December 26, 1993

Great moments in Dave: musical guests

This is the first in a series of Top 10 lists in honor of David Letterman, who is retiring from late night television after 33 years on May 20.

David Letterman has played host to a stunning variety of musical guests — first on Late Night (1982-93) and then on Late Show (1993-present) — from rock to rap, from soul to country and even some blues and jazz.

Legends played Letterman. Ringo played the old show. Paul played the current one. Johnny Cash wore black. Miles Davis was cool.

But none of them made this top 10 list of musical performances.

Dave introduced new artists. Robert Cray and Sinead O’Connor in the 80s. Fiona Apple and the Lemonheads in the 90s. TV on the Radio and At the Drive-In in the 2000s.

They didn’t make the list either.

Dave hosted a week of Beatles covers and a week of drum solos. U2 was the musical guest for an entire week. So were Foo Fighters.

Again, not on the list.

Paul Shaffer should receive most of the credit for this kind of variety, excellence and taste. From the beginning, he has been Dave’s musical director — and bandleader of the World’s Most Dangerous Band (NBC) and the CBS Orchestra.

Finally, these may not be the best or greatest performances in Letterman history, although they are superlative.

More appropriately, they are the most significant.

Dave’s taste was an important factor in the rankings — his relationship to the artist, his reaction to the music. The way he still genuinely gushes over a new band like The Orwells is why the 67-year-old is hipper than Jimmy Fallon.

My personal taste played a part. There is more music from Late Night than Late Show, more soul than alt-rock. Just because.

These are the Top 10 musical performances in Letterman history:

1. WARREN ZEVON | “Mutineer” (2002)

Warren Zevon made his last appearance on Letterman a few months after he was diagnosed with lung cancer.

The only guest that night, he talked at length about his illness. When Dave asked Zevon if he knew something about “life and death that maybe I don’t know,” he said: “Not unless I know how much you are supposed to enjoy every sandwich.”

Zevon performed three songs: “Mutineer,” “Genius” and “Roland the Headless Thompson.”

“Dave’s the best friend my music has ever had,” he said.

The day after Zevon’s death in 2003, Dave replayed his performance of “Mutineer.”

Appearances | 12 (including 1982, 1987, 1988, 1989 and 2002).

2. DARLENE LOVE | “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” (1986-2014)

Darlene Love on Letterman IS Christmas.

Love first sang “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” for Dave on Dec. 16, 1986, and last month was her 21st performance in 28 years.

In 1993, Dave called it “the only rock and roll Christmas song that I truly enjoy.”

Love is always accompanied by backup singers and an orchestra, a wild entrance by saxophonist Bruce Kapler and falling fake snow.

“It’s become very meaningful,” Dave said in her final appearance.

Love has vowed not to perform the song on another television show.

For almost 30 years, Love singing “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” has been the purest expression of joy in late night.

Appearances | 21 (including 1986, 1993, 1995, 2000, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014).

3. JAMES BROWN | “Sex Machine,” “There Was a Time” and “I Got the Feelin’ ” (1982)

There is live music. Then there is James Brown.

“This is the honor of a lifetime,” Paul Shaffer told Brown before the show. “Just tell me what you’d like to play.”

“What do you guys want to play, Paul?” Brown said.

Drummer Steve Jordan picked “Sex Machine.” Guitarist Hiram Bullock chose “There Was a Time.”

Brown closed with his own selection: “I Got the Feelin’.”

Appearances | 7 (including 1985, 1993 and 1999)

4. SONNY & CHER | “I Got You Babe” (1987)

Sonny and Cher performed together for the first time since 1979 and just the second since their variety show ended in 1976.

“None of this has been discussed prior to the show,” Dave said. “It’s sort of a last minute thing. It’s entirely up to you.”

“Oh, you are so full of [bleep],” Cher said.

Sonny and Cher sang “I Got You Babe.” Cher flubbed some of the lyrics, but that was half the charm.

It was their last performance together.

