On December 17, 1977, Elvis Costello and the Attractions performed as a last-minute replacement on Saturday Night Live for the Sex Pistols, who were unable to obtain passports due to criminal histories. Legend has it Costello wanted to play “Radio Radio” on SNL. Columbia Records, Costello’s US label, on the other hand was interested in having an already-established song performed in order to promote the band prior to the American release of My Aim Is True and This Year’s Model. A slightly different version says NBC and SNL producer Lorne Michaels didn’t want Costello to perform the single “Radio Radio” because the song protests the commercialization of radio broadcasts and the power wielded by the media in selecting who is heard on the airwaves, especially within the politically explicit side of punk rock. Regardless of what story you buy into one thing is for certain, Costello was not supposed to play “Radio Radio” that night.
In true punk rock fashion the band defied orders. Costello began his SNL performance with the less-controversial song “Less than Zero.” But after a few bars, he turned to the Attractions waving his hand and yelling “Stop! Stop!,” then said to the audience, “I’m sorry, ladies and gentlemen, there’s no reason to do this song here,” possibly referring to the fact “Less than Zero” was written as a reply to British fascist politician of the day Oswald Mosley. The SNL music director at the time Howard Shore attributed it to Costello purposely bucking the pressure he felt from Columbia Records.
Either way, Lorne Micheals was furious. The second Costello changed songs Micheals allegedly began flipping Costello the bird and continued to do so until the end of the performance. Whether Micheal’s reaction had more to do with the SNL’s taping being thrown off schedule or Costello’s song choice remains to be seen. However, Costello would not appear again on Saturday Night Live until 1989. On SNL’s 25th anniversary show in 1999, Costello interrupted the Beastie Boys’ performance of “Sabotage” in a similar but joking fashion, and together they broke into a version of “Radio Radio.”