Saturday Night Live may well be one of the most acclaimed late-night shows of all time. With such a major audience, the chance to perform for the studio audience and the viewers at home is too big an opportunity to pass up. Yet some acts saw it as an opportunity to make a name for themselves in the wrong way. One such band was The Replacements.
Lots of artists have been banned by the show’s executive producer Lorne Michaels and his team at SNL. However, while some reasons for the banning are a little cheap (see Rage Against The Machine and David Bowie who were banned for turning a flag upside down and playing a song Lorne hated respectively), The Replacements’ omission in 1986 seems a fair one, if you ask us. That said, most of the blame lies with Harry Dean Stanton anyway.
The Replacements played an integral part in pioneering alternative rock in the 1980s with their shows garnering a reputation for their chaotic nature and the total madness that seemed to invariably engulf their audiences. By 1986 that very same reputation had earned the band a dream slot of being the musical guests on SNL. It would end in disaster and leave the group banned for life by Lorne Michaels and his vicious red pen.
The previous year had seen the band attempt to move out from the underground and push themselves into the mainstream as they released their major-label debut, Tim, and hired an established New York management company called High Noon. The Replacements were setting themselves up for the big time and using every rung of the ladder they could get a grasp on to pull them up there. They had even grabbed their first national TV slot.
Though the intention was there, the band’s image was a tough one to polish. Even so, cleaning up of their brand came at a time when guitarist Bob Stinson’s drug and mental health issues were beginning to spiral out of control and the increasing internal tensions within the group were ripping the band apart. The group’s self-destructive nature was shown to the entire nation on their first-ever national TV appearance when they were invited into studio 8H and given the green light on SNL.
Like Elvis Costello, The Replacements also arrived as a last-minute guest, replacing scheduled act the Pointer Sisters after they cancelled just days before the show. It’s not quite a like for like replacement, so one could understand the shift in pace. The call up was down to the show’s musical director of the time, G.E. Smith, who, being a huge fan of the band, was instantly drawn to their punk stylings. But the very thing that had attracted Smith to the band would soon enough see them banned from the show. Their catastrophic performance would see SNL producer Lorne Michaels banning them from ever returning to 30 Rock.
The band performed ‘Kiss Me on the Bus’ whilst being completely out of their mind on drink and who knows what and then played ‘Bastards of Young‘—playing it entirely out-of-tune—during which frontman Paul Westerberg yells out a swear. If the band hadn’t already tarnished their TV reputation with the knowingly tough Michaels with their performances when Westerberg yelled “come on fucker” the nail was in the coffin for the NBC bosses. To make things even worse they returned to stage wearing mismatched iterations of each other’s clothing.
In a 2015 interview recorded for the Archive of American Television, G. E. Smith recalled that although the band had performed well for the early evening pre-taped dress rehearsal performance, one of their crew then smuggled alcohol into their dressing room and they spent the next few hours drinking (with the guest host, Harry Dean Stanton) while taking drugs.
According to Smith, by the time of the late-night live broadcast, the band were so entirely intoxicated that on their way to the stage to perform, Bob Stinson tripped in the corridor, fell over onto his guitar and broke it—a fumble that led to Smith loaning him one of the SNL house band’s spare instruments. It was a catalogue of errors that would see the group lose their shot at the big time in 1986.
The Replacements would eventually return to NBC in 2014 when they appeared on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon almost 30 years on from that fateful night in 1986.