Appearances | 1

5. FUTURE ISLANDS | “Seasons (Waiting on You)” (2014)

After the British new wave beats and synth-pop perfection, after the Belinda Carlisle dance moves, after the chest-pounding, guttural vocals, after all the pain had been wrenched from Samuel T. Herring’s white boy soul, Dave said: “How about that! I’ll take all of that you got!”

Then it went viral.

More than 3 million hits YouTube.

Coldplay retweeted it.

Bono called the song “a miracle.”

When Dave said “let’s dance” during his monologue, he was talking about Future Islands.

Appearances | 1

6. BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN | “Glory Days” (1993)

On his last Late Night, Dave said that there is only one person “who has not been on this show who I always really, really wanted as a guest.”

Bruce Springsteen played the fitting “Glory Days.”

His interplay with Paul during the song was especially fun.

Bruce: “You’re going to have a bigger bandstand.”

Paul: “Yeah.”

Bruce: “Your own dressing room.”

Paul: “Yeah.”

Bruce: “Big theater.”

Paul: “Yeah.”

Bruce: “A raise.”

Paul: “Nah.”

Appearances | 4 (including consecutive nights in August 2002)

7. BOB DYLAN | “Jokerman” (1984)

Bob Dylan played three songs — “Jokerman,” “License to Kill” and Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Don’t Start Me to Talking” — with the Los Angeles new wave group The Plugz. He refused to be interviewed.

“Any chance you guys can be here every Thursday night?” Dave said.

Dylan smiled and nodded.

Appearances | 3 (including an almost indecipherable version of “Like a Rolling Stone” on Dave’s 10th anniversary special.)

8. R.E.M | “So. Central Rain (I’m Sorry)” (1983)

R.E.M. played their first college radio hit in their first television appearance. “So. Central Rain” was so new that it was still untitled.

Before the song, Dave talked to Peter Buck and Mike Mills, while the nervous Michael Stipe sat behind them.

Appearances | 7 (including 1995, 1998, 1999, 2001 and 2003)

9. AL GREEN (with Toni Childs) | “Let’s Stay Together” (1989)

When Paul Shaffer assembled his All-Star bands for Dave’s anniversary shows, they usually didn’t work.

This one did. Al Green and Toni Childs teamed on “Let’s Stay Together” — one of Dave’s favorite songs — for the show’s seventh anniversary. They were backed by Carlos Santana, Tito Puente, David Sanborn, Melissa Etheridge and others.

Appearances | 12 (including 1987, 1995, 1998, 2008 and last month, the night after he was celebrated at the Kennedy Center honors).

10. BEASTIE BOYS | “Ch-Check It Out” (2004)

The Beastie Boys emerged from a New York City subway station with their microphones, rapping all the way down 53rd Street, straight into a fish-eye lens, until they reached the stage of the Ed Sullivan Theater. By the end the song, they were posing around Dave’s desk.

“Here’s what I like about the Beastie Boys,” Dave said. “First of all, they’re dangerous.”

Appearances | 4 (including 1992, 1994 and 2006).

HONORABLE MENTION. The Foo Fighters, one of Dave’s favorite bands, performed “Everlong” on his first night back from heart surgery and later recreated The Ed Sullivan Show set for a two-hour concert. … Jay-Z and Eminem played the roof of the Ed Sullivan Theater. … Le1f was the first openly gay rap artist on television. … Lady Gaga led Dave’s audience across the street for her concert, the last one at Roseland music hall. … Elvis Costello was the guest host and musical guest in 2003. … Dave said Billy Currington’s “People Are Crazy” will change your life. … Sly Stone made his only television appearance between 1976 and the 2006 Grammys. Carly Simon sang “All I Want Is You” from a hotel room because of her fear of live audiences. … Captain Beefheart showed some of his latest video, because MTV wouldn’t air it.

