Flashback Friday Playlist: Favorite Musical Moments On Letterman!

As David Letterman's retirement looms ever-closer on the horizon, we're jumping into the Wayback Machine to revisit some of our favorite musical moments on his shows.  Today's Flashback Friday playlist goes out to all the bands and artists who have graced his stage for the past four decades.

Thanks for the memories, Dave!




R.E.M. - Too New To Have A Name (South Central Rain) - 1983

For a lot of folks, this particular performance was as monumental as when the Fab Four first appeared on Ed Sullivan.  R.E.M., touring in support of their Murmur LP, stopped by Studio 8H to make their national television debut, performing two songs.  After an inspired "Radio Free Europe" and brief interview with Peter Buck and Mike Mills, the band chose to perform a new song - so new in fact, that it did not yet have a title.

Those not wishing to be reminded of how awesomely innocent and quaint both R.E.M. and Late Night with David Letterman were circa 1983 are best advised to NOT view the above clip.  Everyone else, enjoy!



Bash & Pop (Tommy Stinson from The Replacements) - Fast And Hard - 1993

He'd just left The Mats and his new band's debut album was already gathering dust in the bins due to a complete lack of promotion on the part of Warner Brothers Records, but that didn't stop Stinson from literally blowing the roof off the dump in our singlemost favorite musical performance on this or any other Letterman show.  Sadly, the band would be unceremoniously dropped a few months later, but this performance stands as a stark reminder of how great a frontman Stinson could've been.




Talking Heads - Burning Down The House - 1983

It wasn't the first time the band had hit the Top 40 (they'd done just that in 1979 with their cover of Al Green's "Take Me To The River", but "Burning Down The House" was the hit that made them a household name in 1983 and this appearance on Late Night marked the exact moment that Talking Heads became, officially, a "big deal".  Later in the show, they also performed "I Zimbra".



Moon Unit And Frank Zappa Interview - 1982

Riding high on the fluke chart success of "Valley Girl", the Zappas stopped by Letterman.  The entire interview is a flat-out gem, but the look of restrained indignation on FRank's face upon being asked to explain the reasoning for naming his children Moon Unit and Dweezil is worth the price of admission.



The Vines - Get Free - 2002

Those needing a refresher course in what "blowing it" looks like need only check this clip of singer/guitarist Craig Nicholls melting down mid-song.  From the look of "bemused concern" on the face of bassist Patrick Matthews during the first verse, one starts to get the sense that something is up.  After an impromptu somersault coming out of the first chorus knocked his guitar horribly out-of-tune, though, Nicholls really starts to give in to the darkside.  The next day, the interweb exploded with chatter about the band's train wreck on national TV.  While they would go on to continued success in their homeland of Australia, this moment marks the beginning and end of their relevance in America.



David Lee Roth Interview - 1985

The time was 1985, his solo EP, Crazy From The Heat had just come out, and Diamond Dave was in top mid-80s form on this episode of Letterman. During the interview, he mentions being set to hit the studio with Van Halen later in the month to cut their follow-up to 1984, but, as we now know, he would soon be sacked from the band he'd helped turn into the most successful band on the planet.



L7 - Pretend We're Dead - 1992

Let's face it, there's just something very soothing about seeing all-girl L.A. hard rock outfit L7 absolutely tearing up the joint while Paul Schaffer's band plays along.  By the end of the tune, Letterman guitarist Sid McGinnis is banging his head as hard as anyone.  A buddy of mine, upon seeing this performance, promptly christened them "Nirvana with tits", which sticks with me to this day.  Hard to argue, of course, as the band was promoting an album one year after the release of Nevermind that also happened to be produced by Butch Vig.  L7 was always so much more than that, though, and would go on to create some great albums. Still, being that this was 1992, grunge hadn't quite yet become a caricature of itself and its nice to take a look back at a time before the world would become overrun with flannel and self-pity.




Adele - Chasing Pavements - 2008

Sure, she's universally adored these days, and rightfully so, but on this night in 2008 an unknown UK singer by the name of Adele appeared on The Late Show to promote her single "Chasing Pavements" and, in doing so, knocked an unsuspecting national TV audience on their collective arses.




Beastie Boys - Live At PJ's - 1992

While they're rightfully hailed as musical innovators today, 1992 was a very different year for the Beastie Boys.  Coming off of the commercial flop of Paul's Boutique, the BBoys not only had a new album to promote (Check Your Head), but were now actually playing live instrumentation.  It was a ballsy move that the band pulled off with infectious aplomb on this tasty version of "Live At PJ's".



Lisa Loeb - Stay - 1994

Hard to believe this was twenty years ago.  At the time, Loeb was a complete unknown who had managed to get a track on the Reality Bites soundtrack.  That song, "Stay", would soon become a hit at radio and lead to her appearance on Letterman.  The song itself would go on to hit #1 and Loeb would ink a deal with Geffen.



Iggy Pop - Cold Metal - 1988

On one hand, his album Instinct was a ham-fisted attempt to reclaim his rock cred after the synth-pop Blah Blah Blah record two years prior, but when his performance on Letterman's show includes Sex Pistols legend Steve Jones on guitar, who's complaining?  On a side note, who knew Paul Schaffer had a twin?



Chrissie Hynde - Stop Your Sobbing - 1987

Anybody needing a refresher course in just how charismatic (and cool) Chrissie Hynde was need only check out this clip from her '87 performance on the show.  Half of her original band had died of drug related causes and she had just released the Get Close album with a new line-up so, in a sense, the world was watching to see whether she had what it took to make it on her own.  Based on this performance, the answer was a resounding "Yes".  Little known fact, Johnny Marr had joined the Pretenders just prior to this performance, but would quit the band weeks later.



Lou Reed - Busload Of Faith - 1989 (live in Chicago!)

There is literally so much to love about this clip that we made a list.

1. It's Lou.
2. It's Chicago.
3. That's Buddy Guy and James Cotton.
4. This is proof that in the '80s even Lou had a mullet.

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