Rock ’n’ roll is built on uncontrolled rebellion, passion, and spontaneity. So in other words, it’s not really made for the confines of live television. And that’s what makes it so great when bands perform live on the small screen…you never know WHAT kind of madness might happen! Check out the 10 most outrageous live TV performances in rock history.
1. The Who’s Explosive Turn On The Smothers Brother’s Comedy Hour (1967)
Drummer Keith Moon wanted to make sure that his band ended their American network TV debut with a bang. So he bribed a CBS stagehand to stuff his drum kit with three-times the usual amount of gunpowder for an extra-special finale to their (rather stiffly) lipsync’d version of “My Generation.” The blast was so great that it rendered the television cameras temporarily blind, and caused guest Bette Davis to faint backstage! Flying shrapnel from the symbols sliced Moon’s arm, and guitarist Pete Townshend’s hair was badly singed. In later years Townshend blamed the explosion on his severe hearing loss. Even if it’s not true, it definitely deserves to be!
2. The Doors Go “Higher” On The Ed Sullivan Show (1967)
When Ed Sullivan’s producers booked the band to play their summer number one “Light My Fire” on the iconic Sunday night program, they forbade lead singer Jim Morrison from uttering the line “Girl, we couldn’t get much higher,” because of its drug connotations. But as the live TV’s rolled, Jim sang the song as written (causing a priceless smirk from guitarist Robby Krieger). Sure it’s not very outrageous now, but it was shocking enough for Ed to ban them from his show for the rest of their all-too-short career. When an infuriated producer informed the Doors that they’d been blacklisted, Jim allegedly spat back, “”Hey, man. We just did the Sullivan show!”
3. Iggy Pop Goes Rogue Down Under (1979)
In the words of Rick James, cocaine is a hell of a drug! That’s the only explanation we can think of for Iggy’s whacked out and ultra-jittery behavior on an Australian music show called Countdown. He greets the interviewer by yelling “Hiya, Darkface!” at him, before yelping “G’day! G’day!” over and over again. The performance is even crazier, featuring a seriously hopped up Iggy jack-knifing around the stage while (barely) lip-syncing to “I’m Bored.” You definitely won’t be bored watching this.
4. Johnny Rotten Destroys American Bandstand (1980)
He’d already shocked British television viewers by dropping F-bombs on a morning chat show alongside his mates in the Sex Pistols back in 1976, but Johnny Rotten (A.K.A. John Lydon) once again struck fear into the hearts of live TV producers during a visit to Dick Clark’s American Bandstand. The punk pioneer refused to mime during an appearance with his new band Public Image LTD, and instead he sat on the floor of the studio, threw himself into the assembled audience, and stuck his nose into the camera. At his instigation crowd flooded the stage, and the recording soon descended into chaos. For all of the madness, Dick handled it like a champ, and later voted it his 8th favorite appearance in the show’s history.
5. Fear Tears It Up on Saturday Night Live…Literally (1981)
SNL has had more than its fair share of live music mayhem over the years. There was Elvis Costello’s song-switching stunt in 1977, the Replacements ragged and drunken set in ’86, Cyprus Hill lighting up a joint and smashing their gear, Sinead O’Connor tearing up a picture of the Pope, System of a Down dropping an F-bomb…and that’s just off the top of our heads! But nothing can top the destruction and pure rock ’n’ roll anarchy than the Halloween appearance by hardcore band Fear. Not ordinarily the kind of band SNL usually books, Fear were a favorite of show alum John Belushi, who promised to make a guest appearance if they were asked to play. The audience was stocked with up-and-coming figures from the punk community (Minor Threat’s Ian Mackaye, Tesco Vee of the Meatmen, and Cro-Mags’ John Joseph and Harley Flanagan among them) to give the performance a more authentic flavor, but nothing could prepare execs for the serious moshing to come. The crowd tore up the stage, causing an estimated $20,000 damage to the set.
6. Iron Maiden on German Television (1986)
If there’s one lesson that can be taken away from this blog post, it’s that rock stars seem to REALLY hate to mime and lip-sync. We can trace it back to the Stranglers on Top of the Pops in 1977 (worth a watch), and probably even earlier. And who can blame them; we’d be pissed too if we spend years honing our musical skills! So when consummate live band Iron Maiden were forced to pretend to play during an appearance on the German television P.I.T., front-man Bruce Dickinson decided to play it for the laughs, swapping instruments with the bass player, and just generally making a mockery of the proceedings. It’s worth noting that the Berlin Wall fell a mere three years later…Coincidence? Yeah, maybe. Or perhaps it was the awesomeness of this clip!
7. Nirvana on Top of the Pops (1991)
And of course, let’s not forget the time that they messed with MTV execs by launching into the first few bars of “Rape Me” during the 1992 VMAs. But our favorite time that Nirvana stuck it to the man on live TV across the pond on the British music mainstay Top of the Pops. The producers probably thought they were doing the band a favorite by not forcing them to totally mime, but allowing Kurt Cobain to perform the vocals live on-air. Clearly not satisfied with the compromise, he sang in the number in the low-pitched croon of a lounge-y nightclub act. This was definitely not what the folks at TOTP (or at home) had signed up for, and Nivana were never invited back on the program.
8. Green Day Hijack Kid’s TV Show (1997)
A children’s television program in Australia must have really felt that they were upping their street cred by having Billie Joe and the boys appear on their program. The band were only asked on for an interview, but soon they commandeered some other group’s equipment and asked the young crowd what they wanted to hear. While the host looked on helplessly, they launched into a blistering version of the album cut “The Grouch,” filled with words that are definitely not appropriate for Saturday morning kid’s TV.
9. The Vines Freak Out David Letterman (2003)
Although their freakout on UK’s Later… with Jools Holland is also pretty awesome, the concerned look on Letterman’s face after viewing Craig Nicholls’ spastic stage antics is priceless. Ordinarily he makes a point to walk over and shake hands with the bands after their set. But this time it looked like he was a little worried about venturing too close!
10. Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl “Wardrobe Malfunction” (2004)
Yeah, we had to…The incident forever known as “Nipplegate” cost CBS a record breaking $550,000 fine from the FCC (although it was voided in a 2011 appeal), and caused a whole host of legal headaches. But most importantly, it gave us the phrase “wardrobe malfunction.”
[Photo: MTV/Getty Images]