July 4, 2012
Guests: Neil Young â Jimmy Fallon
TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. We're celebrating July Fourth by featuring an interview about musical Americana with Neil Young. Young's new album "Americana" is unusual because it's all folk songs and songs that many of us grew up with children, songs like "Oh Susannah," "Clementine," "Tom Dooley," "This Land is Your Land" and "She'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain."
But it's Neil Young and his band Crazy Horse, so the songs sound different than I've ever heard them. "Americana," is his first album with Crazy Horse in nearly nine years. Crazy Horse is the band with which he recorded the albums "Everybody Knows This is Nowhere," "After the Gold Rush," "Tonight's the Night" and "Rest Never Sleeps."
I spoke with Neil Young, when "Americana" was released. We began with the song "Oh Susannah."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OH SUSANNAH")
NEIL YOUNG: (Singing) I had a dream the other night. Everything was still. I dreamed I saw Susannah. She was coming down the hill. Oh Susannah, don't you cry for me 'cuz I come from Alabama with my B-A-N-J-O on my knee.
GROSS: That's Neil Young and Crazy Horse from the new album "Americana." Neil Young, welcome back to FRESH AIR. I'm so happy to have you back on the show. I love this project. You know, some of the songs that you do on this I know really well, but I didn't necessarily like them when I learned them when I was growing up, like "Oh Susannah."
But they still have these real, like, deep grooves in my musical memory. So hearing you do them and reinterpret them and change them is very fulfilling. Why did you decide to do this, taking songs like "Oh Susannah" and "Clementine" and reworking them into rock songs?
YOUNG: Well, it's kind of a long story, and I've got to back to I'm writing a book, and...
GROSS: A memoir.
YOUNG: Yeah, well, it's not really a memoir. It's kind of a memoir. It's more like a diary, a memoir and - so anyway, I was writing it, and I was thinking about a time that I spent in 1964 with my band The Squires in a nightclub called The Fourth Dimension in Thunder Bay, Ontario. A band came through there and played. They were from New York, and they were called The Thorns.
In the band was a guy named Tim Rhodes(ph), who was the leader of the band, and they did "Oh, Susannah," and they did that arrangement of it, which I was knocked out by. And they were, you know, pioneers at the beginning of the folk-rock era.
When I heard that, I was so impressed I showed my own band The Squires that song, and then I rearranged four or five other folk songs, similar genre songs, to that type of arrangement because I was so impressed with what Tim Rhodes had done that I decided to do my own, you know, take my own departure from it.
So I did that, and I taught the songs to The Squires, and, you know, so I was remembering that from writing my book. But at the same time, I was getting ready to record with Crazy Horse, and I had no material. So I went to my studio with - and the Horse was there, and we were ready to play. And I said, well, I don't have any new songs. I'll try this one here, and we'll try some of these just to get loosened up.
So we did those, and there was also one other one from a band that came through, to the Fourth Dimension club in Thunder Bay that was called the Company, and in that band was Stephen Stills. And he sang a song called "High Flying Bird," which I thought also was great. So as I was in the habit of doing at the time, I copped that arrangement, too.
Actually, I copped the song, and then we did our own arrangement of it, loosely like the one that Steven was doing with The Company. And, you know, that's when Steven and I started being friends, and we vowed to later on to get together again and do something together.
GROSS: So let me get back to "High Flying Bird," which you apparently recorded before Richie Havens did, not recorded but performed with your band The Squires.
YOUNG: I guess so.
GROSS: I think it's a great song about death, and so what do you know about the background of this song?
YOUNG: I just know that it's a great song. Billy Edd Wheeler wrote it, so it's a contemporary folk song.
GROSS: He's in the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.
GROSS: So let's hear "High Flying Bird" and see what Neil Young and Crazy Horse do with it.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HIGH FLYING BIRD")
YOUNG: (Singing) There's a high flying bird, way up in the sky. And I wonder does she looks down as she flies on by? She's floating so free and easy in the sky. Oh look at me here. I'm just rooted like a tree here. I got them sit-down, can't-fly, oh-Lord-I'm-gonna-die blues, gonna-die blues.
(Singing) Well, the sun comes along, and she lights up the day. And then when she gets tired, she just flies along on her way. From the east to the west, she goes down every day. But look at me here.
