WATCH: Top 8 music moments on TV from Sinead O'Connor's MTV Unplugged to Nirvana on Top of the Pops
They knew the value of keeping it short back in the old days, didn’t they? Nowadays, pop music is often bloated, over-long, over-stretched.
But when Elvis Presley – the greatest pop-culture star of all-time – made his TV debut, this day 60 years ago, the whole thing lasted less than two minutes. That’s all it took for Elvis and his band to blast out Shake, Rattle and Roll…and, not coincidentally, launch a musical phenomenon. The grainy black-and-white footage from The Dorsey Brothers’ Stage Show is as thrilling and ground-breaking as you’d expect.
Television has been the making of many more pop stars – but it hasn’t always gone exactly to plan. Here are some other iconic moments from music TV history:
Madonna’s “lesbian” snog, 2003
During a performance at the VMAs, Madge got lippy with both Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. Cynics claimed afterwards that it was a pathetic attempt to stay relevant by a desperate woman who’d do anything for column inches. As usual, the cynics were dead right. (By the way, not meaning to sound ageist or anything, but at 45 years, Madonna was older than the other two combined. Imagine a middle-aged bloke doing that? Ech.)
Nirvana make eejits of Top of the Pops, 1991
When the grunge legends appeared to promote Smells Like Teen Spirit, producers arranged that, while they’d mime playing their instruments like everyone else did back then, Kurt Cobain would sing live. Eh, bad mistake. First off, the guitar, drums and bass are “played” totally out of tempo, making it obvious that we’re hearing a tape. Then he sang the melody in an exaggeratedly low, doomy voice – sort of like Ian Curtis off Joy Division, being played at the wrong speed – and changed the opening lines to “load up on drugs, kill your friends”, before appearing to get sexually intimate with the microphone.
U2 play Springhill Mining Disaster, 1987
Guesting on a memorable Late Late Show tribute to The Dubliners, the band cleverly opted not to do one of their own tracks, but a marvellous version of the folk classic Springhill Mining Disaster. Whatever you can say about them – and most of us have said a lot – U2 have always been a cracking live band, and that performance had a mammoth emotional punch.
Sinead O’Connor on MTV Unplugged, 1990
Sinead had gone nuclear in January when her cover of Prince’s Nothing Compares 2 U became a huge hit. Two months later, she appeared in the first season of MTV’s great Unplugged series. With her head shaved, wearing a black polo neck, Sinead looked like an angel – and she sang like one too. Black Boys on Mopeds, in particular, is spine-tingling.
The Sex Pistols swear on telly, 1976
Veteran presenter of news show Today, Bill Grundy, probably didn’t expect what would happen when he interviewed The Sex Pistols. Live. At tea-time. Yeah, that wasn’t going to end well, was it? The band, and fellow punk Siouxsie Soux, dropped the F-bomb more than once. And the S-bomb. And the B-bomb. Grundy was later suspended and the programme cancelled.
The Beatles make their American debut, 1964
The Ed Sullivan Show could, at the time, make a band’s career. And when the Fab Four appeared on three consecutive Sundays, their success Stateside was assured. Their first appearance, on February 9th, drew an estimated 73 million viewers, then a record audience for US television. 73 million! That’s like Thailand, Bulgaria and Equatorial Guinea combined.
Boyzone greatly amuse the nation, 1993
They called it dancing, although in truth it was closer to spasmodic, herky-jerky movements of the limbs, seemingly unrelated to the music accompanying them. Boyzone numbered seven when they first “performed” – word used figuratively – on the Late Late. One of them was wearing dungarees. They were awful. They would remain awful, though not quite this level of awful – and with fewer members – for many years afterwards.