Episode 1.2 – 10/18/75: Paul Simon
Saturday Night Live opens this week on the Studio 8H stage, where a single spotlight shines down on a moustachioed man seated on a stool wearing jeans and a olive-green blazer. There’s not a peep from the audience, leading me to wonder, “Is this pre-taped?” An organ off-camera plays an introduction and before the camera can zoom in and I can figure out who this mystery man is, he lifts a microphone to his lips and I recognize the unmistakeable voice of Mr. Paul Simon. I think to myself, “He’s really rocking the ‘middle school English teacher’ look,” before settling back and listening to Paul belt out a rendition of “Still Crazy After All These Years.” I’m not a huge fan of this song, but here – I don’t mind it so much, although I could have used a little less sax. If you can’t appreciate this for what it is, you don’t like music. This is Paul Simon in his prime. At the end of the performance, the audience cheers. Then, a person clutching an acoustic guitar trips over some metal folding chairs – it’s just Chevy, who gives us, “Live, From NY, it’s Saturdaaaaaay Night!”
Opening credits: Your host tonight is Paul Simon, as advertised on last week’s episode, with special guests Randy Newman and Phoebe Snow. I’m not familiar with Snow, but she was apparently touring with Simon around the time this episode was taped. Also special guest: Art Garfunkel! This should be interesting. Simon & Garfunkel, who stopped playing together in 1970, reunited at a June 1972 benefit concert in New York City for George McGovern’s failed presidential campaign, but haven’t played together since. Not a bad catch for the show’s second episode ever. This episode apparently sets the record for the most number of musical performances on a single show with 11 songs.
So, the good news is we get a Simon & Garfunkel reunion. The bad news: More Muppets. George Coe and Michael O’Donoghue are removed from the opening credits. I assume they have been relegated to off-camera writing roles.
After the credits, Paul Simon introduces the Jesse Dixon Singers, a quartet of black gospel crooners dressed in red and white attire, who accompany Simon for a song, “Love Me Like a Rock.” I don’t know this song. Its lyrics go, “Love me like a rock, love me like a rock.” Zzz… This is before Simon got completely carried away with the whole gospel thing and it’s already old. Simon is such a midget that he makes the members of this gospel group look abnormally tall.
Political activist Jerry Rubin deadpans a faux commercial for wallpaper with pre-printed political slogans on it. It’s a pretty dated bit and not all that funny now, but does end with a pretty funny zinger, Rubin saying, “Up against the wallpaper, motherfucker!” (with the word ‘motherfucker” obviously bleeped out).
And now, more music. Simon plays a Randy Newman tune (“Marie”) then introduces Newman, who plays a mellow version of “Sail Away” – mellow even for Newman’s standards. After that, the Not-Ready-For-Primetime-Players appear on stage dressed as bees, but Simon advises them that their sketch has been cut. He’s kidding of course, but it does seem like a dick move – teasing the audience with some comedy before leaving them out to dry, but the reality is that Paul Simon was a big star. As for the SNL cast, most people probably couldn’t tell one from the other at this point in the show’s history. Given a choice of comedy versus music, it’s safe to assume most people watching the show in 1975 would probably have chosen Simon over Belushi and Co.
However, all is not lost as we return to a Weekend Update segment after the commercial break. There’s some Gerald Ford jokes followed by a funny sketch with Paul Simon playing a one-on-one basketball game against professional ball player Connie “The Hawk” Hawkins.
After that, there’s a montage of Simon & Garfunkel pictures before Simon introduces Garfunkel, who gets a standing O. Garfunkel teases Simon, sarcastically thanking him for having him on “his show.” Simon bites back and asks Garfunkel if he’s finished making movies. This is awesome. They play “The Boxer.” I get chills. It’s a little shaky at first, but once they get going, it’s 1969 all over again.
“It’s great to play with you,” Simon says.
“Two part harmony is the greatest,” Garfunkel responds, kind of snarky.
I laugh out loud.
They play “Scarborough Fair” and “My Little Town,” a new song they recorded together which would appear on both of their solo albums in 1975.
All in all, it’s hard not to get a little emotional even now seeing this reunion, even if there is a noticeable distance between the duo. It must have really been something for people watching this on their television when it aired. It also probably did a lot to help the whole “You never know what’s going to happen” feeling of SNL’s first season.
Garfunkel sings a solo song (“I Only Have Eyes For You”) and then it’s Muppet time, with a heavy-handed sketch called “Dregs and Vestiges” in which two monsters are on the “brink of economic turmoil” … or something. It’s not very funny. That’s all I have to say about that.
I also don’t have a whole lot to say about the Albert Brooks short film, except:
1. It has really bad sound.
2. There’s a part where Brooks dresses up a cow and tries to buy airline tickets that might have made me laugh if I was stoned. Same thing with a bit where Brooks pretends to be a talking dryer at a laundromat.
Random thought: I wonder how many people were lit when they watched this show in the 1970s? I would guess a lot.
Next, Paul Simon sings a duet with Phoebe Snow, Phoebe Snow sings a song with herself and the two of them sing a song with the Jesse Dixon Singers. I hit fast forward on my remote control.
There’s an unfunny commercial parody for pacemaker batteries and the show ends with Paul Simon singing one more song (“American Tune”), which closes the episode in the same way it opened, just Rhymin’ Simon alone on the stage. It’s beats me why they didn’t end the show with its strongest segment, the Simon & Garfunkel reunion, but this works.
Phil Bradley of the New York Knicks presents Simon with a huge trophy to close the show and Simon almost clocks Bradley in the head with it off-camera.
The Good: Simon & Garfunkel, Paul Simon’s jump shot
The Bad: The friggin’ Muppets, the commercial parodies, the missing Not-Ready-For-Primetime Players
The Weird: Albert Brooks?!?, Randy Newman?!?
The verdict: A good episode if you like Paul Simon, since this week is essentially the Paul Simon show. Buuuuuut, if you hate Paul Simon, you might want to let this one Slip Slide Away.
Next: 1.3 – 10/25/75: Rob Reiner
* Much thanks to the excellent sites The SNL Archives and SNL Transcripts.