10 Gloriously Anarchic Music Moments from Live TV

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We’re not generally given to bouts of nostalgia here, but when Dangerous Minds unearthed a video yesterday of Philly punk icons The Dead Milkmen making an unlikely appearance on Club MTV, it got us thinking about the days when music TV used to be live and thus all sorts of whacked-out things could happen. Those days are largely gone, sadly, outside of various late-night shows — the general decline of live TV, along with a series of high-profile controversies, means that networks like to have a whole lot more control over what goes to air today. Still, we’ll always have the memories, and in celebration of the ongoing experiment in riding by the seat of one’s pants that music TV used to be, here are ten of our favorite moments in gloriously shambolic televisual anarchy. As ever, let us know if you have any to add.

Dead Milkmen on Club MTV, 1988

If the video evidence didn’t exist, we’d probably never believe this happened. It all went surprisingly well, too — even the slam-dancing didn’t seem to perturb anyone greatly — until the band took it upon themselves to handcuff host “Downtown” Julie Brown, an event about which she later said, “I got a bit pissed,” although she handled it with relative aplomb at the time.

Nirvana at the MTV Video Music Awards, 1992

The 1992 VMAs found Nirvana at the height of their popularity and also of their legendary anti-establishment surliness. The event is perhaps best remembered for Axl Rose’s backstage demand that Kurt Cobain “keep [Courtney Love] in line” — like anyone can tell Love to do anything — and for Nirvana’s coruscating performance of “Lithium.” The best bit, though, was Krist Novoselic nearly lobotomizing himself with his own bass guitar, as detailed above.

Courtney Love vs. Madonna at the MTV Video Music Awards, 1995

What did we just say about no one being able to tell Courtney Love what to do and what not to do? (Skip forward to about 2:35 to bypass Madonna’s inane interview and get straight to the funny bit.)

The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion on Recovery, ABC TV Australia, 1997

Endearingly DIY Australian music show Recovery was a bit part of this writer’s teenage years — it screened on Saturday mornings and was responsible for plenty of amusingly shambolic moments over the years. Many of them are detailed here, but the winner was definitely this legendary performance from the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, who simply refused to stop playing. This was broadcast live at about 10 am, and was responsible for thousands of mothers shouting at their kids to turn that damn television down.

Jarvis Cocker vs. Michael Jackson at the Brit Awards, 1992

Cocker has said repeatedly that he’d rather not be remembered for this and that he has no problem with Michael Jackson, but honestly, there’s nothing wrong with being remembered for lampooning Jackson’s weirdly faux-messianic performance. And the whole thing was hilarious — as is the fact that Sony appears to be engaged in an ongoing campaign to haul all footage of it off YouTube on nebulous copyright grounds.

Sly Stone on The Dick Cavett Show, 1972

Sigh. Poor Sly Stone. This is morbidly amusing, we guess, but the fact that Stone is clearly as high as a fucking satellite here seems less funny in light of his subsequent career trajectory — especially since, despite how wasted he is, there’s clearly still an intelligent man trying to get out. (There’s a similar moment from a couple of years earlier, wherein Cavett interviews an even more wasted Stone in the company of a couple of other clearly terrified guests — namely Pancho Gonzales and Debbie Reynolds — but we can’t find it anywhere online.)

L7 on The Word, Channel 4, UK, 1992

L7 carved a glorious trail of destruction through the early ’90s, and this was one of their most memorable moments: They tore out a killer version of “Pretend We’re Dead” on UK TV show The Word — and then singer Donita Sparks dropped her pants (much to the interest of one of the show’s cameramen, it appears, judging by the amusingly pervy that appear in the above video’s last minute.) The crazy psychedelic backdrop only makes the whole thing more surreal. Truly, they don’t make TV like this anymore.

Sinéad O’Connor on Saturday Night Live, 1992

Ah, yes, the infamous pope-tearing incident. As far as we’re concerned, the most controversial thing about this is that O’Connor eventually apologized for it, but each to their own.

Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” at Superbowl XXXVIII, 2004

Behold: the lamest “controversy” in history. The fact that the ludicrous legal wrangling around this dragged on until 2011 — not to mention the fact that any such wrangling happened in the first place — is a pretty great indication of US TV’s abiding code of ethics: guns and violent death are perfectly OK, so long as there’s no titties!

The Sex Pistols on Thames Television, UK, 1976

And finally, yes, the most legendary of all. All together now: “You dirty fucker! What a fucking rotter!”