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Congrats, Stephen Colbert: The Letterman Successor’s 13 Best Music Moments

Stephen Colbert, David Letterman, 'Late Show,' 'Colbert Report,' 13 best music moments

Stephen Colbert will take over from David Letterman as the host of The Late Show, CBS has announced. The switch won’t take place until after Letterman’s retirement, currently scheduled for sometime next year. As host of Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report since October 2005, Colbert has done more than cutting, joking-not-joking satire. He also has — perhaps surprisingly given his character as a blowhard conservative pundit — played host to a whole bunch of unique musical moments. There will be time for a more definitive ranking when Letterman actually passes a torch, but for now, here’s a quick baker’s dozen of the most memorable times Colbert welcomed the music world to the Report. Let us know what we’re missing.

Above, watch Colbert’s video for his synth-pop song “Charlene (I’m Right Behind You),” from 2006.

1. Daft Punk

The French robots didn’t even appear on Colbert’s show, but he managed to turn their non-appearance into a massive, meta publicity stunt for himself. Even though he later swore it wasn’t a stunt. The end result — Robin Thicke performing “Blurred Lines” — could be considered a bit anticlimactic. But not the host’s own cameo-filled visuals for Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky,” which featured Jeff Bridges, Hugh Laurie, Jimmy Fallon, Bryan Cranston, Jon Stewart, Nick Cannon, Matt Damon, and, hey, Henry Kissinger. That was an up-all-night climax; watch below.

2. Jack White

Colbert and the Third Man Records boss have a wonderfully awkward chemistry. They met in 2012 and before in 2011, when Colbert performed with White faves Black Belles. They’ll surely cross paths again on Late Show. Watch their more recent encounter below.

3. Radiohead

Radiohead got a full-hour Report, because they’re Radiohead. The host greeted the staunchly anti-corporatist band with a bevy of blue-chip brand names. Watch them chat below.

4. Pussy Riot

Nadya Tolokonnikova and Masha Alyokhina didn’t play any music on the Report, but they were the rare guests who could match Colbert punch for punch. They appeared on the show in February; given what has transpired along the Russia-Ukraine border since, they look prescient. Watch them below.

5. LCD Soundsystem

In 2011, the James Murphy-led group made its last TV appearance until the band inevitably reunites like everybody else. Watch the interview below.

6. Pavement

Speaking of reunions! Remember 2010? Would you like to go back to those “Gold Soundz”?

7. “Oopsy-Daisie Homophobe

Last year, Colbert and actor Alan Cumming paid tribute to Brad Paisley and LL Cool J’s unfortunate-in-every-way “Accidental Racist.” Check out their country-music stylings below.


8. Vampire Weekend vs. the Black Keys

The Report pitted the two bands against each other in a “sell-out-off.” Watch that below, and don’t forget the time the Black Keys wanted to examine Colbert’s prostate

9. Michael Stipe

The R.E.M. singer, who — timely plug — is inducting Nirvana into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame tonight, has had a recurring gig on Colbert since the dissolution of his band: He’s just there, sitting on the host’s shelf. He was there when Wild Flag performed. He was there to sing “Good King Wenceslas” with Mandy Patinkin. And, in November 2011, he sang “Lean on Me” with Colbert and Brian Eno. It is below, and it will make you lose your religion all over again. 

10. M.I.A.

Okay, so we’re leaning a bit heavily on recent stuff, but M.I.A. almost brought Colbert to tears last November, and she performed a couple of standouts from Matangi, with unusually faithful-to-the-cover-art visual effects. Come walk with her.

11. Nas

The Illmatic legend graced the Report stage in 2012, for a chat and a hard-hitting performance.

12. Arcade Fire

You could almost pull this whole list from the past season! Colbert’s face-off with the Reflektors wasn’t far off from his classic Jack White meetings.

13. Paul McCartney

Last June, Colbert got Paul McCartney to come on his show and do Beatles songs. We should have all known that this fellow who pronounces Report funnily was headed for something bigger than the Report. “My guest tonight needs no introduction,” Colbert said, “so I’ll introduce myself.”

Honorable mentions: There are too many, but we want to be sure to highlight 2006’s “Decemberists vs. Stephen Colbert Guitar Solo Challenge,” plus the National, St. Vincent, Black Star, Metallica, Green Day, Rush, Yo-Yo Ma, and that fantastic music moment we’re totally forgetting that you’re about to furiously mention in the comments.