When Steve Martin Got Wild and Crazy with "King Tut"

Steve Martin on 'Saturday Night Live' in 1978
Photo Credit
video screenshot/NBC/Broadway Video

In the summer of 1978, Steve Martin hit an unlikely chart high on the Billboard Hot 100 with a song about a boy king who was reportedly born in Arizona and moved to Babylonia, where he had a condo made of stone-a.

Produced by William E. McEuen and written by Martin himself (serving as the closing track for his Grammy-winning sophomore album A Wild and Crazy Guy), “King Tut” was inspired by the traveling “Treasures of Tutankhamun” exhibit that toured seven U.S. cities between 1976 and 1979 and was viewed by approximately eight million visitors. The song made its debut on the April 22, 1978 episode of NBC’s Saturday Night Live, a performance which occurred after Martin approached producer Lorne Michaels with the song and asked if he could perform it. What Martin didn’t expect, however, was that Michaels would decide to go all out with the production, which ended up being one of the most expensive sequences put together by the series up to that point.

Although the song was a sizable hit for a novelty single, climbing to No. 17 on the Hot 100, it was decidedly more successful in certain cities...and if you guessed that those cities were stops on the tour of the Tutankhamun exhibit, then you guessed correctly. In particular, Chicago’s WLS-AM played the hell out of the song, spending four weeks at the top of the station’s airplay chart, ultimately being named the station’s 11th biggest hit of 1978.

In 2011, Martin re-recorded the song with his band The Steep Canyon Rangers for their Rare Bird Alert album, and while it’s definitely twangier in its new carnation than it was when Martin recorded it with The Toot Uncommons (a.k.a. members of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band), it still holds up in a very funny way.

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