John Lennon had himself quite a time during his self-described “lost weekend”, a year-and-a-half-long span beginning in 1973 during which he separated from Yoko, kicked up his heroin habit, and raised quite a ruckus in L.A. with accomplice Harry Nilsson. All this culminated in the 1974 album Walls & Bridges and Lennon’s first and only #1 hit as a solo artist, “Whatever Gets You Through The Night”, which featured Elton John on piano and backup vocals. During recording sessions, his guest artist bet Lennon that the song would be a smash and hit the top of the charts. Lennon disagreed, and so a wager was placed, such that when the song did indeed make a splash late in the year, the former Beatle was compelled to join Elton John on stage for a Thanksgiving performance. This would prove to be John Lennon’s final significant concert appearance, as for the next five years, he got back with Yoko Ono in New York and assumed the role of “house husband”, receding from the music industry until his ill-fated re-emergence in 1980.
Meanwhile, in 1975, Lorne Michaels launched Saturday Night Live, his new sketch-comedy show on NBC. One of the first things Michaels did was to task fellow Canadian Howard Shore with assembling a house band and writing music for the show. For the opening theme, Shore gave sax player Lou Marini the spotlight, allowing his improvisational licks to take center stage. The sound of Marini’s bleating saxophone became a defining characteristic on SNL, and set the tone for the music which accompanies announcer Don Pardo on the show to this day.
It’s pretty evident that the ebullient, amped-up opening bars of John Lennon’s sax-fueled hit seem to have borne direct influence on the famous Saturday Night Live sound, fashioned right on the heels of the song’s emergence. It comes as no surprise, too, that the spirit and subject matter of “Whatever Gets You Through the Night” aligns perfectly with SNL’s core aesthetic.
Incidentally, Michaels made a tongue-in-cheek appearance on Saturday Night Live that same year, offering the Beatles $3000 to re-unite and play live on the show. Apparently both John Lennon and Paul McCartney, who were in New York that night and happened to be watching, briefly considered showing up, but then thought better of it and instead went to bed.
Though the scattershot saxophone notes played on the show have naturally changed slightly over the years with different performers taking the lead, the opening music has almost always consisted of at least several familiar phrases which can be heard a few times over in this example. Listen particularly for the similar motif where the horn builds up to and holds that high note, following it with the quick melodic turn.