GROSS: So that's Neil Young and Crazy Horse from their new album "Americana," and that's the song "High Flying Bird." You first knew this song because Steven Stills did it with the group he was in in the, say, 1964, '63 called The Company. And at that time, you had a band called The Squires.
And you were becoming interested in folk rock, but this band also did a lot of really great, just like guitar rock stuff inspired by like Duane Eddy and the Shadows, who did "Apache," and I just thought we'd squeeze in maybe a little bit from that band and how you sounded in '63 or '64, just give our listeners a sense of what you were up to then.
And this was - this was a piece that was released on your box set a few years ago called, like, "The Archive Project." It was just, like, stuff from the '60s that you'd recorded, and it's really interesting stuff. And this is called "The Sultan," and it opens up with this gong.
GROSS: It's just - it sounds so out of character to start with this gong, very exotic. Just say a couple of words about this track and what you were doing then, when you started getting interested in folk rock but were also doing this guitar rock kind of stuff.
YOUNG: Well, this song, you know, this track "The Sultan" was recorded probably a year before the period that we're discussing. So that was quite early in the life of The Squires, and we really hadn't started singing yet. I wasn't singing yet at that time. So in the year after that, I started singing.
So this would maybe be 14 months later or something, the period we're talking about, where I learned "Oh Susannah" and different songs from The Thorns and from The Company and arranged my own folk rock things. So this is a very early version of this, of The Squires. So it's instrumental based on, you know, the fact that - and the gong and everything, you know.
Like in Winnipeg, Manitoba, we thought that, you know, that gong really was very sultanesque. So we put that on. That's what Winnipeggers think of when they think of the sultan is a huge gong. So that was it. We did that. It's kind of the prairie version of, you know, "The Gong Show" or something. I don't know what it is.
GROSS: All right, so here is early Neil Young.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE SULTAN")
GROSS: So that was Neil Young with his band from high school?
YOUNG: Yeah, high school and right after high school.
GROSS: And shortly after, a band called The Squires. And Neil Young and Crazy Horse have a new album called "Americana." You know, some of the songs that you do on here, especially songs like "Oh Susannah" and "Clementine," they're meant to be simple songs that anyone can sing. And Stephen Foster, who wrote "Oh Susannah," I mean he's from the parlor-song era, where songs were disseminated not through records but through sheet music.
And, you know, nice houses had a piano, and people would gather around their piano and sing songs that anyone could sing without musical training. And you've taken some of these simple songs and made them complicated.
GROSS: You know, I think you like changed the chords and, you know, made the melodies like more minor key and, you know, done unusual things to them.
YOUNG: Well, I guess. That's based on the Tim Rhodes arrangement of "Oh Susannah" is, you know, like I saw what he did to "Oh Susannah," and I said wow, I could do that to a lot of these songs, and it's really a cool thing to do to them because it gives them a new life.
And plus I have drums in my band, and The Thorns didn't have drums. So I knew we could really rock these things. So that's when I did all those arrangements.
GROSS: Some of these songs that you do I learned in assembly, like when we were in grade school. Once a week, we'd be in the auditorium, and one of the teachers would be at the piano, and another would conduct us in singing the same songs together. And again they were all, like, simple, sheet-music parlor kind of songs.
And I was wondering if you had any experiences like that when you were in school.
YOUNG: No, we didn't do that, but I sang those songs, and I heard those songs, although none of the verses that we - you know, a lot of the verses that we sing on "Americana" were not the ones that we were singing then, and I'm sure you weren't singing them either.
So they are the verses that we focused on, is these are the original lyrics.
GROSS: Yeah, give me an example of a lyric that I wouldn't have sung in grade school.
YOUNG: OK you would - how about in "Clementine."
GROSS: "Clementine," yeah, at the end, yeah, go ahead.
YOUNG: I missed her, I missed her, how I miss my Clementine. So I kissed her little sister and forgot my Clementine.
GROSS: We definitely didn't sing that.
YOUNG: You didn't sing that.
GROSS: It's a weird, that's a weird stanza.
YOUNG: There's a lot of words like that in that song. So yeah, you didn't sing that. In "This Land is Your Land," I'm sure probably by the relief office I saw my people, you know, the whole verse there about people being, you know, going to the relief office in the Depression and all of that.
