One of the more notable—or infamous—moments in Saturday Night Live’s 40-plus year history came when, at the behest of John Belushi, the sketch program booked the punk band Fear as the musical guest for its 1981 Halloween episode. The set, featuring performances of “New York’s Alright if You Like Saxophones,” “Let’s Have a War,” and “Beef Bologna,” turned into a full-on mosh pit and reportedly caused $500,000 worth of damage in the studio. It was a complete disaster, and one that could have been avoided had those in charge of Belushi’s next picture okayed the inclusion of a track featuring the comedian and Fear in their movie. Now, more than 30 years later, that song, “Neighbors,” is finally set to see the light of day this Halloween.
The long-hidden number was laid down a few months before the SNL fiasco and was supposed to appear on the soundtrack of Belushi’s upcoming film Neighbors. Recorded at Cherokee studios in L.A. and produced by legendary Stax records guitarist (and Blues Brothers band member) Steve Cropper, the song was ultimately rejected by the film’s producers. Feeling bad, Belushi lobbied hard for Fear to appear on SNL as a sort of consolation to the band. There are actually two versions of the song, one with Belushi on lead vocals and the other with Fear leader Lee Ving singing. As Ving recalls in Rolling Stone:
I kept arguing with John, ‘I wrote the lyrics for you to sing.’ I was quite militant on the punk-rock issue of being punk-correct in that I wasn’t looking forward to singing lyrics that I had written for someone else to sing that were based on a movie that didn’t touch my life. The lyrics weren’t authentic enough for me to sing them. We went back and forth, and eventually John says, ‘OK, OK, I’ll sing it.’ John, being such a good mimic, sings it, and you can tell it’s not me.
Ving revisited the song while putting together a re-release package to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Fear’s album More Beer. “I didn’t know what the rights were to the song or who had the two-inch tape,” he says. “It turns out my business partner is friends with [John Belushi’s widow] Judy Pisano, so he contacted her—she’s a sweetheart—and she had the two-inch.”
In addition to a Halloween digital release, there will also be a special seven-inch copy of “Neighbors” with both Ving and Belushi’s takes available in November.