Wednesday, February 24, 2010

We Tease Him a Lot

At another blog I used to write, the much-valued commenter Scraps once mentioned that the worst musical performance he'd seen on Saturday Night Live was the one by John Sebastian in that show's first season. I hadn't seen that performance until today, but now I can tell you that Scraps didn't even allude to the most pathetic part: Sebastian began playing "Welcome Back," and there was a little squib of feedback, which caused Sebastian to look over at no one in particular and ask, "Can I start again?" He kept going for a few bars, singing the wrong opening lines, then finally gave up. Then he turned to the band and launched into the opening again.

You watch it thinking it must be some kind of bit - hoping for Sebastian's sake that it was some kind of bit - but he was serious. My nine-year-old son watched it too, and turned to me and said, "He ain't so good." I guess live TV is no match for the intricacies of "Welcome Back."

Then, as Scraps noticed, Sebastian tried to get the audience to sing along on "Welcome back, welcome back, welcome back," but they were having none of it. The whole thing was very lame, but it's also possible that the crowd just wasn't that familiar with the song. In one sense, the timing was very good: "Welcome Back" had reached the Top Forty on April 10, 1976, and the show (with Raquel Welch hosting) aired two weeks later, on April 24. Saturday Night caught the song on its upward trajectory, and "Welcome Back" would hit Number One on May 8th, not only John Sebastian's only Number One solo hit but his only solo Top Forty hit.

As a side note, does that timing strike anyone else as unusual? "Welcome Back" was, of course, the theme song to a sitcom about a Brooklyn high school teacher who fleeced all his students at poker. The show debuted in September 1975, and was an immediate hit. I'm not sure why someone waited to release the theme song as a single till the following spring.

Like Sebastian's performance, the Raquel Welch show itself was notably weak; the most memorable moment was when Lorne Michaels offered the Beatles $3,000 to reunite on Saturday Night. Legend has it that John and Paul were watching the show together in New York City that night, and considered taking a cab down to Studio 8H; had they followed through, that would have changed this episode from one of the most forgettable in SNL history to one of the most unforgettable. C'est la vie.

As for John Sebastian, even though his song was still on its way to Number One, his career was just about over on that night. His followup single, "Hideaway," topped out at Number 95 on the Hot 100, and he never released another major-label album. The Lovin' Spoonful, which Sebastian had founded in 1965, briefly reunited in 1980 for an appearance in the Paul Simon vehicle One-Trick Pony; I haven't seen it, although it is one of my fellow Debris Slider Joe Levy's favorite films. Sebastian then went on to release a bunch of instructional harmonica tapes.

Plus, his godmother is Vivian Vance. Swear to God.


  1. Odd timing, but not as odd as the timing of the release of the Growing Pains theme song as a single. The show debuted in 1985 and was an immediate hit. The single came out in 1988 and didn't chart.

    Although it must be said: Welcome Back >>>>>>> As Long As We've Got Each Other.