GROSS: Yeah, another verse we didn't sing was the one about, you know, on the land there was a sign, on one side it said no trespassing, and on the other side, it didn't say nothing, That side was made for you and me. We didn't sing that.
YOUNG: That's right, you didn't sing that, no. And you didn't sing, you know, after they heard about all the people in the Depression standing in the bread line, you didn't sing: It made me wonder, is this land made for you and me? None of that.
Those were protest songs when they came out, and they were, you know, cleaned up and milked down for the, you know, new (unintelligible) minstrels and stuff, and everybody got to sing them like they were happy little songs.
GROSS: My guest is Neil Young. His new album is called "Americana." More after a break, this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: My guest is Neil Young. His new album is called "Americana," and it features folk songs and songs many people learned as children.
One of the songs that you do is "God Save the Queen," which people in the United States of America wouldn't sing, but we would sing...
YOUNG: "My Country 'Tis of Thee."
GROSS: "My Country 'Tis of Thee," yeah, yeah, which is the same melody. So did you sing "God Save the Queen"?
YOUNG: Yes, I sang it every morning when I was a kid.
GROSS: In school?
YOUNG: Yeah, so that's the way we grew up, you know, it was "God Save the King," though. But the thing is, what that song represents is the American Revolution. You know, of course they wouldn't sing "God Save the Queen" in the United States. That's why they became separate from the British Empire. So that's what the song does.
They're all still people, and they're all still singing the same melody.
GROSS: Now, you have like a children's choir, at least a bunch of children, who sing on some of the tracks on the album, including "God Save the Queen." And I thought that was interesting since I associate some of these songs with my childhood. Like I said, they're simple songs to sing, and children often learn them for that reason. Why do you have a children's choir on some of the tracks?
YOUNG: You described it. you answered the question. It's just like I had them on there because these songs are all usually sung by children, or they're usually sung in classes or something, you know, so it seemed logical to have the kids sing the Crazy Horse - the Crazy Horse arrangements.
GROSS: So there's like oohs that the children sing, like sustained notes, and it sounds almost - it sounds like processed. Is it, and did you want that effect?
YOUNG: There's no process.
YOUNG: No, they're just mixed in with the other ones.
GROSS: All right.
YOUNG: They're live recordings of a choir singing, and they're singing behind Crazy Horse. Yeah, there's no processing at all.
YOUNG: But when you put 12 people together, and they all sing the same thing, and you use two microphones, there's a phasing that happens when they move their heads back and forth. So you can hear it if you just listen to those two stereo tracks. You can actually hear people's heads moving back and forth, and sometimes when you blend that in with electric guitars that are like boiling and distorting and everything, it could give you some sort of a sound like that. It's just one of the natural things that happens.
GROSS: You know, when I was listening to your version of "God Save the Queen," I had this, like, flashback to my days singing in assembly in grade school, when what we sang to the same melody was our father's God to thee, author of liberty - this is how I remember it - to thee we sing. Long may our land be bright with freedom's holy light. Protect us by thy might, great God our king.
And I thought, like, wow, that's, like, not a secular song. You wouldn't be singing that today in a public school. Did you know that verse?
YOUNG: You know, I saw that verse when I was looking at it. I decided not to sing that verse. I decided to sing the one about throw off the politics...
GROSS: Yeah, that has a couple of great lines in it. It says confound their politics, frustrate their empty tricks. That sounds like 2012, confound their politics, frustrate their empty tricks.
YOUNG: We've come a long way, haven't we?
YOUNG: Makes you feel good inside.
GROSS: I'm glad you revived that verse. Who knew?
YOUNG: That is a great verse. That is a political statement. It's a, you know, survivalist statement, and I liked it.
GROSS: So let's hear from the album "Americana," Neil Young and Crazy Horse doing "God Save the Queen."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOD SAVE THE QUEEN")
YOUNG: (Singing) God save our gracious queen, long live our noble queen, God save the queen. Send her victorious, happy and glorious, long to reign over us, God save the queen.
(Singing) Oh Lord...
GROSS: That's Neil Young and Crazy Horse from their new album "Americana." And I have to say, Neil Young, that when I saw "God Save the Queen" on the track listings, I thought it was going to be the Sex Pistols.
