David Letterman’s Top 10 Musical Moments

Originally Posted on Rolling Stone

From Sonny and Cher’s reunion to Future Islands’ freakout, the most memorable performances during Dave’s 33 years in late night

David Letterman
(Jeffrey R. Staab/CBS)

When David Letterman permanently signs off the airwaves later this month, it won’t just be the end of one of the greatest comedy institutions in TV history — it’ll also close out an amazing showcase for musical talent. Nearly every episode of NBC’s Late Night With David Letterman and CBS’sLate Show With David Letterman had a musical guest, and it was the place where many Americans first saw everyone from R.E.M. and Weezer to Future Islands. We’ve put together 10 of the greatest musical moments from the shows’ history, and though the list is by no means complete — we could easily have gone to 100 — these are the performances we keep returning to over and over again.

R.E.M. – ‘So. Central Rain’ (1983)

To most people outside of Athens, Georgia and the college rock scene in the early Eighties, R.E.M. were a largely unknown band. But they did have enough buzz to earn a Letterman slot on October 6th, 1983, playing an early version of “So. Central Rain (I’m Sorry)” off their sophomore albumReckoning — which wouldn’t actually hit shelves for another seven months. It was the band’s first time playing on network television, and it played a huge role in helping them reach a wider audience.

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This Day in Music History — November 14

1961 : Before a show in Indianapolis, Ray Charles is arrested when marijuana and heroin are found in his hotel room. Charges are dropped on a technicality, but his drug problems were far from over.

1983 : Michael Jackson’s 14-minute film Thriller debuts at the Metro Crest Theater in Los Angeles. Directed by John Landis, the short film will become the most popular video in MTV history when the network begins airing it in December. Many of Jackson’s famous friends show up at the premiere, including Diana Ross, Eddie Murphy and Warren Beatty. The film gets a standing ovation and the crowd demands an encore, which is granted.

1987 : The long-since divorced Sonny and Cher perform “I Got You Babe” on Late Night with David Letterman. Cher flubs it a bit, but she and Sonny become very emotional doing their signature song.

1997 : Though it’s not a sell-out, The Bee Gees’ show at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas still manages to gross a stunning $1,681,100. Tickets ranging in price from $50-$300 give the Arena its highest gross of the year.

2004 : Gwen Stefani performs on TV as a solo artist (No Doubt) for the first time when she takes the stage at the American Music Awards, where she sings “What You Waiting For.”

This Day in Music History — October 27

1964 : Sonny (31-year-old Salvatore Bono) and Cher (18-year-old Cherilyn Sarkisian), exchange vows and wedding rings in their first home. Their publicity materials cite this as the day of their wedding, but they would not officially marry until 1969.

1975 : Bruce Springsteen appears on the covers of both Time and Newsweek amid acclaim for his Born To Run album.

2005 : New York rappers Jay-Z and Nas end their longtime feud and promote peace on-stage during New York radio station Power 105.1’s Power House concert at New Jersey’s Continental Airlines Arena.

2011 : Beavis and Butthead returns to MTV.

2013 : Fleetwood Mac cancels the remaining dates of their world tour after co-founder John McVie is diagnosed with cancer.

This Day in Music History — September 1

1967 : A young guitarist named Boz Scaggs joins The Steve Miller Band, the blues band led by his childhood friend, Steve Miller.

1967 : The Beatles meet up at Paul McCartney’s house in London to decide what to do following the death of their manager, Brian Epstein. They decide to be their own managers, and McCartney takes the lead on most business decisions. With hefty responsibilities outside of music, things get tense and the group breaks up two years later.

1971 : After their successful summer-replacement series, Sonny And Cher begin their fall TV variety series on CBS-TV.

1978 : Emilio Estefan and Gloria Fajardo of Miami Sound Machine get married after two years together.

2011 : While boarding a Southwest flight from Oakland to Burbank, Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong is forced off the flight giving some lip to a flight attendant who asked him to pull up his sagging pants. Armstrong doesn’t take kindly to the request, and eventually he and his traveling companion are booted from the flight. Armstrong takes it to Twitter, writing, “Just got kicked off a southwest flight because my pants sagged too low!” The tweet is quickly retweeted by his followers, forcing Southwest to release a statement apologizing for the incident.