The Best Music on Letterman

The Best Music from The Late Show with David Letterman

The Late Show with David Letterman ended this week. Letterman has presented late night TV shows on NBC and CBS for 33 years. This tribute could possibly have been posted on our sister site but it is mainly about the music. And if Rolling Stone magazine can fill their pages with stories about The Late Show, then why can’t we?


Letterman has always divided people. There are plenty of fans, hence his 33 year stint in a tough market. But there are almost as many detractors, who don’t get his humour and find him unfunny. I must admit I’ve always found the show very hit and miss, with plenty of misses. But he always got the big names and segments from the show often made the headlines.

One large section of the show that I always found hard to swallow was Letterman and the producer’s penchant for giving screen time to rank amateurs. A huge cast of stage hands, costume ladies, cue card holders and the like were given lengthy and frequent on air presentation duties. This usually resulted in awkward, disjointed segments.

The frequent visitor Jack Hanna, who brought along an endless parade of wild animals from his zoo, also lacked on air skills and always looked very uncomfortable on the set.

But, all that aside, I was something of an addict and probably watched significantly more Late Shows than I missed in recent years.

As Mr Letterman said on the last show and regularly before that, the best part about the show was the music. Mostly he was referring to Paul Shaffer and the CBS Orchestra, who were great. The guest musicians, like the comedy, was hit and miss. Much of it was missable, or dismissable, but often there were gems and thank god we live in an age where these performances are preserved and can be re-watched at will.

Thank you for your time David Letterman, but most of all thank you for the music.

Tom Jones – Burning Hell

As we said earlier, the Late Show often made the headlines and this one made big ones. Because Joaquin Phoenix showed up in a heavy beard and dark glasses and announced that he was giving up acting to become a rap artist… and very little else. It was like trying to draw blood from a stone for Letterman to get him to talk.

But the real reason this show should have hit the headlines was for the amazing performance by Tom Jones, singing the bluesy gospel song Burning Hell. Backed only by a drummer and an excellent slide guitarist

Foo Fighters with Zac Brown – War Pigs

The Foo Fighters are reportedly Dave Letterman‘s favourite band and they closed out the final show. But that was behind a montage of archive footage.

Only last year the Foos did a week’s residency on the Late Show, adding guest musicians to their line up each night. This was one of my favourites of those performances, where they were joined by Zac Brown to cover the Black Sabbath classic War Pigs.

Sam Moore and David Sanborn – I Got News for You

The Soul Man legend, Sam Moore had guested on the equally legendary saxophonist, David Sanborn‘s album Here and Gone and consequently joined him on his Letterman performance. Sanborn wailed on the sax and Sam Moore showed he had lost nothing, despite his advancing years.

Sam Moore was of course best known for his partnership with Dave Prater, in the duo Sam and Dave. So he saw the irony of appearing on the David Letterman show with David Sanborn, as a result he had a special Tee shirt made up, which he flashes in the clip.

Janelle Monáe – Tightrope

This was my first ever glimpse of Janelle Monáe and she blew me away.

At first sight, I thought this was another rap act, of which there were far too many featured on the Late Show, in my opinion. But this performance was so full of energy and theatricality, you can not help but love it.

The Strypes – What a Shame

The was a lot of hype about The Strypes around the time of this performance. All the rock royalty were singing their praises, from Elton John to Dave Grohl. They were not wrong. Their rawness and energy was a breath of fresh air.

St. Paul and The Broken Bones- Call Me

I’d seen St Paul and the Broken Bones previously on the Craig Ferguson show and they were awesome. I had not seen their earlier performance on Letterman, that he refers to in the clip. He asks them to blow it away and they totally delivered.

Darlene Love – Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)

Letterman always finished his pre-christmas show with Darlene Love singing Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) and although it’s not Christmas now, I think we should too. It was always great to see how much Paul Shaffer enjoyed recreating thatPhil Spector wall of sound.

Well that’s it… for now.

I’m sure that we have missed plenty of great performances from the show. If we’ve missed any of your favourites, please let us know in the comments below, if we agree, we may update the page.

Comments are closed.