July 24, 1993

Jon Stewart

Jon Stewart’s first talk show debuted on MTV in 1993, an alternative mash-up of interviews, musical guests and sketches — including the recurring “Talk Show Jon” in which Stewart voiced an action figure of himself. His guests were the young and hip, Conan O’Brien and Quentin Tarantino, Claire Danes and Alicia Silverstone, Notorious B.I.G. and Marilyn Manson.

After the first season, Paramount syndicated The Jon Stewart Show, using it as a replacement for the canceled Arsenio Hall Show. The show was a hit on MTV, but not in syndication.

Stewart announced its cancellation on Late Show with David Letterman in 1995. Letterman appeared on Stewart’s final show, bringing a clip from his failed morning show, which lasted four months in 1980. He also shared with Stewart a fitting homily: “Cancellation should not be confused with failure.”

Stewart was the top prospect in late night — even on the fictional The Larry Sanders Show (1992-98), Garry Shandling’s knowing deconstruction of show business. Stewart played himself, a frequent guest host for Sanders. In the final season, the network threatens to replace Sanders with Stewart unless he updates the show.

The following year, Tom Snyder retired from The Late Late Show — which followed Letterman on CBS — creating an opening in late night. But Worldwide Pants, Letterman’s production company, chose The Daily Show host Craig Kilborn over Stewart. Some members inside the company were appalled by the selection, because Kilborn was the lesser talent. Those outside speculated that Letterman and his producers passed on Stewart, because he was a younger, hipper version of Dave, someone who might generate talk of succession.

The Daily Show was second-rate, just the best late night job available, but Stewart transformed it into a cultural touchstone and appointment viewing for news junkies, comedy fans and young progressives. Over the past 16 years and four presidential elections, Stewart — whose last show is Thursday — became the leading voice of the political left, his show a watchdog organization for government hypocrisy and cable news incompetence, especially Fox News.

He was a relentless media critic. When MSNBC’s Chris Matthews appeared to promote his book Life’s a Campaign, Stewart said: “I’m not trashing your book. I’m trashing your philosophy of life.” When CNBC’s Jim Cramer defended himself against his endorsement of Bear Stearns after the firm’s collapse, Stewart pulled clip after clip, exposing him as just another stock market tout. Stewart enjoyed a friendly rivalry with Bill O’Reilly, making numerous appearances on The O’Reilly Factor and once debating him for 90 minutes.

But Stewart’s zeitgeist moment was his appearance on Crossfire in October 2004. While there to promote America (The Book), he instead dismantled the caustic CNN show and those like it, pleading with hosts Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala to “stop hurting America” and calling them “partisan hacks.” When network CEO Jonathan Klein canceled the show eight months later, he was “firmly in the Jon Stewart camp.”

The Daily Show became a comedy franchise, producing two spin-offs — The Colbert Report (six Emmys) and The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore — and a depth of talent. Stephen Colbert will replace Letterman in the fall. John Oliver’s stint as guest host earned him a similar show on HBO. Steve Carell’s resume is extraordinary: The Office, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Little Miss Sunshine and Foxcatcher for which he received an Academy Award nomination. Ed Helms joined Carell on The Office and played the neurotic one in the Hangover movies. Rob Corddry created Adult Swim’s Childrens Hospital.

The Daily Show won 18 Emmys and two Peabody Awards — one each for its Indecision 2000 and Indecision 2004 election coverage. But the show’s more important wins were the two decisive ones by President Obama in 2008 and 2012. Stewart deserves an assist on those. He hosted Obama seven times on The Daily Show. He made a generation of young voters more interested in politics, more interested in the idea of an Obama presidency.

Stewart did something else that should not be overlooked: He made being liberal cool again. It was no longer a dirty word. Again and again, he explained in detail the merits of a liberal idea — government healthcare, gun control, gay marriage — and made them sound like common sense.

June 21, 1993

NBA awards [1992-93]

Jazz teammates Karl Malone and John Stockton were named co-MVPs of the All-Star Game in their home city of Salt Lake City. Nets guard Drazen Petrovic was killed in an auto accident in Germany, and Celtics guard Reggie Lewis died of a heart attack during practice.

