The American talk show host Jimmy Fallon finally played yesterday alongside one of his heroes and favorite targets for impersonation (video), Neil Young. It was an indisputably tender moment on The Tonight Show, and one that demonstrated what many of his fans have known for a long time—Jimmy Fallon is not just a gifted mimic, but also an excellent musician.
Fallon is probably not the best comedian on late night (that distinction goes to Conan O’Brien), nor the best interviewer (Craig Ferguson, though his show ended in December), but he offers something that no one else currently on television does. His versatility elevates the iconic show to heights not seen on American variety TV since Carol Burnett and Dean Martin.
After years of stale Jay Leno one-liners and bits, it’s refreshing to see NBC and The Tonight Show allow Jimmy to be Jimmy. Here are a few of Fallon’s best musical performances:
Playing harmonica on Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” with actor Russell Crowe (solo at 1:42):
Doing an absolutely uncanny impersonation of The Doors’ frontman Jim Morrison on a bluesy rendition of, yes, the Reading Rainbow theme song (video):
Filling in admirably for Bono on “Desire” after the musical act U2 had to cancel:
Singing R. Kelly’s “Ignition (Remix)” with his barbershop quartet, The Ragtime Gals:
His virtuoso “History of Rap” series with Justin Timberlake:
Finally, harmonizing—on the spot—with Billy Joel to “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”:
Fallon is not the only late night talk show host with musical talent, though. Conan O’Brien is also a solid guitar player (video).