YOUNG: Who are the Sex Pistols?
GROSS: So I was really surprised that it was actually the real "God Save the Queen." And is this an enjoyable melody for you to sing?
YOUNG: It's a great song. It's like "My Country 'Tis of Thee," you know. It's a great song.
GROSS: When did you start thinking this was a great song? Like when you sang it in grade school, did you think this is a great song, someday I'll do my version of this song?
YOUNG: No, no I didn't think that. I woke up one morning, you know, like a couple of months ago when I was recording "Americana," I woke up one morning, and I was hearing "God Save the Queen." I thought, well, this is probably just because - I was hearing it in my head. I wasn't hearing it on any player.
But I was hearing it in my head, and I thought, well, that's probably because, you know, like when I was a kid, I'd wake up in the morning, and I'd go to school, and I'd sing "God Save the Queen" because I did that every day. That's what happened. The kids all sang it, and you looked at the picture of the king or the queen or whatever.
And then we'd sit down and go to work. So, you know, I kind of had this thing driven into my head, so, you know, it randomly came back one morning, and I just happened to be recording "Americana," and I thought, well, I'll just do "God Save the Queen" today and see how that works.
GROSS: Neil Young will be back in the second half of the show. His new album is called "Americana." You can find links to two of my earlier interviews with him on our website, freshair.npr.org. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. We're celebrating July 4th by featuring an interview about musical America with Neil Young. His new album, "Americana," features his versions of folk songs and songs many of us learned to sing as children. "Americana" is his first album with the band, "Crazy Horse" in nearly nine years.
Now, another song that you do on "Americana" is "She'll Be Coming Round the Mountain," which you called "Jesus' Chariot." I never heard it called that before and I've known this song, I think, ever since I've been alive and never actually thought much of it, didn't realize its roots are as a spiritual, didn't know it had anything to do with Jesus' chariot or the Second Coming.
I thought it was about like somebody, a woman who arrives in a stagecoach with a bunch of white horses who is coming around the mountain and we'll all be happy to see her when she comes. Didn't - when did you learn this song and what were your initial impressions of it?
YOUNG: Well, I arranged the song back in 1964. I wasn't drawing any huge conclusions. I was just using the words and melody and keeping the cadence and changing to the relative minors, using basically the same amount of chords as the same song, only they are minor relative chords because that creates a different type of feeling.
GROSS: That's what I meant before about how you've taken like simple sounding songs and made them complicated in that in minor key.
YOUNG: I don't agree with that.
YOUNG: I don't agree with that.
YOUNG: I think that they are simple songs and they are still simple songs. They are repetitive songs, but they're repeating the minors instead...
YOUNG: ...instead of the majors. And it's just relative...
GROSS: And they're repeating more darkness. Yeah.
YOUNG: They're relative and they go to the darker side of the lyrics and that brings it out. But complicated is a word I'm having a little trouble with on describing it. It's very simple music to me.
GROSS: Fair enough.
YOUNG: And Crazy Horse is not known for doing complicated arrangements. There's really only four chords in these songs, you know, at the most, sometimes three, sometimes two. So, you know, it's just a music thing.
GROSS: So of the songs, why this one? What did you like about it? Because like I said, when knowing it as child, it just struck me as an utterly uninteresting song. I didn't know it had any connections to spirituals. Why were you drawn to it?
YOUNG: I heard that song back in 1964, and I was really into the groove and the melody and the fact that it was an old song with a new melody and old lyrics. And then, when I did it in 2012, I started relating more to the lyrics and did more research on the lyrics. And I actually got into what the lyrics were really about. So I chose a few verses that emphasized a certain darkness, but they were all the original verses.
And so that "Jesus' Chariot" thing, I never knew that till I did the research and I just wanted to write interesting liner notes because I felt that the music was a kind of like a studious historic stuff. And I'm using the folk process to change it, you know, which is fair game, but I'm still keeping the message of the original songs.
So as I went through and researched it, I discovered that it was basically a very religious, kind of a Negro spiritual from back in the day and related to the Second Coming and that the chariot was actually a female - that the she is a chariot and Jesus is coming back in the chariot. It's a very interesting song when you see it for what it is. And then the fact that then there's a darkness.
