The 15 most outrageous punk moments to ever happen on TV
Whether you’re a fan of the music or not, there can be little doubt that punk rock has provided us with some classic TV moments, often even making national headlines. Sometimes they’re just funny, but they’re never anything less than entertaining. Raucous live performances, swearing, smashing stuff up, and generally making a nuisance, punks have often made made the telly considerably less boring, and long may they continue to do so.
Below we delve into some of the best (and worst) of punk TV, perhaps not all as shocking as they were in the day, but each of them wonderful in their own way. From F words to front bottoms, the punks have got you covered!
Jello Biafra on Oprah
Given the opportunity to confront PMRC co-founder Tipper Gore on the Oprah show in 1990, former Dead Kennedys frontman Jello Biafra pulled no punches. “I accuse you of trying to destroy my career and ruin my right to make a living,” he told her. Then, when she denied taking credit for an obscenity trial against his band, he whipped out the newspaper quote and asked, “What kind of example are you setting for your own children when you lie on national TV?” Ouch.
Sex Pistols on Bill Grundy's Today Show
Called in as a last minute replacement for Queen, Sex Pistols made front pages in 1976 after this infamous appearance on live TV, in which guitarist Steve Jones referred to the host as (among other things) a “fucking rotter!” Granted, Grundy had brought it upon himself by goading the band – “go on, you’ve got another five seconds. Say something outrageous!” – but overnight, punks became public enemy number one. Before that, the F‑word had only been uttered twice on British television. In 2004, Johnny Rotten employed the C‑word in front of 10 million viewers and there were less than 100 complaints. Oh, how things have changed…
The Damned wrecking The Old Grey Whistle Test
Remarkably, The Damned managed to get all the way through their then-new hit single Smash It Up without breaking anything. But it’s not called Smash It Up for nothing! Halfway through the second song – I Just Can’t Be Happy Today – the keyboard malfunctioned, and guitarist Captain Sensible kicked it, upon which, assuming this was a cue to start breaking things, drummer Rat Scabies demolished his kit. It probably didn’t help that singer Dave Vanian had ‘self-medicated’ with a bottle of whiskey. If you look closely, you can see the microphone gaffa-taped to his hand!
Fear destroying Saturday Night Live
Few TV moments are more wonderfully chaotic than Fear’s appearance on the Halloween episode of Saturday Night Live in 1981. Invited to perform by John Belushi, who was a big fan of the band but had parted with SNL on bad terms, it wasn’t so much Fear that caused mayhem as their audience – which included members of Minor Threat and Cro-Mags. “When I counted off the first song, they all started flailing each other and bashing into each other, jumping on and off the stage,” remembered Fear frontman Lee Ving. “I get ploughed into by somebody in the audience, and the microphone goes falling into the crowd. Someone yells: ‘Fuck New York’ into the microphone, and the 20-second fail-safe doesn’t work because there’s such pandemonium!” Damages were estimated at $50,000.
GG Allin on Jerry Springer
“My mission is to put danger back into rock’n’roll,” states punk nutter GG Allin at the start of this hilarious episode of the Jerry Springer Show, looking rather like he’s just crawled out of a poo-filled dumpster (which, to be fair, he may have done). He then goes on to claim that he’s the messiah (he’s not, he’s a very naughty boy) and that he intends to kill himself on stage. “You are nothing but the devil himself!” screams one of many appalled audience members.
The anti-punk episode of Quincy
First aired on December 1, 1982, this episode of Quincy – which warned about the dangers of punk rock – became an overnight cult favourite, mostly because it’s so ridiculous. A teenage boy is murdered at a punk show with an ice pick and the music is to blame (obviously), but it’s Quincy’s reaction to the music that’s so funny. “That’s called slam dancing,” informs his partner, “you go out there and try that and you take your life in your hands!” Quincy declines the offer.
