by Scott Strong, VP of Marketing, Red Tail Entertainment

This month, 39 years ago, the debut of a new show on at 12:30am eastern time changed late night talk shows forever.  February 1st, 1982, a young comic whose daytime show was considered “too weird” for that stay-at-home audience was given approval by talk show legend Johnny Carson to take over the time slot immediately following his Tonight Show.  The rest is history. David Letterman would go on to change the landscape of not only late-night TV but television in general.  Letterman’s reign would give the world Stupid Pet Tricks, 10 Ten Lists, Small Town News, Pee Wee Herman, throwing stuff off roofs, Andy Kaufman getting slapped and Drew Barrymore exposing private parts.  But something Letterman does not get enough credit for is how he brought music to the masses.

Before Late Night with David Letterman on NBC and then Late Show with David Letterman on CBS, musical performances were few and far between on late night television.  Johnny Carson would have the big names of the time on, but it was small list and he never went beyond what he was comfortable with.  Carson had his house band do the “heavy lifting” and it stayed pretty much in the big band arena.  Letterman along with his musical leader, Paul Shaffer, made music a key element of the show.  Along with Shaffer’s “World’s Most Dangerous Band”, Letterman made his shows a showcase for all types of acts, all types of music.  His show was a place to go to experience new bands, rediscover older artists and see performers who were not usually invited on TV.  To celebrate this anniversary, here are my TOP 10 LETTERMAN LATE NIGHT/LATE SHOW MUSICAL MOMENTS.

#10  Al Green & Lyle Lovett – “Funny How Time Slips Away” (1994)

A perfect example of Letterman’s enjoyment of music.  Before Dave’s show there would not been a lot of TV opportunities for this duo.

#9 Janelle Monae – “Dance Apocalyptic” (2013)

Letterman loved a great performance.  Janelle gave him just that!!!

#8 Foo Fighters – “Everlong” (2000)

The Foo Fighters were said to be Letterman’s favorite band, so when he survived heart surgery, he requested Dave Grohl and the band perform on his first show back.

#7 Paul McCartney – “Get Back” (2009)

Paul wanted to do something a little different on his return to the Ed Sullivan Theater, where in 1964 he left a small mark on musical history.  Thus, a recreation of another piece of Beatle history.

#6 Bruce Springsteen – “Glory Days” (1993)

Bruce did not do much TV but agreed to perform on Dave’s last show on NBC.  Also, before he played, he asked Paul if his keyboard could hold his weight.

#5 Rage Against The Machine – “Guerilla Radio” (1999)

There is nothing like the power of live music with a message.

#4 James Brown – “Sex Machine/There was a Time/I Got the Feeling” (1982)

At this time in his career, James Brown was given up on by the media.  But not Letterman!

#3 Future Islands – “Seasons (Waiting On You)” (2014)

Hard to understand today, but with all the ways now to find, experience and share music it is hard to remember that “mass discovery” of a band.  This was one of those moments!  Many offices, schools, and hangouts the next day were asking, “Did you see that band on Letterman last night?!?”.

#2 Sonny & Cher – “I Got You Babe” (1987)

They were not friendly to each other at this time, but they knew how to entertain.  Turns out this would be the last time they sang together.

#1 Warren Zevon – “Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner” (2002)

This was Warren’s final song he ever performed in public.  He was the only guest on the show as he had been recently been diagnosed with an incurable form of cancer.  Something Zevon said during his interview with Dave sums it all up.  “Enjoy every sandwich”.