OK, we're going to kill a big red rooster now because Christ is coming back. What does that mean? I found this to be very stimulating. And she will take us to the portals. What does that mean? That's kind of a religious thing. We're going to go to heaven. We're going to go - where were we going? To me, these songs are just full of images that are fascinating.
GROSS: Yeah. I'm really glad you did this song. So let's hear it. This is "Jesus' Chariot," also known as "She'll Be Coming Round the Mountain." This is Neil Young and Crazy Horse.
(SOUNDBITE OF "SHE'LL BE COMING ROUND THE MOUNTAIN")
YOUNG: (Singing) She'll be coming round the mountain when she comes. When she comes. She'll be coming round the mountain when she comes. When she comes. She'll be coming round the mountain. She'll be coming round the mountain. She'll be coming round the mountain when she comes. When she comes.
(Singing) She'll be driving six white horses when she comes. When she comes. She'll be driving six white horses when she comes. When she comes. She'll be driving six white horses. She'll be driving six white horses. She'll be driving six white horses when she comes. When she comes.
(Singing) We all go out to meet her when she comes. We'll all go out to meet her when she comes. We'll all go out to meet her. We'll all go out to meet her. We'll all go out to meet her when she comes. We'll kill a big red rooster when she comes. When she comes. We're going to kill a big red rooster when she comes. When she comes.
(Singing) We'll kill a big red rooster. We'll kill a big red rooster. We'll kill a big red rooster when she comes. When she comes. She will bring us to the portals when she comes. When she comes. She will...
GROSS: GROSS: That's Neil Young and Crazy Horse from their new album "Americana." So it's really been great to talk with you about this new album. But before you go, I just went to take a minute and ask you about another song called "Love and War," which is on your previous album "Le Noise."
It's a great song and I think it's a very touching anti-war song in the sense that it's about the damages of war, but it's not a self-righteous song in the sense that you're also singing about, you know, the lyric is also about cheating on a lover and breaking the lover's heart.
So like, you know, the singer of this song admits, you know, his own guilt in something. And I don't know if this is autobiographical or not, that's why I'm saying the singer of the song. But it strikes me as a very - it's a song about how, you know, individuals are guilty of things too even if they're anti-war.
YOUNG: Well, like, you know, the song says, when I sing about love and war, I don't really know what I'm saying. And I think that sums it up, you know. You know, because, you know, they're very deep subjects. You can't possibly know what it means to somebody else. You know, war to one person may mean a justified thing that's happening for a very good reason, or another person may think that's a terrible thing and never should have happened.
And another person will be thinking well, god, I lost my sister in the war, I lost my brother, you know, I lost my mother or my father and, you know, and it was a waste of time. And another person could be thinking the exact opposite, you know, my brother went to war and gave his life for our country.
You know, so it's a very - you can't really have an opinion, although I have opinions and I've had them and I've made very loud statements about things. But that's the way I felt. That's the way I felt at the time. When I did the "Living With War" album, I was very outspoken about the anger that I felt about certain things that were happening at that time in history.
But again, I was no more right than the people who believed in it because, you know, it's such a big thing, how can you know? How can you know all of the reasons and everything that's happening? I just don't enjoy war. I'm not like a fan of war. And love can be very damaging, and it can be very good.
So you just don't know where to go with these things. So I wrote about that - about the quandary of not knowing how to deal with any of those things, really. It's kind of a useless point of view.
GROSS: It's a great song.
YOUNG: Didn't really contribute.
GROSS: No. I love the song. Just one more thing before you have to go. What have you done to keep your voice in such good shape? It still sounds so good.
YOUNG: Boy, I don't know. Well, we ought to can that, what you just said, and I'll just, I'll listen to that over and over again.
GROSS: What, do you doubt that?
YOUNG: Well, no I don't doubt it. I just, you know, it's like, you know, I'm glad you're enjoying it. That's fantastic. I mean, I've heard a lot of things about my voice over the last 50 years.
GROSS: Well, the things you heard at the beginning were probably more like that's weird. But after that it was like, what a great voice.
YOUNG: What is he doing?
YOUNG: What is that sound? Well, anyway, you know, that's me. That's what it is.
GROSS: Well, I want to thank you so much for talking. It's so great to have you back on the show and I'm really glad you did this album "Americana." And what we're going to hear now is "Love and War."
