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From The Rolling Stones to Debbie Harry: The 10 best musical SNL hosts

Saturday Night Live is back and grabbing the headlines once again. For the first time in a long while, the addition of a musical guest host has been widely met with column inches and fan excitement. Of course, not every artist is capable of bringing so much attention to the show but, then again, there aren’t many singers of bands that are more noteworthy than Adele. The singer was confirmed to host next week’s show and it has us thinking about some of our favourite musical guest hosts.

Below, we’re bringing you ten of our favourite musical guest hosts who have lit up Studio 8H and made Saturday Night Live such a dynamic show. Famed for its chaotic running and visceral comedy entertainment, the show also gathered acclaim for its musical guests and guest host. It makes good sense that when these two things come together that we have some of our favourite moments from over the years. And no, we’re not talking about Frank Zappa.

Zappa may well have performed as both a guest host and a musical guest but the singer and leader of the Mothers of Invention fell short, providing those at home with one of the most boring shows in its long and illustrious career. We’re talking about the moments where musicians dip their toe into the entertainment world in a whole new way.

Across a huge number of episodes (over 900 in total) there have been many musical guest host but none can top these ten as our favourites. They’re all favourites for different reasons but largely because they gave the show the respect it deserved.

See the full list, below.

10 best musical SNL guest hosts:

Paul Simon

One of the most committed musical guests and hosts the show has had is the singer-songwriter and all-round folk legend, Paul Simon. First taking over hosting duties in October of 1975, in the show’s second-ever episode, Simon went on the host the show four times, appear as a musical guest nine times and make six cameos.

For that first hosting stint, Simon welcomed a serious amount of guests including Art Garfunkel, Randy Newman and Phoebe Snow. But perhaps his most beloved appearance came when he invited George Harrison to perform on the show, including a show-stopping duet of ‘Here Comes The Sun‘.

Ray Charles

Ray Charles may well be one of the founding fathers of modern music but he’s far from a fuddy-duddy. The singer was more than happy to pick up hosting duties and still deliver a plethora of songs during his performance.

Now SNL operates on a fairly strict two-song rule but when Charles took on the role of hosting in ’77 he sang three individual songs and a medley that included ‘I Got A Woman’ and ‘Hit the Road Jack’.

Debbie Harry

Quite possibly one of our favourite singers to take on the role of hosting, Debbie Harry appeared on the show during a particularly obvious career crossroads for the Blondie lead singer. For a number of years, Debbie Harry had been the face of new wave with her band and now she was out on her own.

What better way to sum that up than by going out into the spotlight of Studio 8H and running the show. Her appearance came in the sixth series which is often considered one of the worst thanks to it being helmed by Dick Ebersol instead of Lorne Michaels. Harry still shined as a host and was there to share some of her solo material including performances of ‘Love TKO’ and ‘Come Back Jonee’.

Stevie Wonder

Stevie Wonder is one of the most famous names to have taken on hosting duties for SNL. But, as well as his 1983 appearance as host, he also performed some songs on the famous late-night show.

However, unlike many of the other names on this list, his hosting spot has largely been dwarfed by Eddie Murphy’s impression of the legendary singer. He famously took part in a sketch including him and Frank Sinatra (Joe Piscopo) singing ‘Ebony & Ivory’, something Wonder noted during his hosting spot, sharing the stage with Murphy for a brilliant sketch.

Donald Glover

Is there anything Donald Glover, AKA Childish Gambino, can’t do? No, we’re fairly certain he can do anything he puts his mind to. It means we shouldn’t be surprised by the rapper’s incredible ability at hosting SNL, after all, he has a long history with the show.

During the customary monologue all hosts have to deliver, Glover shared that he had endured some failed auditions for the show. He delivered both a brilliant hosting moment and, later, as his rapper alter-ego Childish Gambino, he sang ‘Saturday’ and ‘This Is America’.

Lady Gaga

Arguably the current Queen of New York, Lady Gaga was a natural fit for reigning over 30 Rock for a late-night Saturday session. Though her performance musically is now largely maligned thanks to the duet with the disgraced R Kelly, the hosting spot was brilliant.

Gaga is a natural entertainer and has a searing wit so was the perfect person to take on the multi-functional role, as able to laugh at herself as anyone else—something desperately needed to be on SNL. Gaga also performed ‘Gypsy’ and ‘Artpop’ when she sang on the same episode.

Mick Jagger

When someone as big as Mick Jagger is scheduled to host Saturday Night Live then you can be assured some big names are on their way to be a part of it too. For Jagger, Jon Hamm, Steve Martin, the Foo Fighters, Arcade Fire and Jeff Beck were scheduled to appear.

As well as hosting, Jagger dipped his toe into the performances of the particularly music-heavy episode. He performed ‘The Last Time’ with Arcade Fire, a medley with the Foo Fighters and ‘Tea Party’ with the esteemed Jeff Beck. Arcade Fire were back with covers of ‘She’s A Rainbow’ and ‘Ruby Tuesday’ as part of a tribute to Kristen Wiig, who was celebrating her final episode on the show.

Ringo Starr

Another huge star to have taken on hosting duties is the most affable Beatle, Ringo Starr. The Beatles’ drummer was never one to miss an opportunity at a laugh and he was quick to jump on the hosting train. The artist was on the solo trail when he took on the role with gusto.

The Beatles have a long-running history with the late-night Saturday night show, it almost reunited them after a joke almost turned serious. But Ringo Starr’s hosting stint is about as close as they ever came.

Madonna

In 1985, there was no star bigger than Madonna. The singer had become a phenomenon almost overnight and now her star was rising, Saturday Night Live were quick to snag the singer as a host.

Madonna’s acting chops may still be under scrutiny, never likely to be fully accepted by either party of the discussion, her ability to entertain is under no debate whatsoever. The musical guest was Simple Minds and performed ‘Alive and Kicking’ and ‘Satisfy Yourself.’ Meanwhile, during the SNL skits, Madonna performed ‘Take On Me’, ‘La Bamba and Lionel Richie’s Three Times A Lady.

The Rolling Stones

Getting one of The Rolling Stones hosting an SNL episode is one thing but doing it with the whole band is something altogether different. While it may not be the show with the biggest laughs, it certainly had one of the biggest bands on the planet in charge, if only for one episode.

The band were happy to be both host and musical guests in this 1978 episode and it proved that The Rolling Stones were able to roll with the times and the punches. Happy to poke fun at themselves, the real beauty of the band’s appearance was the music.

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