Player of the Year | Michael Jordan [Bulls] 32.6 points, 6.7 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 51.4 2-point shooting, 35.2 3-point shooting, 83.7 free throw shooting, 2.8 steals.

2. Charles Barkley [Suns]
3. Hakeem Olajuwon [Rockets]
4. Karl Malone [Jazz]
5. David Robinson [Spurs]

Rookie of the Year | Shaquille O’Neal [Magic] 23.4 points, 13.9 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 56.3 2-point shooting, 59.2 free throw shooting, 3.5 blocks. Age [20]

Jack Twyman Award (or Teammate of the Year) | Charles Barkley [Suns] 25.6 points, 12.2 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 56.1 2-point shooting, 76.5 free throw shooting.


Forward | Charles Barkley [Suns] 25.6 points, 12.2 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 56.1 2-point shooting, 76.5 free throw shooting. Age [29]

Forward | Karl Malone [Jazz] 27.0 points, 11.2 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 55.7 2-point shooting, 74.0 free throw shooting. Age [29]

Center | Hakeem Olajuwon [Rockets] 26.1 points, 13.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 53.2 2-point shooting, 77.9 free throw shooting, 4.2 blocks. Age [30]

Guard | Michael Jordan [Bulls] 32.6 points, 6.7 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 51.4 2-point shooting, 35.2 3-point shooting, 83.7 free throw shooting, 2.8 steals. Age [29]

Point guard | John Stockton [Jazz] 15.1 points, 2.9 rebounds, 12.0 assists, 51.3 2-point shooting, 79.8 free throw shooting, 2.4 steals. Age [30]


Forward | Dominique Wilkins [Hawks] 29.9 points, 6.8 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 49.0 2-point shooting, 38.0 3-point shooting, 82.8 free throw shooting. Age [33]

Forward | Derrick Coleman [Nets] xx.x points, x.x rebounds, x.x assists, xx.x 2-point shooting, xx.x free throw shooting. Age [xx]

Center | David Robinson [Spurs] 23.4 points, 11.7 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 50.6 2-point shooting, 73.2 free throw shooting, 3.2 blocks. Age [27]

Point guard | Mark Price [Cavaliers] 18.2 points, 2.7 rebounds, 8.0 assists, 51.2 2-point shooting, 41.6 3-point shooting, 94.8 free throw shooting. Age [28]

Guard | Joe Dumars [Pistons] xx.x points, x.x rebounds, x.x assists, xx.x 2-point shooting, xx.x free throw shooting. Age [xx]


Forward | Larry Johnson [Hornets] 22.1 points, 10.5 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 54.0 2-point shooting, 76.7 free throw shooting. Age [23]

Forward | Larry Nance [Cavaliers] xx.x points, x.x rebounds, x.x assists, xx.x 2-point shooting, xx.x free throw shooting. Age [xx]

Center | Patrick Ewing [Knicks] xx.x points, x.x rebounds, x.x assists, xx.x 2-point shooting, xx.x free throw shooting. Age [xx]

Point guard | Tim Hardaway [Warriors] xx.x points, x.x rebounds, x.x assists, xx.x 2-point shooting, xx.x free throw shooting. Age [xx]

Guard | Reggie Miller [Pacers] xx.x points, x.x rebounds, x.x assists, xx.x 2-point shooting, xx.x free throw shooting. Age [xx]


Center | Brad Daugherty [Cavaliers] xx.x points, x.x rebounds, x.x assists, xx.x 2-point shooting, xx.x free throw shooting. Age [xx]

Center | Shaquille O’Neal [Magic] 23.4 points, 13.9 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 56.3 2-point shooting, 59.2 free throw shooting, 3.5 blocks. Age [20]

Forward | Detlef Schrempf [Pacers] 19.1 points, 9.5 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 49.3 2-point shooting, 80.4 free throw shooting. Age [30]
— Kevin Brewer