YOUNG: All right. Thanks. Be well.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "LOVE AND WAR")
YOUNG: YOUNG: (Singing) When I sing about love and war, I don't really know what I'm saying. I've been in love and I've seen a lot of war. Seen a lot of people praying. They pray to Allah and they pray to the Lord, and mostly they pray about love and war.
(Singing) Pray about love and war. Pray about love and war.
GROSS: Neil Young's latest album is called "Americana." Our interview was recorded in early June. The film, "Neil Young Journeys" the their concert documentary featuring Young, directed by Jonathan Demme was just released in theaters. Coming up, the best and funniest Neil Young that isn't Neil Young.
Jimmy Fallon talks about doing his Neil Young impression on his show "Late Night." He has a new album of music parodies called "Blow Your Pants Off." This is FRESH AIR.
TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. We just heard from Neil Young. This is not Neil Young.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)
JIMMY FALLON: (Singing) This is a story about how my life got flipped, turned upside down. I'd like to take a minute, just sit right there. I'll tell you how I became the prince of a town called Bellaire.
GROSS: That's Jimmy Fallon's impression of Neil Young doing the theme from the TV series, "The Fresh Prince Of Bellaire." It's one of several music parodies Fallon's done on his show "Late Night" that's now collected on his CD, "Blow Your Pants Off." The album also includes newly recorded music comedy.
Jimmy Fallon became known for his impressions when he was a cast member on "Saturday Night Live," but he became even better-known on SNL for co-anchoring "Weekend Update" with Tina Fey. Fallon took over "Late Night" from Conan O'Brien when O'Brien left to prepare to take over "The Tonight Show" in 2009.
Fallon talked about his music impressions when we talked last year. Jimmy Fallon, welcome to FRESH AIR. It's great to have you on the show.
FALLON: I'm a big fan. Thank you so much for having me on.
GROSS: Oh, God, thank you so much. One of the things I love about your show, it gives you an opportunity to do your music impressions. You're amazing when it comes to doing music impressions of people like Neil Young and Bob Dylan. So let's just hear an example of it first. So this is you doing the Willow Smith song, "Whip My Hair." And she's the daughter of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith.
FALLON: Yeah, it's a very good hip-hop song. It goes (singing) I whip my hair back and forth. I whip my hair back - Yeah. It's a big, hit song. So this is me doing Neil Young, doing "Whip My Hair" with Bruce Springsteen.
GROSS: Okay. So, here it is.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHIP MY HAIR")
FALLON: (Singing) I whip my hair back and forth, whip my hair back and forth. Whip my hair back and forth. Whip my hair back and forth, whip it real good. How about that...
GROSS: So that's Jimmy Fallon doing Neil Young. We didn't have time here for the Springsteen part. Maybe we'll get to that a little later. So what's so interesting about how you do this is you're not only doing Neil Young's voice, you're re-writing the song the way Neil Young would sing it because he's such an idiosyncratic singer in terms of the way he re-melodicizes things. So can you talk about, like, doing Neil Young?
FALLON: Yeah. I always kind of had a Neil Young impression - like, everyone does, you know. But he's a great writer.
GROSS: I don't.
FALLON: Oh, come on. You must have sang along with a few songs. I've heard you do "Harvest Moon." But, I mean, so I've always just had - as an impressionist, you kind of - I think every impressionist has a Neil Young, let's just say that. But you never know what to do with it, you know, once you have it. It's like having a Jack Nicholson impression. Everyone's got one. What do you do with it?
So there's a great writer - let's just say a tip of the hat to my writing staff. A writer said: Why don't you do a version of Neil Young, we'll do a nice version of Willow Smith's "Whip My Hair"? And I go: Oh, that's funny. Let's - that'd be cool. I go: Also, Bruce Springsteen's coming on.
Do you think he would do a duet, like, with me, if we wrote a fake duet with me as fake Neil Young and him really as him? He goes: Let's get to it. So we sat down. We had a guitar, he had a guitar, and we just sat around my office, and I'm trying to think of, like, how Neil would do it. And it's a lot of G chord into D chords, and maybe throw in like an A-minor in there.
