SNL Retro: Paul Simon (11/20/76)

Posted: July 14, 2010 by Brendan Wahl in SNL Retro Reviews
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by Brendan Wahl

( Season 2, Episode 8 )

How awesome must it have been for Lorne Michaels to be best friends with one of the more popular crooners to ever step foot in a recording studio. Paul Simon was one of a kind and was always willing to make an appearance on Saturday Night Live as evident by this, his second appearance since the previous year.

While Paul was a wonderful singer & songwriter, it still hadn’t really been proven that he could act. His first hosting stint featured a total of ELEVEN musical performances and a bit in which he played himself going up against Connie Hawkins (of Harlem Globetrotters fame) in a one-on-one basketball game. While that piece was funny enough, Simon played himself playing basketball so he didn’t really have much to do in the way of acting.

Joining Paul, although not officially as a musical guest, is George Harrison. Yes, THE George Harrison of the Beatles. Unfortunately, George could not be at the show in a live capacity so any segment with Mr. Harrison, including the musical performances, was taped on a Thursday I believe. It is still impressive to have the first member of the Beatles finally make an appearance on the show after all that faux-offering of $3000 by Lorne in Season One.

So does this stand to be another MusicMania episode like the first one Paul hosted? Let’s find out!

The Show:

1. Monologue Worries (3:20)

Right from the get-go we get our first cameo of the night as Paul enters the studio, passing by a man singing for change who looks suspiciously like Chevy Chase. After inviting him to the after-party, Paul walks in to find George Harrison and Lorne having a discussion about how the $3000 was only if all FOUR of the Beatles showed up. Paul interrupts to say how he is worried about how the monologue is shaping up, but Lorne takes care of everything. Really funny meta opening. A

2. Monologue (2:51)

Paul’s worries come to fruition as he appears in a giant turkey suit and then prepares to sing “Still Crazy After All These Years”. After cutting himself off, Paul and Lorne have some heated words regarding the ridiculous concept. This works wonderfully here too if only for the fact that Simon acted like such a stiff in the turkey outfit. A

3. Quarry (1:57)

It’s the cereal that’s full of minerals and nutrients because, well, it’s a bowl full of rocks with milk added to it. Jane Curtin gets to be the spokesperson in this clever bit where the cereal is so crunchy that we can’t even hear any of the family’s dialogue. B+

4. Paul Simon sings “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover” (3:08)

The first of many songs of the night. Paul sings one of my favourite tunes of his and puts his heart and soul into it like he usually does in his live musical performances. A-

5. Baba Wawa At Large (3:09)

This time, Baba (Radner) has Henry Kissinger (Belushi) as her guest and because of their respective speech quirks, they have a lot of trouble understanding each other. There’s some funny chemistry here and I like when Baba gets Henry to try to say a phrase to make him sound funny. It’s an amusing little Baba Wawa piece. B

6. The Twilite Zone (4:29)

Three young actresses (Curtin, Newman, & Radner) all check into a room at the Blaine Motel to meet a producer, but it turns out that they’ve all been given the same room key. It’s an oddball sketch from Aykroyd’s masterful Serling impression to Garrett Morris’ creepy room service attendant. The twist at the end finally brings sense to this sketch. It’s not jam-packed full of laughs or anything, but it was an enjoyable and well-written sketch. B+

7. Weekend Update with Jane Curtin (9:08)

After being interrupted while taking her birth control pills, she makes a cute joke regarding the pills and the diaphragm. Jane shows a picture of Carter “begging for money” and then delivers a pretty nasty attack to Republicans. Some of the jokes are pretty crude/funny this week and one even causes Jane to apologize to her mother. Laraine Newman offers a mildly amusing filmed report about a Nazi war criminal entering the country illegally and settling in Long Island. While Newman discusses his surprising acceptance, one can see a number of Nazis in the cafe in the background. Jane starts off a dark recurring ‘Morris the Cat’ bit and even returns to the Francisco Franco bits from yesteryear. Finally, Garrett Morris joins the desk for a science editorial on a new strain of gonnorhea and his microscopic images are cartoons. It was kind of a lame bit in an otherwise solid edition of Update. B+

8. Paul Simon and George Harrison sing “Here Comes The Sun” and “Homeward Bound” (5:59)

In a little two-song set, Simon and Harrison perform two classics out of each other’s songbook. First up is Paul doing the majority of the vocals on George’s “Here Comes The Sun”, followed by Harrison leading the way for “Homeward Bound”. Much like The Band a few weeks ago, this is one of the finest moments in SNL’s musical history. Two outstanding artists joining to play some fantastic music. A+

9. Music Video: Crackerbox Palace (3:59)

If that two-song slam-dunk wasn’t enough for you, here’s a first on SNL: a music video. George Harrison’s catchy tune, Crackerbox Palace, is put into a really strange music video directed by the great Eric Idle. It’s very amusing and with the added quality of the song, it’s another entertaining piece of music. A-

10. Billy Paul (8:17)

The legend of Billy Paul (Simon) is told as a Native American (Radner) and an African-American (Morris) are refused service in an ice-cream shoppe run by a prejudiced bigot (Aykroyd). A hippie (Newman) tries to settle things between everyone, but it’s Billy himself who finally gets vengeance with his words…and some violence. Pretty funny ensemble piece with Belushi really shining as a stereotypical bully, but Paul holds his own too. B+

11. Paul Simon sings “Something So Right” (4:17)

Paul sings one that I don’t hear too often, but it’s still a good song and one that he performs quite well in this particular instance. Interestingly enough, the camera here shows Paul’s face and his fingers on the guitar at the same time. B+

12. Tomorrow (4:05)

In the second appearance of the show, Tom Snyder (Aykroyd) brings on Paul Simon himself, thinking that he is a trucker. Of course, there is a general confusion and Snyder then thinks he may be Neil Simon, citing “Barefoot in the Park”. The general awkwardness between the two makes for some funny television. I always loved Aykroyd’s Snyder impression and his general cluelessness with his guests. A-

13. Music Video: This Song (3:45)

Another Idle-directed Harrison tune turned into a music video. This time, George is in a courtroom and sings in front of a number of oddball jurors and sometimes uses the sheet music as his background. Even Ron Wood makes a small appearance as one of the jurors. Not quite as catchy as Crackerbox Palace, but I still enjoyed it. B+

14. Paul Simon sings “Bridge Over Troubled Water” (2:53)

Another awesome song. Originally a Simon & Garfunkel hit, Paul goes solo on this one and, to me at least, proves that he definitely had the superior voice out of the two. A-

Paul says goodnight, wishes everyone a happy thanksgiving, apologizes to Michael O’Donoghue for some reason (“he knows why”) and then hugs the cast as well.

The first good thing I can say of this episode is that at least it didn’t turn into the MusicMania episode that was Paul Simon/Phoebe Snow, Randy Newman. Granted, there was a lot more music than you usually see on the show nowadays (or even back then!), but it was interspersed with a healthy dose of sketches and comedy that Paul partook in more often this time too.

As far as the sketches went, nothing went in there and absolutely killed but then again, nothing died either. Everything was hovering around a B/B+, save for maybe the terrific Tomorrow piece that I may have slightly overrated just because my love for that sketch overpowers all. What can I say? This is definitely a better episode than last week’s, so will the ride continue into next week?

Host/Musical Guest Rating: B+

Show Rating: B+


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