Talk show host Conan O’Brien admits he always wanted to be a DJ. He chats with DJ Jason Bentley about the song that psyched him up about having his own show when he wasn’t sure he could do it, his love for crazy lyrics, as well as a fateful run in a couple kids in a bowling alley, who have since become one of the biggest rock bands in the world.
Late Night with Conan O’Brien airs weeknights on NBC.
1. The Clash-"Wrong Em Boyo", London Calling (Epic)
2. White Stripes-"Ball and Biscuit", Elephant (V2)
3. Bob Dylan-"Buckets of Rain", Blood on the Tracks (Columbia)
4. Radiohead-"Fake Plastic Trees", The Bends (Capitol)
5. Beatles-"My Bonnie" Early Tapes (Polygram UK)
Jason Bentley: I'm Jason Bentley for KCRW with Conan O'Brien, who we know and love from “Late Night with Conan O'Brien” on NBC. Conan, thanks for taking the time today for this guest DJ set.
Conan O'Brien: Thanks for having me Jason, I've secretly always wanted to be a DJ but no one would let me do it, so thank you for this.
Jason Bentley: Is music part of your daily routine in your commute to work, or getting ready for the show, or winding down after a long day.
Conan O'Brien: Well, it’s funny because music isn’t really part of the commute to work here in Manhattan anyway because I take one of those Pedi cabs to work and you can’t really listen to music. Two very well built men in spandex tights run me to work through the streets of Manhattan, so I just enjoy to city noises. But I'm sort of a hack guitarist, I usually have a guitar around my neck most parts of the day -- this is true actually, I’m not kidding, you know when we’re talking about the show, throughout rehearsal, I'm plugged in most of the time to like a mini amp so I like to play along and I make up songs on the spot that are usually pretty terrible. But I have always been a big music fan and its always been one of the big treats when you do a show like mine because you can sit there and watch these amazing artists perform and say ‘thanks a lot, we will take a break, w’ll be right back.’ And I have always loved that part of the job. I’ve always actually wanted to be the musical guest, I would rather do that than be the comedian.
Jason Bentley: Let's talk about your selections in your guest DJ set. The Clash - you chose the ska-influenced “Wrong 'em Boyo.
Conan O'Brien: Yeah, around 1993, I had rediscovered London Calling, and I was listening to it all the time. I was living in Los Angeles at the time and was writing for The Simpsons and I auditioned for the 'Late Night' slot just around that time and I got it. And everyone said, 'who the hell is Conan O'Brien, who is this guy, and this is going to surely fail’ and I was nervous. I had never done anything like this before and there was no reason to believe I could successfully host my own show.
And one of the things that used to psych me up when I was really down is I would start listening to “Wrong 'em Boyo,” and I would imagine it was my theme song for this imaginary show that would soon be a reality. And it would really cheer me up because it’s got that great horn line. Ba dump, ba dump, bah dump, bah dump. And I would imagine them saying, 'Ladies and Gentleman, here he is Conan O'Brien.' Bah dump, bah dump. And I would suddenly think, yes, I can do it! But, I always thought that song has a lot of meaning for me for that reason. To this day, when I think about that song, I remember the Conan O'Brien who wasn’t sure he could ever have his own show and it puts me in touch with that time.
Song, The Clash -- Wrong 'em Boyo
Jason Bentley: There is something really thrilling and primal about Jack and Meg White, just guitar and drums.
Conan O'Brien: Yes!
Jason Bentley: And you chose this song, “Ball and Biscuit,” what is the significance here?
Conan O'Brien: This song contains a lot of what I really like about The White Stripes which is they are not interested in polish. It’s the honesty of what they are doing and they are really in touch with, you know, the force behind the music, rather than technically, getting the cleanest sound. And Jack and Meg have been on the show many, many times.
I actually met them before they were the White Stripes. Years ago, I was in Detroit shooting a remote for my show and I went to a bowling alley with two of my writers and we were just bowling and drinking beer. And these two young people came over and were chatting us up because they recognized me from television and, ya know, the future White Stripes. And we just hung out and they weren't the White Stripes yet and then years later they reminded me "do you remember we hung out in a bowling alley?" And I have a huge amount of respect and affection for them. I really think they're artists. They are the real thing.
Song, Fade to White Stripes -- Ball and Biscuit
Jason Bentley: Our guest DJ is Conan O'Brien on KCRW. Next up Conan, Bob Dylan and "Buckets of Rain"
Conan O'Brien: Dylan is an obvious choice but this is a song that I don't think gets a ton of play on the radio. I love this song. This song haunts me, but also I love crazy lyrics. And Bob Dylan has written a lot of hard to decipher lyrics over the years, but I actually believe this is the song that contains the craziest lyrics of all. I challenge other Dylan fans to top the line that's in this song -- "little red wagon, little red bike, I ain't no monkey but I know what I like." I mean, I think about that line all of the time…What's he talking about?? It sounds good.
And there have been many times where I've been at a loss for words and people are saying ‘come on Conan, this is important! The show starts in an hour, what should we do?’ And I'll say "little red wagon, little red bike, I ain't no monkey but I know what I like" and I'll walk out of the room and they'll say ‘Wow, he's a genius. No one's as deep as Conan…’
Song, Cut to Bob Dylan -- Buckets of Rain
Jason Bentley: Next up you chose Radiohead, "Fake Plastic Trees." Why did you pick this one?
Conan O'Brien: There is a special place in my heart for Radiohead. They were my first musical guest back in 1993, when I was starting the show. The nice thing about launching a show is you usually get to have whoever you want for the first show. That never happens again, by the way. But for the first show, it's like a prisoner's last meal, you get to request whatever you want.
I remember Jim Pitt saying to me ‘if you could have anybody, who would you want?’ And sure enough, Radiohead said that they would do it. They did "Creep" the first time they were on the show, but they did a performance on my show of "Fake Plastic Trees" and I just think…it's just a song that gets to me and I love that line "Gravity always wins." It's just, it's one of my favorite rock lines…"
Song, Fade to Radiohead - Fake Plastic Trees
Jason Bentley: Your final selection is "My Bonnie" by the Beatles. This was originally released as Tony Sheridan and The Beat Brothers in 1961 Germany. So really, this is one of The Beatles very first recordings. Tell us why did you choose this one?
Conan O'Brien: I love "My Bonnie" because when the Beatles recorded it, they were unknown. They were playing in Hamburg and their friend, Tony Sheridan, this very talented musician, had a deal to make a record and he asked the Beatles to back him up on it. So they sing this traditional, old sort of, you know, this old folk song, and they amp it up and play it as fast R&B. But you can hear the energy of the young, starving Beatles in the background in this song and they're also doing the harmonies. So, this is sort of an oddity, but I think it works. It stands on its own merit. There is an interesting story which is: that is the Beatles, but probably about a year and a half or two years before they had their own success.
Song, Cut to song Beatles’ My Bonnie
Jason Bentley: Rounding out the guest DJ set. Conan O'Brien picking the Beatles and their early recording "My Bonnie". Well, thank you so much for your time, we really appreciate it.
Conan O'Brien: Yeah, thanks a lot Jason.
Jason Bentley: I'm Jason Bentley, We're with Conan O'Brien. Our guest DJ set. He is featured on KCRW and KCRW.COM.