Conan’s Musical Farewell

Late night TV talk shows simply aren’t what they used to be. At least until the recent NBC/Leno/Conan debacle. Early indications point to “blockbuster” ratings for O’Brien’s final show last night (1/22/2010), according to the New York Times.

Here’s one guy that won’t be watching late night talk shows on NBC anymore, but that’s not the point.

Conan had a killer closing show for his 7-month run as the guy on NBC’s “The Tonight Show.” It’s pretty rad how he incorporated music into the show, especially the ending.

Will Ferrell and his cowbell invited Conan to “strap on his axe” and join him on-stage, along with Ben Harper, Beck, ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons and E Street Band (and Conan’s) drummer Max Weinberg, for a memorable rendering of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s absolute classic, “Free Bird.”

One of my favorite parts of the entire thing was Will Ferrell’s t-shirt, which is the cover art for Neil Young’s 1975-album Tonight’s the Night.

There’s a little section from Lynyrd Skynyrd’s best-known work, “Sweet Home Alabama,” that says:

Well I heard Mister Young sing about her

Well I heard ole Neil put her down

Well I hope Neil Young will remember

A Southern man don’t need him around anyhow

These lyrics are Lynyrd Skynyrd’s song-conversation response to two Neil Young songs: “Southern Man” and “Alabama.”

The lyrics are usually misunderstood and misrepresented (a la Ronald Reagan’s use of “Born In the USA”). Either way, I love Ferrell quietly pulling it all together in this important pop culture moment, of which Young himself was also a part. Neil was the musical guest on Conan’s final episode of “The Tonight Show.” He performed his “Long May You Run.”

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