As the venerable US primetime host calls it a day, we look back on 10 legendary music spots from his 33-year run.
10 Kings of Leon – ‘Molly’s Chambers’
Before they took the stadiums, Kings of Leon made unassuming incursions on the living rooms of the world. This 2003 performance of breakout single ‘Molly’s Chambers’ is the precise moment the hirsute Followill clan started looking like rock stars, rather than truck drivers.
9 Arctic Monkeys – ‘Fluorescent Adolescent’
It’s hard to imagine that Arctic Monkeys, whose debut had broken all sorts of records on its 2005 release, were still considered a marginal curiosity stateside by the time of 2007’s ‘Favourite Worst Nightmare’. Thankfully, the boys did us proud here, a performance with all the charm and cheer of an artful dodger who just nabbed the fiver from your back pocket.
8 Sleater-Kinney – ‘Jumpers’
Before their 2006 hiatus, Sleater-Kinney finally started to get wider recognition for the skewed indie-rock that critics had been writing into the history books for decades. This landmark ‘Jumpers’ performance thunders along with give-a-fuck conviction, with Carrie Brownstein’s fierce high kicks threatening to smash through the TV set.
7 Le1f – ‘Wut’
Another network TV debut for the ages, this. Le1f’s performance of breakthrough hit ‘Wut’ – backed by Blood Orange, no less – is every bit as infectious and unforgettable as the beaming look of gratitude as Letterman shakes his hand afterwards.
6 Weezer – ‘Say it Ain’t So’
Weezer’s dazed run-through of ‘Say It Ain’t So’ here vaguely brings to mind Nirvana’s piss-taking performance of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ on Top of the Pops, but you can’t help thinking Rivers Cuomo and co are having the time of their lives. Just watch those solos.
5 Hatsune Miku – ‘Sharing the World’
Digital superstar Hatsune Miku might not look quite like the rest of us, but she delivers the goods where it counts. ‘Sharing the World’ is as thrilling as it is bizarre, hitting your pleasure centres in all the strangest places, and this rare TV performance is all the better for it.
4 Radiohead – ‘Karma Police’
It’s Johnny Greenwood’s counter-melodies, played with a gloopy, music-box keyboard effect, that make this August 1997 performance stand out amid the slurry of YouTube ephemera. If Thom’s vaguely get-me-out-of-here performance shows signs of the impending breakdown that would inform ‘Kid A’, it’s also a priceless insight into the group going full tilt at their absolute breaking point.
3 TV on the Radio – ‘Wolf Like Me’
Played with the unmistakable intensity of a band on the cusp of something massive, this haywire sprint through ‘Wolf Like Me’ sees TVotR in their element, somehow conveying total mayhem without letting a note fall out of place.
2 Future Islands – ‘Seasons (Waiting on You)’
You might’ve seen this one. After signing to cult label 4AD, the Baltimore trio finally showed the world what their fans new all along: that singer Samuel T. Herring is one of his generation’s great lost soul singers. Move over, Sam Smith – this is how it looks to feel.
1 James Brown medley
In the very first series of the show, the Godfather of Soul – still silky smooth and in his absolute prime – dropped by to play a medley of ‘Sex Machine’, ‘There Was a Time’ and ‘I Got a Feeling’. This video’s received 175,00 views, but we have it on good authority that 150,000 of those are Janelle Monae.