L7 on The Word
Running from 1990 until 1995, Channel 4’s youth programme, The Word, was no stranger to controversy: some of the highlights including a pissed-up performance of Wild Thing by Oliver Reed, a stage invasion during Rage Against The Machine’s Killing In The Name, and Nirvana’s first live airing of Smells Like Teen Spirit. In 1992, L7 took things to another level, however, when vocalist and guitarist Donita Sparks decided to drop her trousers and pants live on air at the end of Pretend That We’re Dead. Less rock out with your cock out and more… err, yeah.
The Stranglers walking off Rock Goes To College
The Stranglers were due to play a full set for BBC 2’s Rock Goes To College, but after a dispute with the BBC, they played a handful of warm-up songs, openly hostile to the crowd, and then just one song for TV before walking off. “Guildford University never represented Guildford,” guitarist/vocalist Hugh Cornwell told the bemused crowd. “We hate playing to elitist audiences, so fuck off!” Sadly, it never aired live (the BBC aren’t that stupid), but was later shown on a programme called Something Else, and has since become a cult classic.
Iggy Pop on Australian TV
You can always count of the Godfather Of Punk to liven the place up a bit, and here we find the Iggster on fine form (and possibly something else) on an Australian TV show called Countdown. Barely able to contain his, er, enthusiasm as he bounces up and down during the interview and alludes to sleeping with David Bowie. He then mines along to his new single I’m Bored, with equal enthusiasm, but completely failing to use the microphone. No fucks given.
IDLES on Later... With Jools Holland
As proven by these Bristol punks, not all great moments in punk TV need to rely on swearing or smashing things up. Sometimes you just have to play like you mean it, man, and here we find IDLES doing just that with a jaw-dropping rendition of Danny Nedelko, that seems to impress even the host himself. It should be noted, though, that Jools Holland played piano on Wayne County and the Electric Chairs single Fuck Off, back in the day, so he knows his punk.
The Chats on The Today Show Australia
Alternatively, you can get your punk band to stand out by giving one of the most awkward TV interviews ever, as Australian punks The Chats did on the Today Show – which has since gone viral. Asked about their lyrics, bassist/vocalist Eamon Sandwith simply shrugs, “we don’t try too hard.” Although, to be fair, they then play a song called Pub Feed, which is about… well, pub food.
The Exploited on Top Of The Pops
Everyone likes to have a good moan about how bad Top Of The Pops was, but the fact is there were some classic moments and some truly great bands on the show – including many punk bands of the time. As such, it’s difficult to pick between the likes of The Ruts, The Damned and UK Subs… but Scottish lunatics The Exploited should probably get a mention for scaring the crap out of everyone. They took a lot of flak for ‘selling out’, but Dead Cities perfectly captured the mood in the UK: ‘Filled up with aggression / I’m gonna smash your television…’
Black Grape on TFI Friday
Yes, we know that Black Grape were not punk, but their appearance on Chris Evans’ TFI Friday was pretty punk rock, and indeed Pretty Vacant. Laced with profanities, their cover of this Sex Pistols song apparently cost the host a quarter of a million in fines from TV regulators, and bands were no longer allowed to play live, which was a nail in the coffin for the show.
Extreme Noise Terror at The BRIT Awards
Known as one of the seminal bands of the acid house movement, The KLF were also not afraid to cause a stink whenever possible. And what better way to achieve this than having Ipswich punks Extreme Noise Terror perform their hit single 3am Eternal live at the BRIT Awards, and then firing blanks from a machine gun at the audience! What larks!
Ian Rubbish & The Bizzaros
Few punk bands have caused as much outrage as Ian Rubbish & the Bizzaros, particularly with their ferocious anti-monarchy anthem C**t In A Crown. But as this documentary shows, the band are sadly best known for parting ways with frontman Ian Rubbish after the release of Hey Maggie Thatcher, the world’s only pro-Thatcher punk song. Rubbish attempted a comeback with the excellent Living In The Gutter, but, alas, the B‑side, an ode to Thatcher entitled Sweet Iron Lady was… rubbish.
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