And it's like: (Singing) Whip my hair back and forth. Just whip it. You know, and they get the harmonica going, the harmonica thing around the neck. And then I go - and Bruce has got to come in. He's got to go, like: (Singing like Bruce Springsteen) You've got to whip your hair - (singing like Neil Young) whip my hair back and forth. (singing like Bruce Springsteen) You've got to whip your hair.
You know, he's got to jump in with that energy. And so we recorded it on our phone, you know, with just a scratch recording of me and him, and we were laughing, and we recorded the thing, and we send it over to Bruce Springsteen's manager. And Bruce Springsteen, his manager gets it, and he goes: Bruce loves it.
He thinks it's hilarious. His kids know "Whip My Hair," and so - and he's seen you do Neil Young on the show, and he's game. He goes: Here's our idea. Do you want Bruce to dress like young Bruce from the '70s?
So I - right out - my mouth is - my jaw's - I'm, like, of course. Yeah. I didn't even think that he would even put on a - I mean, when are you going to get Bruce Springsteen in a wig? I'm telling you right now it'll never happen.
And a fake moustache and beard.
Yeah, and a fake beard. And, I mean, this is from the "Born to Run" era, you know, floppy hat. This is cover of Newsweek and Time magazine Bruce Springsteen, where you go: Whoa. This is the future of rock and roll Bruce Springsteen.
So the fact that he's game for this, I go: OK, we'll get a beard, and we'll get - he goes: And we'll get a floppy hat. I go, no problem. He goes: And Bruce said he's going to bring his sunglasses from the "Born to Run" tour.
GROSS: That's so great.
FALLON: His actual, mirrored sunglasses. I go: OK. He's game. So he comes over. We have great hair-and-makeup girls. Cindy Lou and Courtney) are in there. They put the - he brings his sunglasses out. They tape a beard on him, because he didn't want to put glue on his face. And he goes: You got the floppy hat?
And we put the floppy hat on him. He goes: Whoa, this looks exactly like it. This is great. This is great. I go: Also, we have a wig. Do you want to try the wig on? He goes: No, no, no. What are you trying to do to me? No, I don't want to wear a wig. I don't want to wear it.
I go: Okay, no problem, no big deal. So everyone leaves the room. It's just me and Bruce. We're kind of laughing. And the doors close, and I go: Hey, it's just us. You want to just try the wig on? He goes, what? I go: Just try the wig. I mean, it's got curls on it. It'll be - I think it'll look - it'll be the final touch.
He goes: All right, hurry up. Put the wig on. So I put a wig on Bruce Springsteen, and I'm putting this wig on him, and he's laughing. And then we put the floppy hat and the beard and the glasses, and he looks in the mirror, and he goes: Whoa. And that was it.
GROSS: And then to top it all off, Springsteen throws in a little "Thunder Road" thing toward the end.
GROSS: So why don't we hear the part where Bruce Springsteen comes in and joins you as Neil Young?
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHIP MY HAIR")
JIMMY FALLON AND BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) Whip my hair back and forth. Whip my hair back and forth. Whip it real good.
FALLON: (Singing) All my ladies, if you feel me.
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) Whip your hair.
FALLON: (Singing) Do it, do it, whip your hair.
SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) Whip your hair.
FALLON: (Singing) Don't matter if it's long or short.
SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) Whip your hair.
FALLON: (Singing) Do it, do it. Whip your hair.
SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) Whip your hair. Oh, whip my hair. Oh...
GROSS: So that's such a great moment. Were there Neil Young records you just steeped yourself in before doing that? Do you listen to a lot of the performer you're going to do before you do them?
FALLON: Yeah. I think I have one of those things - when I grew up - you know, I've always done impressions. So I think if I listen to a record long enough - I'll listen to "Harvest," and I'll listen to the whole album, and then I could do Neil Young. You know, I can listen to, you know, "Blonde on Blonde," you know, and I'll do Bob Dylan.
You know, I can watch an episode of Jerry Seinfeld, and by the end, I'm just (talks like Jerry Seinfeld) walking around my house, you know, talking like Jerry Seinfeld. What is that? What are you doing? Who is it? What's going - you know, I just have that thing, when I grew up, I'd just start talking like people. You know, I always had that.
I would go visit a friend of mine's house, and I'd come back, and my mom would like: You're talking like Joey Gonzalez. Because I would sound like my best friend. I would just imitate him, you know.
