The 35 Greatest Rock and Roll TV Moments Before the ’90s
A version of this article originally appeared in the August 1990 issue of SPIN.
2. April 3, 1956:
Elvis Presley appeared on The Milton Berle Show. Filmed aboard the USS Hancock, with an audience of thousands of excited sailors, Elvis performed “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Blue Suede Shoes.” Afterwards, Berle, dressed as a hillbilly, claimed to be Elvis’s twin brother, while Presley looked on, unamused. Unbeknownst to Berle, Elvis’s real twin brother died at birth.
3. September 9, 1956:
Elvis Presley was a guest on The Ed Sullivan Show. This was the famous show where the Pres’ was filmed from the waist up only.
4. August 11, 1957:
Jerry Lee Lewis performed on The Steve Allen Show. The Killer’s first TV appearance was an unbridled sensation. His performance of “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” left Allen speechless—a first.
5. February 9, 1964:
The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show. As Ed would say, it was a “rilly big show.”
6. June 3, 1964:
The Rolling Stones took over Hollywood Palace. Their first American TV appearance. After they played “I Just Wanna Make Love to You,” a mike picked up the show’s host, Dean Martin, proclaiming, “Frauds—they’re singing frauds.”
7. October 14, 1964:
Although The T.A.M.I. Show’s headliners were the Beach Boys and the Rolling Stones, this show is best remembered as the day when white-teen America discovered, then conveniently forgot, show-stealer James Brown.
8. March 5, 1965:
Howlin’ Wolf on Shindig. The Rolling Stones agreed to be on this show only if they could bring a guest along. While Wolf howled “All Those Years Ago,” the Stones sat in a circle around their idol, with Brian Jones at his feet. One of the backing Shindogs on this show was guitarist James Burton.
9. January 13, 1967:
The Rolling Stones were guests on The Ed Sullivan Show. Censors wouldn’t let the Stones sing their current hit, “Let’s Spend the Night Together,” so the bad boys, those English rebels, changed the words to “let’s spend some time together.”
10. Summer 1967:
Chad and Jeremy performed on The Dick Van Dyke Show. Mobbed at their hotel, the U.K. hitmakers (“Lady Godiva”) hid out at Rob and Laura’s during an episode entitled “The Redcoats Are Coming.”
11. September 27, 1967:
The Who appeared on The Smothers Brothers Show. A very drunk Keith Moon put too much gunpowder in his drum kit, so during the customary instrument-trashing after “My Generation” the explosion was so great that Pete Townshend was thrown 10 feet. Townshend blamed the incident for much of his hearing loss.
12. October 31, 1967:
13th Floor Elevators on American Bandstand. After they lip-synced “You’re Gonna Miss Me,” Dick Clark asked the band if they were ahead of their time. “We’re all heads,” guitarist Dave Hall replied.
13. April 28, 1968:
The Seeds on The Mothers-In-Law. Kaye Ballard and Eve Arden decided to manage a rock’n’roll band and it turned out to be Sky Saxon and company. Saxon looked completely out of it, especially when Kaye and Eve joined the Seeds oom-pah-pah version of “Pushin’ Too Hard.”
14. May 5, 1968:
James Brown on Boston TV. Fearing any large gatherings, authorities tried to cancel a James Brown concert on the day Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated. Brown convinced them that there’d be an even bigger riot if the show didn’t go on, so they let it proceed and even broadcast it on local network television to help keep crowds inside. It worked, as Boston suffered much less damage that night than any other major U.S. city.
15. April, 14 1969:
33 1/3 Monkees Per Revolution took the airwaves. Fresh from finishing Head, the Monkees set out, and succeeded, in producing the most psychedelic TV special of all time. Somehow, in the midst of this acid-drenched indulgence, the guests included Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard.
16. May 23, 1969:
The Doors played “Critique,” on a PBS special. It was the first time the word “motherfucker” was heard on TV.
17. December 17, 1969:
Tiny Tim married Miss Vicky on The Tonight Show. Tabloid TV was born!
18. January 1972:
John and Yoko guest-hosted The Mike Douglas Show for a week. The highlight occurred the first day when Lennon met Chuck Berry for the very first time and jammed with him on “Memphis.” Yoko sang background and when she went into one of her wails, Berry noticeably grimaced.
