Thirty years ago tonight, Saturday Night Live‘s cold opening featured the first official appearance of the Blues Brothers. The sketch opened with Paul Shaffer as rock mogul Don Kirshner, introducing the band with his customary record-industry name-dropping (“Today, with the help of Jerry Erdegan, and the staff of Pacific Records, their manager, Morey Daniels, and with the support of fellow artists Curtis Salgado and the Cray Band, they are no longer an authentic blues act, but have managed to become a viable commercial product”), after which John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd performed “Hey Bartender.” The two had apparently been warming up audiences with the bit for a while, although the characters dated back to a first-season episode in which they performed “I’m a King Bee” in bee costumes.
After the third season of SNL concluded, the Blues Brothers opened some shows for Steve Martin, which resulted in a live album, Briefcase Full of Blues. Upon its release at the end of 1978, it went to Number One. Critics were lukewarm—they appreciated the quality of the Blues Brothers’ band, which featured Memphis legends Steve Cropper and Duck Dunn, as well as Belushi and Aykroyd’s sincerity, but didn’t think much of either Belushi as a singer or the band’s originality. The album produced a hit single, “Soul Man,” which was copped directly from Sam and Dave’s original, right down to Belushi shouting “Play it, Steve” in the middle. The Blues Brothers performed it during their only other appearance on Saturday Night Live in November 1978.
The April 22, 1978 show is probably the greatest single episode in SNL‘s history—not merely up to that point, but quite likely in all the seasons since. The show featured the Czech brothers, “Theodoric of York, Medieval Barber,” and the wordless “Dancing in the Dark,” in which Martin and Gilda Radner, as two people who eye one another in a bar, end up doing a manic dance all over the set. “Weekend Update” featured an Aykroyd/Jane Curtin debate (“Jane, you ignorant slut!”), and Martin performed “King Tut.” The later sketches keep up in quality with the earlier ones, right down to the very last bit, which got one of the biggest laughs of the night. “Next Week in Review” featured psychics predicting upcoming headlines. Martin suggested that after aliens intercepted the Voyager satellites launched the previous year (each with a record attached to the craft containing human sounds and music), their first message to Earth would be “Send more Chuck Berry.”
Vintage SNL clips are scarce online (find some here). The availability of this episode alone is reason enough to get the Season 3 DVDs, which will be released on May 13.