A lot of younger people don't realize how polarizing this version of Satisfaction was, especially when it was played on Saturday Night Live in the Fall of 1978. I was in 10th Grade and I still remember the school bus on Monday morning literally buzzing with a reaction as lines were drawn pretty stark between those who thought it was terrible, those who thought it was incredible, and those who didn't know what the fuss was all about. Although the later group didn't really participate in the on-bus discussion.
By 1978 classic rock and roll had a stranglehold on popular music. Sure here in the hinterlands we had maybe heard of The Ramones or Sex Pistols, but hadn't really heard them. To see this weird band take such an integral part of the rock and roll canon like Satisfaction and turn it into some sort of robotic freak music was unheard of and it was hard to get your mind around what it meant.
I just love this performance. The yellow suit, the eyeglass, but especially the herk-jerky movements that remind me of Disney animatronics such as The Country Bear Jamboree. Pay particular attention to the end as the guitar player drops his guitar, lifts his hand...holds it... then bows. Like a robot that just got turned off.
I think the reaction was so strong on that bus because kids realized that if you could do that to such an iconic song, then anything was possible musically and some were terrified of that notion while others thought it liberating. That we could actually see it on our TVs, that it was happening in our rec rooms and not in some dank club in NYC meant that it could happen here too. And it was. Unbeknownst to probably everyone on that bus is that just 25 miles to the east bands such as The Suicide Commandos and Suburbs were just beginning to take the same attitude toward their music, while others such as Paul Westerberg and Bob Stinson were still listening to the Beatles and the Stones, but were playing and writing different kind of songs of their own in their bedrooms.
Kids kind of hated this version but were excited by the opportunities it presented. The old ways making music were crumbling and not everything that was rock and roll meant listening to acts that played at Woodstock or were part of the 60s. The door was wide open for interpretation and although it took me a few more years, I would end up running through it at full throttle.