17 Best Vintage Musical Performances From Saturday Night Live

17 Vintage Shots of Saturday Night Live Musical Performances
By Brittany Natale
Jun 14, 2023

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The musical guests are just as exciting as the skits

Known as a television staple, Saturday Night Live has been bringing knee-slapping sketch comedy to the television screens since the 1970s. Through the years, we’ve watched stars like Bill Murray, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Kristen Wiig, Will Ferrell, Chevy Chase, and more act out side-splitting segments, relay satirical news, and, occasionally, hilariously break character. However, when it comes to SNL, it’s not just all about the funny skits. Just as important as the comedy numbers are the musical guests, who add an extra air of excitement to the show.

Ahead, we look back at some of the most memorable old-school SNL musical performances. From David Bowie’s energetic set to Paul Simon and George Harrison’s memorable duet, here are some of our favorites.

1. Patti Smith

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In April of 1976, 29-year-old Patti Smith and her band took the SNL stage to perform one of their hits, “Gloria.” A month later, the rock and roller sat with journalist Mick Gold in London to discuss her upcoming album release. Perhaps surprisingly, Smith told Gold to include in his article that no one should buy the album—Smith’s cover of The Who’s “My Generation” was censored in the UK’s version of the track, something Smith did not support.

2. Joe Cocker

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That same year, Joe Cocker shared his set with John Belushi, who stood beside the famous British musician impersonating his signature jerky performance moves and over-the-top facial expressions. Belushi even wore the same outfit—a dark graphic tee and white pants—as Cocker.

3. Paul Simon and George Harrison

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A few months later, two legendary musicians, Paul Simon, and George Harrison, joined forces for a memorable SNL performance. The two dueted on Simon’s “Homeward Bound” and Harrison’s “Here Comes the Sun.” Simon was the show’s host that evening, and Harrison acted as its musical guest after Lorne Michaels failed to get The Beatles to reunite on the popular late-night show for $3,000.

4. Ray Charles

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Ray Charles’ SNL performance in 1976 was also one for the books. The famous musician acted as the show’s host and musical guest and performed “I Can See Clearly Now,” “What’d I Say,” and “Oh What a Beautiful Morning,” as well as a few other pieces. He also took part in a few side-splitting comedy sketches.

5. Willie Nelson and Mary Kay Place

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In the 1970s, country star Willie Nelson and the show’s host, actress Mary Kay Place, sang a duet together.

6. Art Garfunkel

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Art Garfunkel not only performed on the buzzy late-night program but hosted the show as well. Here, he’s pictured performing as the show’s musical guest in the 1970s.

7. Mick Jagger

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The Rolling Stages performed in front of an excited audience during one of the show’s 1978 episodes. That year, the rock band embarked on a 25-show U.S. tour.

Decades before Stranger Things, the iconic Kate Bush performed several songs, including “The Man with the Child in His Eyes” and “Them Heavy People,” on the show. This, surprisingly, was Bush’s only North American television appearance.

9. Bette Midler

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A fresh-faced Bette Midler appeared on SNL in 1979 to perform a cover of Tom Waits’ song, “Martha.” Later that year, she starred in The Rose, a film about a destructive rock star.

10. Blondie

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In 1979, Blondie took the stage to sing their hits “Dreaming” and “The Hardest Part.” The host of this episode was Steve Martin, who released his comedy movie, The Jerk, later that year.

11. Tom Petty

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Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers performed songs, such as “Refugee,” on an episode of SNL in the late 1970s. They were introduced by the episode’s host, Buck Henry, an actor, writer, and director famously known for co-writing The Graduate.

12. David Bowie

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David Bowie wowed SNL audiences in 1979 with his one-of-a-kind performance that included unique costumes, eye-catching puppets, and a dash of special effects. The music legend performed songs like “The Man Who Sold The World,” “TVC15,” and “Boys Keep Swinging,” with special help from German performer Klaus Nomi and artist Joey Arias.

13. Miles Davis

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At the beginning of the 1980s, Miles Davis performed his song “Pierre” on the hit show. Earlier that year, the musician released a studio album through Columbia Records, The Man With The Horn. The record was a mixture of free jazz-rock and what Davis called “bubble gum music.”

14 . Queen

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British rock band, Queen, traveled to New York City to perform their hit song, “Under Pressure,” in front of SNL’s live studio audience. The band had released their tenth studio album, Hot Space, a few months earlier. Soon after, the band would perform its last concert with frontman Freddie Mercury in the United States.

15. Stevie Wonder

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In the early 1980s, Stevie Wonder not only performed on SNL but appeared in some skits, too.

16. John Mellencamp

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John Mellencamp, who back in 1983 went by John Cougar (his label thought “Mellencamp” at the time was too hard to pronounce), took the stage 40 years to perform a few of his hits.

17. Stevie Nicks

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In 1983, Stevie Nicks appeared on the show and sang a few hits of hers, including “Nightbird” and “Stand Back.” That year, the musician went on a six-month-long tour, The Wild Heart Tour, starting in Knoxville, Tennessee, and concluding in Columbia, South Carolina. Joe Walsh, known for being in several bands, including James Gang, Eagles, and Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band, was the supporting act.

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