SNL’s Music Moments

The great thing about music is that it penetrates every part of our lives. Whether you listen to music on a road trip with friends, fall in love with the soundtrack to a movie, or listen the performance of a breakthrough artist on a TV show. I thought about this after watching the Saturday Night Live 40 year anniversary show. From the very beginning, the team has included musical performances as a part of the show, speaking to how important music is in the world of entertainment. Village Voice recently ranked Saturday night Live’s Forty Essential Music Moments, and I think it’s worth a read. It’s probably not the ranking that matters as much, but rather the message that rings through in this incredible lineup of these artists. Below are my favorites from the list: Mariah Carey, Paul Simon and George Harrison, Dr. Dre, and Simon & Garfunkel. What are yours?

Mariah Carey (1990)

Pick any live cut of Mariah Carey’s from the first decade of her career and you’re guaranteed to experience some spine-tingling chills courtesy of that zillion-octave range of hers — and the first single off her first album is special for this very reason. It’s not likeSaturday Night Live was pushing you to fall in love with Carey merely months after her big debut. They just knew that “Emotions” and “Fantasy” and a barrage of angelic ballads and pop purrs were well on their way, so they figured they’d introduce you with a killer live cut first.

Paul Simon and George Harrison (1976)

On November 20, 1976, Paul Simon made his second of thirteen SNL appearances, serving as both host and musical guest. He cold-opened the show by singing “Still Crazy After All These Years” in a turkey costume (it was the Thanksgiving episode), and near the end of the show, he played the Simon & Garfunkel standard “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.” But it was an odd, but lovely, two-song interlude with George Harrison that would turn this episode into an instant (and lasting) classic. The two performed Harrison’s “Here Comes the Sun” and Simon’s “Homeward Bound,” blending their disparate guitar styles into a seamless backdrop for their beautiful harmonies. It seemed as though the two had been performing together for years, but, in actuality, they had never once been onstage together. Simon would go on to cover “Here Comes the Sun” many times in the subsequent decades, but he and Harrison would not perform as a duo again. There are 300 seats in NBC’s Studio 8H, and no fewer than 15,768,943 people have said that they were there for this taping. But in truth, no one but the crew saw this performance live. It was pre-taped in an empty studio. (Keep that bullet in the chamber in case you ever meet a 63-year-old who likes to lie about performances he’s seen in person.)

Dr. Dre featuring Snoop Dogg and Eminem (1999)

Compton (and Detroit)’s finest exploded onto the SNL stage to celebrate a happy occasion: Dr. Dre’s eagerly anticipated return to the mic. Three weeks before the release of 2001, his first album since The Chronic seven years prior, Dre tapped Snoop Dogg and then-rising rapper and protégé Eminem to perform the two singles most perfectly suited for that particular promo cycle: “Still D.R.E.” and “Forgot About Dre.” Marshall Mathers is baby-faced here, Snoop’s more alert in this particular clip than we’ve seen him in years, and Dre slices through his verses with surgical precision, making this one of the most incendiary rap performances the show’s ever booked.

Simon & Garfunkel (1975)

Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel would go on to reunite multiple times in the years following their 1970 schism, but the first major event that played host to a cordial and comfortable meeting of the former folk partners happened in Studio 8H. Simon was the host on the second episode of Saturday Night Live‘s first season, and Garfunkel walked to the stage buoyed by the resounding applause of a rapt and lucky audience. “So! Artie! You’ve come crawling back!” was met with genuine laughter — even from Garfunkel, despite the strained ties between the two — and they’d go on to play stunning renditions of “The Boxer,” “Scarborough Fair,” and “My Little Town.”

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