Stars Out Tonight

It often takes television programs a while to figure out what they’re going to be—for the producers to find the feel, the writers to find their rhythm, the actors to find their characters, the technicians to find the look. As a result, the early episodes of many long-running shows look fairly strange in retrospect. None are stranger than Saturday Night Live. Most everybody knows that George Carlin hosted the first episode, on October 11, 1975. Although its pace and timing is odd, it’s at least recognizable as Saturday Night Live. But the second episode is much different, and unlike anything the show would present in any of its succeeding seasons.

The episode, which aired on October 18, 1975, was hosted by Paul Simon, who was a close friend of SNL producer Lorne Michaels. His appearance cut two ways: he would attract viewers to the new show, and the new show would help him plug his new album, Still Crazy After All These Years. Simon brought along several of the performers who guested on the album: Phoebe Snow, the Jessy Dixon Singers, and most important, Art Garfunkel, with whom Simon hadn’t appeared in six years.

Simon and Garfunkel sang “The Boxer” and “Scarborough Fair,” accompanied only by Simon on guitar. They also performed their new single, “My Little Town,” singing live to the record’s backing track. Simon sang “Still Crazy After All These Years,” “Marie,” “Loves Me Like a Rock,” and “American Tune,” and sang “Gone at Last” with Snow. Snow and Randy Newman each got solo numbers.

With so much musical talent, the show featured only a handful of sketches. The Not Ready for Prime Time Players, who had been heavily utilized in the premiere because Carlin didn’t appear in any sketches, got almost no work in the second episode. Chevy Chase opened the show and did Weekend Update, but the rest of the company appeared only in a single, 30-second bit (and were not happy about being largely excluded). Simon appeared with sportscaster Marv Albert and NBA star Connie Hawkins in a too-long-and-not-very-funny film, 60s radical Jerry Rubin turned up in a parody commercial, and the show featured its regular spots for the Muppets and Albert Brooks.

The lack of comedy elements was partly by design: to give the writers a break after the first show, and to counteract the tendency of many shows to fall flat on episode 2 after a strong premiere. But Lorne Michaels had also told NBC executives before the show premiered that he knew what the ingredients would be but not the proportions, so the second show was a necessary step in deciding what SNL should ultimately become.

Saturday Night Live video is notoriously hard to find online, at least for free. (Amazon.com is streaming the whole second episode, for $1.99.) But I hope the following makes up for it: “I Only Have Eyes for You,” which Garfunkel sang on the second SNL. This version is remastered from the quadrophonic release of Garfunkel’s album Breakaway. The instrumental arrangement, already positively intoxicating, sounds even more beautiful, and Garfunkel soars over it, nailing ever-higher notes—just when you think he can’t possibly get up there, he does, which was part of his gift back in the day. Listen for the double-tracked vocal on the very last words of the lyric, which wasn’t heard on the original stereo album or single. It makes something mighty fine into something insanely great.

Breakaway is an album I’ve listened to a lot over the years, on which Garfunkel is backed by a cast of big-time players and sings some terrific songs.  The album made the top 10, and “I Only Have Eyes for You” sneaked into the top 20 in the States, although it was #1 in the UK.

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2 responses

  1. Just freaking gorgeous.

  2. Re: “Breakaway.” Lots to love on that album. Some songs I didn’t initially like, such as “Disney Girls,” grew on me with repeated listens. Others (the title track, “I Only Have Eyes for You,” “The Same Old Tears on a New Background” and especially “I Believe (When I Fall in Love, It Will Be Forever)”) hooked me on the first listen. And as downbeat as it is, very little in the Simon and Garfunkel catalog catches me quite like “My Little Town.” (I know that’s heresy to longtime S&G fans.)

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