Less Talk, More Music: Mutual Admiration Society on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien”

Take the lead singer from Toad the Wet Sprocket, get him to write a song with Jon Brion, and then let Toad-boy record it with some guys from Nickel Creek. Voila: you’ve got Mutual Admiration Society’s “Sake of the World.” This live version, however, gets bonus points for having John Paul Jones (late of Led Zeppelin) on bass and Pete Thomas from The Attractions on drums. If only MAS would do another album together…

P.S. Yes, I know “Toad-boy” is actually named Glen Phillips. But it made me laugh to call him “Toad-boy.”


Less Talk, More Music: Paul Shaffer on “Late Night with David Letterman”

Paul Shaffer might play the part of the oft-befuddled but always fawning bandleader to perfection on “The Late Show with David Letterman,” but the guy’s a musical legend. He spent 1975 to 1980 as the musical director of “Saturday Night Live” band, did the same duty for The Blues Brothers, is regularly called upon to provide backing for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremonies, and, of course, played Artie Fufkin in “This is Spinal Tap.” He’s also a songwriter (he co-wrote “It’s Raining Men,” you know) and, on rare occasions, he’s even stepped out and been a recording artist in his own right. In 1990, Shaffer released an all-star collaborative effort entitled Coast to Coast, where he attempted to take listeners on a cross-country musical expedition which blended different musical genres, often within a single song. The album’s first single was a little ditty called “When the Radio Is On,” and when Shaffer premiered the track on “Late Night with David Letterman,” I was watching in awe as the breathtaking harmonies washed over me.

The first couple of minutes of this clip are strictly Shaffer introducing his crew for the song, so if you want to skip ahead to the 2:26 mark, I’ll save you the time by providing you with the roll call: Will Smith (then still known solely as The Fresh Prince), Daddy O (Stetsasonic), Jay Siegel (The Tokens), Johnny Maestro (The Crests, The Brooklyn Bridge), songwriter Ellie Greenwich, actress Carol Kane (filling in for Carole King, ho, ho), and the King of the New York Streets himself, Mr. Dion DiMucci.

As Shaffer describes it, “It’s doo-wop, it’s hip-hop, it’s a nutty thing.” Me, I’m not saying the song’s perfection, mostly because Shaffer shouts his vocal contributions, but the overall enthusiasm is downright contagious…which, I suspect, is why I still have Coast to Coast in my record collection.


Less Talk, More Music: Dionne Warwick on “Pebble Mill”

“Pebble Mill” was a daytime chat show in Great Britain which regularly featured appearances from the current musical artists of the day, as well as a few who weren’t exactly top of the pops anymore, if you take my meaning. In the case of Dionne Warwick, she was and remained a huge worldwide superstar in 1982, a full two decades on from her first big hit, “Walk On By.” This was one of the many compositions from the brothers Gibb that was taken to the upper reaches of the charts by someone other than the Bee Gees themselves, but it’s got their trademark sound all over it.


Less Talk, More Music: Beastie Boys on “The Late Show with David Letterman”

All I’m saying is this: if you think you know of another talk-show performance that starts out in a more awesome manner than the Beastie Boys rapping their way up from the subway, down the streets of NYC, and into the Ed Sullivan Theater, I’d damned well like to see it. Until then, I’m gonna presume that there is no such animal and just tell you to sit your ass down and ch-check this shit out…


Less Talk, More Music: Paul Anka on “The Late Show with David Letterman”

Sure, it reads as a novelty – Paul Anka does swing covers of mainstream and alt-rock hits – but if you’ve ever actually heard Rock Swings, you know it holds up for the long haul as an instant party in convenient CD form. Rather than take the easy way out, most of the tracks have been dramatically rearranged to work within Anka’s concept, but if you’re convinced that he couldn’t possibly accomplish it with one of the most anthemic songs of the 1990s (if not all of music history), take a listen and enjoy being proven wrong: