October, 1975

I’m watching Saturday Night from October, 1975, and I can’t believe how awful George Carlin is. Don’t get me wrong. I love George Carlin. He just sucks in this show, as does most of the cast. I guess George Carlin got much better with age and “Shit, Piss, Fuck, Cunt, Cocksuckin’, Motherfucker, tits” was an anomaly in his younger years.

Janis Ian is awesome, however. I can honestly say I’ve never heard of her. But after tonight, I’ve bought a couple of her songs from iTunes – including “At Seventeen” Very nice. A beautiful song I like probably even more so because I can easily play it on my guitar.

70 replies
  1. 1
    Narcissus says:

    You didn’t know who Janis Ian was? Have you ever watched TV before?

    It’s interesting that you say the cast sucks, though, because I was just thinking how these guys essentially wrote the playbook they’ve been using for thirty years.

  2. 2
    David says:

    I can’t say I’m that surprised. It’s George “Seven words you can’t say on television” Carlin on network television.

  3. 3
    Michael D. says:

    Narcissus: I’m sad to say I never have heard the name before. Tonight though, I am becoming very familiar with her music. She is amazing. I have listened to “At Seventeen” so may times now!

    David: Yeah. You can’t be George Caline on TV.

  4. 4
    Beej says:

    You’ve never heard of Janis Ian? OMG I’m old! Old! Where’s my cane?

  5. 5
    Michael D. says:

    I’m 38. I really have never heard of her. I am, however, glad to hear her tonight. Think about it. I get to hear her for the first time. Amazing. And I can’t stop listening to her. What a beautiful voice!

  6. 6
    GoMS says:

    I know the song “At Seventeen”, but I’ve never heard her name before now…

  7. 7
    Michael D. says:

    A very painful song for her, I am sure. I identify.

  8. 8
    Incertus says:

    I’m about a year and a half older than you are, Michael, and I only know her from a “Best of the 70s” album ad from when I was a kid. Only song of hers I’ve ever heard of.

  9. 9
    Dave says:

    This is a pretty unfair criticism of Carlin. Most of his best comedy routines simply couldn’t have aired on network television, even at 11:30 PM on a Saturday night. Check out the first few of his HBO specials, or — especially — albums like FM & AM or Occupation: Foole.

  10. 10
    Kyle says:

    If I remember right, Tony Hendra says in Going Too Far that Carlin felt cramped by SNL and couldn’t do his best, at l;east that first time out. Which reinforces the point made about Carlin and network tv. Of course, I don’t remember how Hendra claimed to know that.

  11. 11

    Carlin didn’t just “feel cramped” by SNL; he had several routines prepped ahead of time which he’d worked on specifically for network standards and they got censored anyway, so he had to go to the well.

  12. 12
    srv says:

    Is John McCain senile or is it just Cindy? Inquiring minds want to know.

  13. 13

    I’ve always thought that George Carlin was very hit-and-miss. When he was on, he was fantastic; his bit on the differences between football and baseball is incredible. When he was off, though, he was horrible.

    I don’t have a problem with that. With most art, I much prefer someone who can be sublime, even though it comes at the cost of sometimes being really bad, to someone who is just pretty good all the time. Take music: it would take me almost four weeks to listen to everything in my Itunes. Stuff that’s just good just isn’t going to make it to the top of the list of what I want to hear right now.

  14. 14
    Becca says:

    I’m with J. Michael — Carlin was either very bad or really really good. He was expecially bad when he was making weird faces.

    Back in 2006 though, a couple good friends, my partner and I watched his ‘Death’ HBO special. Most of it was just okay, some really funny…but then he got going on a long, extended rant on how humans love disasters.

    A mere description cannot do it justice. We laughed and laughed and laughed until tears were running down our faces. Laughed until it hurt, the bit was so good.

    Anyway, that’s the one for which I’ll remember Carlin — a comedian Kali.

  15. 15
    Kyle says:

    I’m 39 and I remember Janis Ian from my single-digit years in the 70s. ‘Fly Too High’ is also a great track of hers.

  16. 16
    frosty says:

    I watched it in ’75 and SNL was a revelation. We started to stay home on Saturday nights – you have no idea.

    Life has gotten faster since then, and it took them a season to figure out that the host wasn’t hosting a variety show.

    That being said, I always thought “Why is there no blue food?” was pretty lame.

  17. 17
    Kevin says:

    George Carlin was one of the very few people where, when I read one of his books, I could hear his voice in my head. His books read *exactly* the way he spoke.

  18. 18
    Kevin says:

    Tony Hendra

    Ian Faith FTW!

  19. 19
    Kat says:

    Michael D, you should google, and read up on Janis. She had a helluva battle with the music companies. None of them would sign her because she refused to make her music more ‘commercial’.

