi and
writer Michael O’Donoghue invited L.A. hardcore punks Fear to perform. They became pied pipers to what a New York Post headline dubbed a “riot.” Led by Lee Ving’s bluesy vocal chops and snarky asides (“It’s great to be here in New Jersey”), Fear blurred through a convulsive performance of songs like “Beef Bologna” as dozens of authentic punks (including members of Minor Threat, Cro-Mags and Negative Approach) slam-danced, swarmed, stage-dove and screamed things like “New York sucks!” and “Negative Approach is gonna fuck you up!”

“The real audience at Saturday Night Live was scared to death,” frontman Lee Ving told Rolling Stone. “They didn’t know what was happening with all the mayhem. The camera people were trying to protect their cameras. Dick Ebersol, who was stage manager, got hit in the chest with a pumpkin.”

Ebersol darted into the control room and promptly had director Dave Wilson re-run the Eddie Murphy prison-poetry short film Prose and Cons right as the band was launching into their third song un under five minutes, “Let’s Have a War.” The bloody loogie crossed the boundaries of “edgy” late night programming, introduced living rooms to punk’s unique style of dancing and reveled in the anarchy of live television.

“As a result,” said Ving, “I have become one of the esteemed members of the permanently banned.”

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