On October 11, 1975, George Carlin hosted the very first episode of Saturday Night Live. Sort of. For the only time in the show’s now-storied history, the host participated in none of that night’s sketches; Carlin just did his stand-up bits, said goodbye to the audience, and introduced that night’s musical guests, “fifth Beatle” Billy Preston, who performed “Nothing from Nothing” and “Fancy Lady,” and not-Lizzy Caplan Janis Ian.
Obviously, in the years since, hosts have been a bit more involved than Carlin was, for better or worse, but for 740 episodes over 38 seasons, the basic set-up for bands playing SNL has remained the same, despite music itself changing dramatically since 1975. That’s why the Spotify embed below, which collects (nearly) every single song SNL musical guests have ever played in Studio 8H, from then (Preston and Ian) to now (Justin Timberlake), is so fascinating. It’s the evolution (devolution?) of American music — from the punk rock of the 1970s to the new wave of the 1980s to the flannel rock of the early 1990s to the hip-hop of the mid 1990s to the boy bands of the late 1990s, etc. — in one playlist. It’s just a shame the Replacements have to share space with Maroon 5…
For some reason, only the first 1,000 songs appear in the embed. Listen to the rest here.