Musical moments we'll never forget, thanks to David Letterman
After dominating the late night talk show circuit for the last 33 years, David Letterman will be taking his final bow on the Late Show this evening. It’s true that goodbyes are never easy, but when you’ve got a talk show career that spans over three decades, there’s a lot to be proud of.
Since Letterman’s late night debuts back in 1982, he’s been responsible for broadcasting some of the most memorable moments in music history. For starters, he gave future rock legends like R.E.M. and Sonic Youth their national television debut on Late Night With David Letterman. He’s also welcomed countless icons to his stage: Lou Reed, Bob Dylan, James Brown, The Beastie Boys, and Whitney Houston just to name a few. And, let’s not forget the time he convinced Sonny and Cher to perform an impromptu duet of “I Got You Babe.” Don’t worry, we’ll get to that later.
So, in honor of David Letterman’s final show, we’ve decided to celebrate with a roundup of the most unforgettable performances that took place on Letterman’s stage.
R.E.M. – “Radio Free Europe/So. Central Name” (1983)
Long before R.E.M. rose to legendary rock status, they were making their television debut on Late Night. The guys performed “Radio Free Europe” and “So. Central Name” which, at the time, was unnamed. And, might we add? Watching a young Michael Stipe singing his heart out in khaki slacks is totally surreal.
Bob Dylan – “Jokerman” (1984)
Bob Dylan is no stranger to the Letterman stage. In fact, Dylan performed “The Night We Called It a Day” last night during Letterman’s second-to-last show (catch it here). In honor of Dylan’s long running relationship with Letterman, it’s only right that we include this electrifying performance of “Jokerman.”
Whitney Houston – “Saving All My Love for You” (1985)
It’s hard to imagine a time when Whitney Houston wasn’t an established powerhouse. But back in 1985, Whitney was just coming out with her debut album, How Will I Know. Unsurprisingly, Whitney’s Late Night performance blew everyone away, including Dave. According to Liam O’Brien of Digital Spy, “her vocal gymnastics left the host stunned.” Leave it to Whitney to make this one of the most unbelievable live performances in history.
Sonny & Cher – “I Got You Babe” (1987)
Sonny and Cher got more than they bargained for when they stopped by Late Night back in ’87. The duo thought they were only slated for an interview, when Letterman convinced them to perform their classic hit, “I Got You Babe” on a moment’s notice. Letterman was reportedly a little misty-eyed by the performance’s end. And can you blame him? In spite of the fact that they had divorce 12 years prior, there was still such a tenderness between them!
Sonic Youth made their national television debut on Late Night in all their noisy, guitar screeching goodness. Bonus: The band does a musical outro to the commercial break with their own rendition of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana. How’s that for a sign of the times?
Foo Fighters – “Everlong” (2000)
After Letterman underwent heart surgery in 2000, he made a special request for the Foo Fighters to play his favorite song, “Everlong” on the Late Show. Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl later told the Orange County Register, “Ever since that day, we’ve been in love. I don’t know how many times we’ve played that show, but every time we do and I stand in the Ed Sullivan Theater, I never take that for granted.” Can we can one big collective “AWWW”?
The White Stripes – “Fell in Love With a Girl” (2002)
The White Stripes’ third album, White Blood Cells, put the dynamic duo on the musical heat map back in 2001. Although Letterman may not have gotten The Stripes their broadcast debut, “Fell in Love With a Girl” subsequently took over radio stations and later, our ears. “I said it once before but it bears repeating now” is still stuck in our heads.
Warren Zevon – “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner” (2002)
Warren Zevon, who had previously been diagnosed with terminal cancer, made his last television appearance on Late Night on October 30, 2002. Per the request of David Letterman, Zevon performed “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner.” Zevon was the only guest on the show that evening, and quipped about his struggle with cancer. It is, by and far, one of the most emotional episodes in the show’s history.
The Beastie Boys – “Ch-Check It Out” (2004)
The Beastie Boys melted the faces off of every Late Show viewer after their performance of “Ch-Check It Out.” Appropriately, the guys rapped while bouncing through the streets of New York City before taking over the Ed Sullivan Theatre stage. We still miss you, MCA.
Arcade Fire – “Rebellion (Lies)” (2005)
Has it really been ten years since Arcade Fire debuted “Rebellion”? Long before they were selling out stadiums around the world, Arcade Fire was just getting traction with their album, Funeral. Their memorable Late Show performance gave the band much-deserved visibility.
My Morning Jacket – “Gideon” (2006)
If the violin strings in this performance aren’t enough to get your heart soaring, I don’t know what will. My Morning Jacket took the stage with the Boston Pops symphony orchestra. The result: mesmerizing, heavenly music.
Jay Z & Eminem – “Renegade” (2010)
You know something legendary is about to go down when David Letterman takes your performance to the rooftops of New York City. Along with the previously mentioned Beastie Boys set, Jay Z and Eminem’s performance of “Renegade” turned to be one of the best live rap performances in the show’s history. It kinda makes us want to teleport back to the Summer of 2010.
Robyn – “Dancing On My Own” (2010)
As usual, Robyn lit up the stage and gave a studio-worthy performance of her internationally recognized hit “Dancing On My Own.” In case you didn’t know, it’s also one of our top five dance songs of all time.
Adele – “Make You Feel My Love” (2011)
True to form, Adele put on a heart-stopping performance of “Make You Feel My Love.” The song, which was originally written by Bob Dylan (and later performed by Garth Brooks, Brian Ferry, Billy Joel, and Kelly Clarkson) appeared on Adele’s debut album, 19.
Future Islands – “Seasons (Waiting on You)” (2014)
Hearing Samuel T. Herring’s gruffly voice is oh-so satisfying. Those theatrical dance moves aren’t too shabby either. Future Islands made a triumphant return to the Letterman a few weeks ago with their debute performance of “Thr Chase” (which you can catch here).
Don’t miss Letterman’s final show tonight on CBS. Thank you for giving us a lifetime of moments to look back on, Dave. Your late-night presence will be missed!