19. March 1972:
The Legendary Stardust Cowboy appeared on Laugh-In. The masses got a faceful of the three and a half minutes of homeless ranting that is “Paralyzed” and somewhere Dr. Demento was watching.
20. January 1974:
The New York Dolls entertained on Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert. The New York media darlings tried to make a national splash and Kirshner of the Howard Cosell head-warmer, gave them six songs to do it. After doing “Showdown,” “Stranded in the Jungle,” “Trash,” “Chatterbox,” “Don’t You Start Me Talkin'” and “Personality Crisis,” the Dolls sold another couple hundred records.
21. May 1976:
On The Beach Boys Special, produced by Lorne Michaels and starring much of the Saturday Night Live cast, Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi dressed up as cops, invaded the bedroom of a sleeping Brian Wilson and forced him to go surfing in his bathrobe. As we were to find out later, Wilson’s completely befuddled look was not just great acting. Dr. Landy, where were you when he needed you?
22. April 15, 1977:
Iggy Pop and David Bowie were guests on Dinah’s Place. Promoting Lust for Life, Iggy and David, along with Tony Sales on bass and Hunt Sales on drums, performed “Sister Midnight” and “Fun Time.” During the interview segment, Bowie was shown in tears from trying to stifle his laughter when Dina Shore asked Iggy what it felt like to crawl around on broken glass.
23. Summer 1977:
The Dickies appeared on CPO Sharkey. The L.A. speed chipmunks played “Hideous,” much to Don Rickles’ consternation.
24. December 24, 1977:
David Bowie appeared on the Bing Crosby Christmas Special. Filmed on September 4, 1977, this show featured Bowie singing “Heroes” and then joining Crosby on a duet of “Little Drummer Boy.” By the time the show aired, Crosby had died of a heart attack on the ninth hole of Pebble Beach.
25. November 1978:
Elvis Costello ruled on Saturday Night Live. As a last-minute replacement for the Sex Pistols, Costello inherited the responsibility to shake things up, so he stopped the scheduled tune, “Less Than Zero,” after a few seconds and led the band into the brand-new “Radio Radio.” A few months later, on Tomorrow With Tom Snyder, Costello said he got the idea from seeing Jimi Hendrix change songs once on British TV.
26. Summer 1978:
Patti Smith was a guest on Kids Are People, Too. Smith astonished another guest, songwriter Joe Brooks, by delivering an impassioned version of his hit “You Light Up My Life.”
27. August 1979:
The Cars hosted Midnight Special. Remember, they were “new wave” then, so their hand-picked guests included Iggy Pop, Suicide, the Records, Lena Lovich and M. This, at a time and place usually reserved for the likes of Helen Reddy, Leo Sayer, Ann Murray and the Bellamy Bothers.
28. May 17, 1980:
Public Image on American Bandstand. Not even attempting to lip-sync “Poptones” and “Careering,” Lydon sat on the edge of the stage, made faces at the dancers and pulled some of the kids onstage. This appearance wasn’t nearly as obnoxious as…
29. June 25, 1980:
John Lydon and Keith Levene guested on Tomorrow With Tom Snyder. They refused to answer any of Snyder’s questions with anything besides a snicker. Lydon told Snyder, “Humor us.” “Not for long,” answered the host, and indeed after the commercial break Lydon and Levene were gone.
31. June 14, 1980:
The Clash performed on Fridays. No controversy here, just a kick-out-the-jams assault, which included “Clampdown,” “Train In Vain,” “Guns of Brixton” and “London Calling.” This was the dusking of the Age of Aquarius.
32. January 29, 1983:
Prince appeared on Solid Gold. Prince brought his entire stage set-up, complete with lights, ramps, and backdrop, not to mention eight backing musicians and then lip-synced “1999.” Besides an earlier unimpressive appearance on Saturday Night Live, this was one of the few times Prince has ever been on network TV.
33. January 18, 1986:
The Replacements were guests on Saturday Night Live. Besides solid performances of “Kiss Me On the Bus” and “Bastards of Young,” this show was memorable because the members of the band traded clothing with each other between songs.
34. February 28, 1984:
The Eurythmics appeared on the Grammys. Annie Lennox sang “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” wearing a fake mustache and sideburns. Ninety percent of Middle America didn’t catch on.
35. April 16, 1990:
Iggy Pop did a lounge version of “Search and Destroy” on John Sayles’ TV series, Shannon’s Deal, proving that television has come a long way.