10 Unforgettable David Letterman Musical Moments

With news that the late night icon is retiring, we look at some of the most unforgettable musical moments from his career.



For decades, David Letterman's show has been a musical institution, acting as a launching pad for some of music's most promising new acts and a forum for the world's most accomplished musicians to perform. So with the news that Dave will be retiring in 2015, we thought we'd take a look back at some of the show's most memorable musical moments. Here are 10 of our favorites (so far) that Dave has been responsible for throughout his iconic 30-plus year career.

1. When Bruce Springsteen bid farewell to Dave's NBC show with "Glory Days"



During his final show as host of NBC's Late Night, Dave said that there was only one person in his 11-plus years as host who had not been on the show that he "really, really wanted as a guest." That person was Bruce Springsteen, who took the stage to perform his song "Glory Days," accompanied by Paul Shaffer and his band, for Letterman's last night on NBC.

2. The time Paul McCartney played from on top of the Ed Sullivan Theater marquee



Paul McCartney is no stranger to the Ed Sullivan Theater. It's the venue where The Beatles made their iconic US television debut way back in 1964. This time around, though, Paul took it to the next level — literally — by performing from atop the Ed Sullivan Theater marquee. The rock icon played five songs from his perch above Broadway, turning an ordinary New York summer day into something special for several hundred bystanders.

3. When the Orwells squirmed their way through their performance of "Who Needs You"



Here's a recent performance that makes the list. Up-and-coming rock band The Orwells took the stage in January and lead singer Mario Cuomo stole the show. For 3-plus minutes, viewers could hardly take their eyes of Cuomo as he wailed into his mic and writhed around on stage. Be sure to stick around until the end of the clip to catch Paul Shaffer emulate Cuomo's moves, floor gyration and all.

4. When Warren Zevon performed "Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner" for his last Letterman appearance



When Letterman booked "Werewolves Of London" hit-maker Warren Zevon to perform on The Late Show back in 2002, it was just after the singer/songwriter's terminal mesothelioma diagnosis. Zevon was the guest for the entire show, where he performed several songs and discussed his illness in a painfully honest light. This performance of "Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner" is the final song he did for Letterman, and one that Dave "begged" Zevon to do.

5. When Sonny & Cher reunited to sing their famous duet "I Got You Babe" together



Only a late-night host as iconic as Dave could convince Sonny & Cher to perform "I Got You Babe" after their highly-publicized divorce in 1975. This clip from 1987 shows the duo delivering a funny, fresh version of the 60's hit that made them superstars, even despite some initial apprehension. The performance would be their final televised reunion — another reason why the clip is so legendary.

6. When The Beastie Boys performed through the streets of NYC



The Beastie Boys are true New Yorkers, born and raised, so it makes sense that they would incorporate something quintessentially New York into their performance. Though I'm not sure anyone expected anything as elaborate as the band emerging from a New York City subway station, microphones in hand, to perform down 53rd Street and into the Ed Sullivan Theater. This was one for the ages.

7. When Future Islands danced their way into the spotlight with this "Seasons" performance



It was the dance viewed 'round the world. Alternative synth-pop band Future Islands have been making music together since 2006, but their popularity skyrocketed when they hit up The Late Show to promote their newest album Singles. The group's lead singer, Samuel T. Herring, stole the show by busting out some incredible dance moves while singing "Seasons." The clip went viral and has helped put the band's excellent music in the spotlight, which is great news for us all.

8. When Foo Fighters evoked The Beatles' iconic Ed Sullivan Show debut for their Live On Letterman performance



The Beatles' North American television debut on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964 is one of the most iconic musical performances of all time. To pay homage to that amazing moment in musical history, Foo Fighters decorated the Ed Sullivan Theater set as it was 50 years prior and donned The Beatles' trademark black suits to recreate that iconic moment for their Live On Letterman performance. Watch as the band play their song "Bridge Burning" in throwback black-and-white.

9. When Adele sang her way into our hearts with "Rolling In The Deep"



Adele's performance of "Rolling In The Deep" from February 2011 on Letterman came right before the UK soul singer's popularity skyrocketed and she became one a household name. Her Letterman slot exposed her new record 21 to a North American audience. Now, she's one of the biggest pop stars on the globe.

10. That time Janelle Monae danced like a maniac on top of Dave's desk



Eclectic R&B singer/dancer Janelle Monae proved both her vocal skills and fancy footwork with her spectacular "Dance Apocalyptic" performance on The Late Show. Dubbed as "the hardest working woman in show business" by Letterman himself, Monae and her band gave it their all and more for the performance, which culminated in Monae dancing atop Letterman's desk (it begins at about the 3:24 mark). It's the type of unpredictable moment that Dave's show has always been known for.

BONUS: This list just wouldn't be complete without including this video showing Dave's admiration for a great set of drums. Enjoy!


For more performance clips, check out the Live On Letterman page at CBS.com.

What's your favorite Letterman musical moment? Share it in the comments.