  20. 20
    Dylan says:

    Completely offtopic, but wondering if there is any relationship between this chart and voting patterns in the Democratic primaries?

  21. 21
    bago says:

    So the whole earth, it’s where I keep all my stuff was shamelessly cribbed in some direction by The Tick.

    Interviewer: Well, can you… blow up the world?
    Tick: Egad. I hope not. That’s where I keep all my stuff.

  22. 22
    bago says:

    Alright, because 1970 was way before my time…

    Tick: Ah ha-ha, chess. The ancient contest of wits. Two opponents: mano a mano. Braino a braino. And look: magnets for ease of travel. You could play chess on the moon.

  23. 23
    Dulcie says:

    You have to remember that this was 1975. There was no cable, and TV ended at midnight with the playing of the national anthem. Saturday Night Live (and The Midnight Special, and Don Kershner’s Rock Concert)was a huge breath of fresh air, and was cutting edge for the time.

    I’d forgotten how much I loved Billy Preston (the fifth Beatle)as a kid until I saw him tonight on SNL.

  24. 24
    Mike says:

    It makes sense that Carlin was trying to do edgy material but got censored at the last minute, because he could be hilarious clean, as he often was on the Flip Wilson show (no doubt I’ve just sent Michael off to Wikipedia to look up Flip Wilson.) Here’s an example.

  25. 25
    Dulcie says:

    Also, the episode that aired tonight was THE very first episode of SNL EVER.

  26. 26
    Kevin K. says:

    Janis Ian is awesome, however.

    Michael, please, for the love of god, never repeat those five words, in that sequence, ever again.

  27. 27
    Zuzu's Petals says:

    I agree that Carlin was weak. On the other hand he was on live national TV … who wouldn’t be nervous and maybe a little off.

    Janis Ian: “Just call me angel of the mornin’ baby…”
    Whew, if that didn’t get us teenage girls all atwitter.

    Yes on Billy Preston: I was mentally noting his wonderful performance at the (somewhat) recent “Concert for George.” Still kickin’.

    Yes on the cast being rough, but they were indeed cutting edge.

  28. 28
    Zuzu's Petals says:

    PS on Janis Ian – I speak of my teenage years in the ’60s, when she was very, very, counterculture.

  29. 29
    Zuzu's Petals says:

    Mike Says:

    It makes sense that Carlin was trying to do edgy material but got censored at the last minute, because he could be hilarious clean, as he often was on the Flip Wilson show (no doubt I’ve just sent Michael off to Wikipedia to look up Flip Wilson.) Here’s an example.

    Speaking of the hippy dippy weatherman, here’s a REAL stroll down memory lane:

    Carlin on Carson, 1966

  30. 30
    joshua says:

    On top of the issues with the censors, Carlin also pointed out that he was loaded on cocaine the whole week of the show, which would certainly affect his preparation and performance, and that he didn’t get along with Lorne Michaels very well.

  31. 31
    big cloud says:

    What! Hasn’t heard of Janis Ian? By crackie, this young whipper snapper don’t know know nuttin’. Ask grandma.

  32. 32
    Sunny says:

    It’s like a time warp here. Just goes to shows how old I am. But things always seem to come back around, like old music and old fashion styles. So if you like Janis, you all may love polyester, if that ever comes back.

    Where’s my zoot suit?

  33. 33
    wvng says:

    Well, Michael, meet more of Janis Ian and buy her 2000 album “God and the FBI.” She is still doing great stuff – very current, funny, winsome, edgy, and she utterly rocks in concert. That small woman alone on a stage fills an auditorium. And “Seventeen” is still a great song.

    She did a benefit concert for my organization about a decade ago. I saw her beforehand, she really liked the red-eyed tree frog tee-shirt I was wearing – so I gave it to her and I got one of hers signed “for the shirt off your back.” Memories.

  34. 34
    matt says:

    Sorry if I’m late on this, but check out the banner at Lawyers, Guns and Money. Awesome.

  35. 35
    McMartin says:

    Continuing from Kat’s comment, Janis Ian’s battles with the music companies continued apace. I (who only barely managed to get born in the 70s) first ran across her name in a reprint of one of her articles about music and the Internet in one of the Baen Free Library’s columns. It’s still a gripping read six years later.

  36. 36
    jake says:

    Cripes. I was raised by a DFH, AoA, SNCC chick and Janis Ian’s name doesn’t ring even a teeny bell. Of course, I hear “Janis” and instantly think of the other one.

  37. 37
    Mary says:

    Yeah, it wasn’t peak Carlin last night, for all the likely reasons people have listed. But it’s also worth noting that the NRFPTP were barely present in most sketches. For some reason, a lot of unknown, uncredited actors (the wife in the opening sketch, the announcer for the career school) were used instead of the cast. IIRC, the cast went to Lorne and insisted that they get used exclusively the next week. So this was definitely a rough start all over for this show.

