SNL Pays Tribute to Hal Willner; Chris Martin Plays Dylan’s ‘Shelter From The Storm’ (Watch)

 “Saturday Night Live,” NBC’s long-running weekly sketch comedy TV series dating back to 1975, on Saturday (April 11) produced its entire show remotely via live and recorded video in keeping with current coronavirus quarantine regulations. Among the various comedy routines and political satire, which included an opening monologue from Tom Hanks, were two poignant music tributes: one to the late great Hal Willner and another featuring Chris Martin of Coldplay covering Bob Dylan’s classic “Shelter From the Storm.” 

Martin’s moving performance of Bob Dylan’s timeless classic “Shelter From The Storm,” from the bard’s 1975 album Blood on the Tracks, came as something of a surprise considering Coldplay’s new album Everyday Life, came out only in November.  The song, which aired in black and white, featured Martin with only an acoustic guitar and his rich, mournful baritone from what appeared to be his home studio (with handwritten signs on the wall saying “Entrance To Trains”). The performance was a condensed version of Dylan’s five-minute original with Martin moving the second verse with the lyric “In a world of steel-eyed death, and men just praying to be warm/Come in, she said I’ll give you shelter from the storm” to end the song and changing “fighting” to “praying”—seemingly apropos of the times we face.

Interestingly, last week Dylan achieved his first number one rock song with the release of “Murder Most Foul,” a 17-minute epic track ostensibly about the murder of President John F. Kennedy. Worth noting, too, Blood on the Tracks also reached number one upon its 1975 release.

The evening’s second emotional music moment came in a touching tribute from current and former SNL cast members to the late great Hal Willner, the influential music producer and the show’s longtime segment music producer, who passed away on April 7 from what is presumed to be COVID-19.

The segment opened with one of the current crop of “Not Ready For Prime Time Players” Kate McKinnon explaining the importance of Willner’s music in SNL sketches over the years which she said became “an integral part of” the show.  Emotional tributes came from Adam Sandler, Fred Armison, (who recalled Willner turning him on to the “Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo”) Bill Hader (who learned of late-60s Frank Zappa from Willner) and Pete Davidson while cast members, including Tina Fey, Maya Rudolph and Amy Poehler, sang tribute in unison to a song by Willner’s longtime friend Lou Reed and his song “Perfect Day” from 1972’s Transformer (an album produced by David Bowie and arranged by Mick Ronson).

Willner, according to published reports, had just finished an album project dedicated to T. Rex’s Marc Bolan. 

“The live thing is what’s really exciting to me,” Willner said in a previously recorded video interview. “When it’s all working there’s nothing like it. I kinda get off on the danger, the air that this could really fuck up or this is going to be so magical.”  Both performance segments, which would seem risky at best, achieved the latter in spades. 

According to Deadline, ratings for the episode of Saturday Night Live were way up and second behind only SNL’s Dec. 21, 2019 Christmas show hosted by Eddie Murphy with Lizzo performing.