  38. 38
    charles pierce says:

    Real old guys — like me — remember Janis Ian for “Society’s Child,” perhaps the worst earnest-social-change songs ever recorded, which she had a hit behind in the 1960’s, when she was 12, I think.

  39. 39
    Stoic says:

    Well, SNL generally sucked. An average night at the Second City improv was better than most nights at SNL.

  40. 40

    Funny. I almost never watch TV except Law and Order reruns when I’m trying to fall asleep but I caught that episode last night and thought the same thing. I was surprised at how off Carlin was. Not his best routine.

    I of course remember watching that one live when it first aired. The first two seasons were really good, but that wasn’t their best episode. They were at their best when they were doing highbrow political snark. Then they morphed into lowest common denominator bathroom humor and I stopped watching.

    Seeing the musicians was a real treat. Janis Ian was a huge fav of mine back in the day. I had no idea she was still playing. And I also loved seeing Billy Preston. I’d forgotten how much I liked him.

  41. 41

    No one mentioned Janis Ian’s “Society’s Child.” The song was about inter racial romance and many radio stations at the time (mid Sixties) refused to play it. She had to change recording companies to get the song released. Despite the resistance, “Society’s Child” did make it onto Billboard’s top ten for a bit.
    I graduated High School in the mid Sixties and I remember how daring it was for a station to play the song. This was in Southern California so I’m guessing that many of my contemporaries between the coasts never heard it at the time.

  42. 42

    I had forgotten how unfunny that very first episode was. Some of the funniest people on the planet had a rather inglorious night back in 1975. But they were funny–just not that first Saturday Night.

    Janis Ian AND Billy Preston. Rock on.

  43. 43
    p.a. says:

    I’ve always thought that George Carlin was very hit-and-miss. When he was on, he was fantastic; his bit on the differences between football and baseball is incredible. When he was off, though, he was horrible.

    This was part of the early SNL aura. It was live! Almost unheard of for probably a decade on the national networks at the time. Remember when Belushi accidentally hit Buck Henry with the Samurai sword? Guests and crew were free to fail.

  44. 44

    I watched that first show just because it was live. I liked it for the same reason but, I remember thinking that as it was it would last six weeks.

  45. 45
    Tim Fuller says:

    At Fifty.

    Those of us who’ve turned apostate
    And know the Bush regime ain’t great
    Tortured people and broke their bones
    Decided it was time to tap our phones…..


  46. 46

    Janis Ian was known for years for “Society’s Child,” about interracial dating (wrote and sang it when she was fifteen!). Groundbreaking at the time, sad because it ends because her parents break it up. Ian is a lesbian, like other great singers out of the sixties (Dusty Springfield, Leslie Gore). I hear she writes science fiction. Anyone ever read any sci-fi by her?

  47. 47
    dr. luba says:

    Janis Ian has also been batling with the RIAA. She embraced file-sharing when it first came out (Napster), an dgot a lot of flack from the industry (not other artists, but the industry. She writes about it on her site here.

    And she just demolishes the RIAA official line:

    One other major point: in the hysteria of the moment, everyone is forgetting the main way an artist becomes successful – exposure. Without exposure, no one comes to shows, no one buys CDs, no one enables you to earn a living doing what you love. Again, from personal experience: in 37 years as a recording artist, I’ve created 25+ albums for major labels, and I’ve never once received a royalty check that didn’t show I owed them money. So I make the bulk of my living from live touring, playing for 80-1500 people a night, doing my own show. I spend hours each week doing press, writing articles, making sure my website tour information is up to date. Why? Because all of that gives me exposure to an audience that might not come otherwise. So when someone writes and tells me they came to my show because they’d downloaded a song and gotten curious, I am thrilled!

    Janis not only embraces file-sharing, she also posts free downloads on her site. (Go for it, Michael!)

  48. 48
    Steve says:

    Have to disagree that Janis Ian’s first song “Society’s Child” was terrible.

    In fact, it was a ground-breaking song about an inter-racial love affair between teenagers. In the song, the girl endures the behind-the-back whispers of her friends and her parents’ admonitions to break off their romance. In the end, she does break the romance, hoping that “one day things may change,” but for now she’s “society’s child.”

    These lyrics were powerful and completely unique about a subject that was being played out during the early 1960s.

  49. 49
    charles pierce says:

    Nice theme.
    Godawful record.

  50. 50
    DonBoy says:

    In the establishing show of the jury sketch, you can see Richard Belzer sitting next to Gilda.

  51. 51
    DonBoy says:

    Establishing SHOT.

  52. 52
    Mickey Finn says:

    You think Janis Ian is awesome?! And Carlin sucks….uh…OK. Janis Ian is lighter than popcorn.

  53. 53
    Reid says:

    Was the show “off”? Yes. Did it appear “dated”? Yes. Was there some awful female comedian who never should have been allowed on stage during amateur night, never mind on live network TV? Yes.

    But I’m pretty sure they ran that show as a tribute to Carlin, and the fact he hosted the first episode of what became a seminal comedy show that has been on the air for 33 years now.

    I was just shy of 18 in 1975, and let me tell you, there wasn’t much in the culture of that time that *didn’t* suck. Awful clothes. Horrendous home decoration. And the music from the mid to late 70’s? Sheesh.

    I think that is part of the reason SNL stood out … they weren’t orange shag carpet, leisure suits, or platform shows. They were … different. And daring enough to be pretty bad at times.

    Who does that today?

  54. 54
    Janus Daniels says:

    Download as you like.

  55. 55
    Zuzu's Petals says:

    I missed the reason why everyone had “Bud” as a middle name in the credits. Including someone named John “Bud” Head.

    Can anybody clue me in?

  56. 56
    Zuzu's Petals says:

    Dennis – SGMM Says:

    I graduated High School in the mid Sixties … . This was in Southern California … .

    Me too! Class of ’68, in Orange County no less.

  57. 57
    Zuzu's Petals says:

    Janus Daniels Says:


    Oh my gosh, what a shock to open that up and see a white-haired woman! I guess she’s allowed – being a year younger than me and all – but, wow, just wasn’t ready for that reality update!

    I see that she does living room concerts as well. I like her even more now.

  58. 58
    low-tech cyclist says:

    Like Charles Pierce, above, I’m old enough that my introduction to Janis Ian was “Society’s Child,” that earnest and just a tad too condescending song about interracial romance.

    I pretty much tuned her out after that.

  59. 59
    mellowjohn says:

    THE charlie pierce?

    hey, what about billy preston? great song, awful threads.

    jeez, i’m old!

  60. 60
    Gus says:

    IN all the hoopla over Carlin’s death, I went back and read a couple of interviews. He didn’t even remember the SNL appearance. He was heavily into coke at the time. Probably explains it in part.

  61. 61
    Zuzu's Petals says:

    He was heavily into coke at the time. Probably explains it in part.

    Yeah, evidently it wasn’t such an easy life then.

    The Day the Sun Exploded

  62. 62
    conumbdrum says:

    Janis Ian: “Just call me angel of the mornin’ baby…”

    Hmmm… Ms. Ian might have covered this song, but the famous version of “Angel of the Morning” is by Merilee Rush. It was originally waxed by the divine Evie Sands (Dusty Springfield’s favorite singer!), but her label had a sudden cash flow problem when the single began to take off, so Ms. Rush quickly covered the song and stole Evie’s thunder. (The awful early Eighties version by Juice Newton is best abandoned to history’s dumpster.)

    Lovers of great female-fronted pop/rock (particularly Dusty Springfield devotees) are advised to check out Evie Sands’s superb 1970 album Any Way That You Want Me, made available on CD by the Rev-Ola label. It’s a stunner.

  63. 63
    Mitch Donahue says:

    I’m glad you’ve discovered Janis Ian. She’s a treasure. Courageous too. I’ve been a fan since the 60s and regret that I missed her last night.

  64. 64
    zoe from pittsburgh says:

    Over the weekend HBO has been running all of Carlin’s old specials from the 70s to now– frankly they’re pretty awesome overall. The “7 words” rant got him a lot of attention but he also even does off-beat, unexpected stuff about the behavior of cats and dogs, pointing out what “adorable little fuckers” they are.

    Carlin was an unusual combo of biting social commentary– lots of anti-conformity stuff that skewers left and right alike– as well as a good dose of low brow fart-and-toilet humor.

  65. 65
    Stuart Eugene Thiel says:

    Murray the K was the Fifth Beatle.

  66. 66

    The nature of comedy is that sometimes it sucks.

    FIFY, Janis Ian wrote two of the most rational and compelling essays on internet downloading and the whole royalties argument. I wish she was a politician as well as a musician. Talk about straight talk!

    “The Internet, and downloading, are here to stay… Anyone who thinks otherwise should prepare themselves to end up on the slagheap of history.” (Janis Ian during a live European radio interview, 9-1-98)


    FALLOUT – a follow up to The Internet Debacle

  67. 67
    skippy says:

    say what you will, when it comes to comedy, you can’t beat george coe.

  68. 68
    Dan says:

    Stand-up comics never did well on SNL. They were hardly ever chosen to host or to perform.

  69. 69
    Kathy says:

    Janis Ian, OMG! I was old enough in the 70’s for my brain to have At Seventeen permanently imprinted in my head. As permanent as the number 37.

  70. 70
    "Fair and Balanced" Dave says:

    Stand-up comics never did well on SNL. They were hardly ever chosen to host or to perform.

    Are you kidding? The SNL shows hosted by Richard Pryor and Steve Martin were some of the all-time best.

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