GROSS: My guest is Jimmy Fallon, the host of "Late Night." He has a new comedy album called "Blow Your Pants Off." We'll hear more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Jimmy Fallon, the host of "Late Night."
FALLON: Thank you, Terry. Terry, did you ever have a different voice when you were starting in radio?
FALLON: What was your other voice? Was it wackier?
GROSS: It wasn't wacky. It was just kind of more like this.
GROSS: When I get nervous, my voice - anyways, this used to be the case. When I'd get nervous, my voice would rise approximately an octave. And I'd speak, like, really super-fast. So, you know, and when I started hosting the show, it was - when I started to host on a college station, I was hosting, like, a feminist radio show, and I - but I was talking kind of like this. So I always thought I sounded kind of like a feminist Minnie Mouse.
FALLON: That is great, because I always loved - I'm obsessed with radio. I love radio so much. And as a comedian, I used to have to do radio, like, morning zoo crew shows at, like, seven in the morning.
GROSS: As a guest, not as a...
FALLON: As a guest.
GROSS: Yeah, OK.
FALLON: Just so I can plug the tickets to - so I can sell a comedy show. You know, I was doing comedy clubs when I was, like, you know, 18 and 19. So I'd have to sell them out, and I'd have to go on radio shows. I'm like: Good morning. We're here with Jimmy Fallon on the air, and...
FALLON: And Jimmy, I mean - you know, let me tell you something. "Saturday Night Live" isn't funny anymore. Our weatherman hates your guts. He's like: Yeah, I don't like you, Jimmy Fallon. You know, and I'd have to get in fights at seven in the morning, you know.
And they'd try to be shocking. They're like: So, anyway, I was getting my prostate checked the other day. It's 7:15 in the a.m. I've got - and I go: You've got to be kidding me? Who wants to hear about this guy's - and they're the nicest people off the air.
They'd be like: Hey, Jimmy, thanks for being here at the Z, Z103. You're the greatest. "Saturday Night Live" couldn't be funnier. Thank you so much. Are you ready to be on the air? I go: I'm ready to be on the air. OK, perfect. Here we go. We're going to be on the air in two seconds.
OK. And we're back. Jimmy Fallon here. He's on "Saturday Night Dead." That's what I call it, because it hasn't been funny in 15 years. You know, and it's like, I go: You just told me over the commercial break that you liked it.
GROSS: Is that what you'd actually say?
FALLON: No. I would actually try to defend the show, stupidly, because I wasn't old enough to figure out that this is all a game. It's just like: OK, he's just trying to rattle me so that he can get a good quote out of me.
GROSS: So I want to end with another clip of you doing an impression, and this is you doing Bob Dylan singing the theme from "Charles in Charge." The old Tony Danza show. It's so funny.
FALLON: That's Scott Baio, actually.
GROSS: Scott Baio?
FALLON: Scott Baio was Charles.
GROSS: Oh, I'm thinking it's the Tony Danza one.
FALLON: "Who's the Boss." You're thinking of "Who's the Boss."
GROSS: Oh, I'm thinking of "Who's the Boss."
GROSS: You're right. I'm thinking of "Who's the Boss."
FALLON: Yeah. Exactly. But poor Tony Danza, by the way. He played Tony in every TV show he was on.
FALLON: Can't you give him a different Italian name?
Why does he always have to be Tony?
So why "Charles in Charge?" Why Dylan in "Charles in Charge"?
FALLON: Well, it's almost the same thing as the Neil thing, is that I can do an impression of Bob Dylan, but we wanted to pick something that was fun and different. And we just thought that there was that one cadence of Charles in charge of our days and our nights, Charles in charge of our wrongs and our rights.
Those are the words to the theme song. And we were just laughing, me and this writer, Mike DiCenzo. And he was going like, Charles in charge of our days and our nights, of our wrongs and our rights. And it's like it kind of...
FALLON: It sounds like a Dylan thing. So we did like a Dylan-esque version of that where you had to play - the harmonica is different than Neil Young's harmonica.
GROSS: Right. Right.
FALLON: Whereas it's higher pitched and more screechy. And then it's like, and then when he gets to that weird - like he stops saying words at some point because he's like... (Singing) I want Charles in charge of me. I want Charles in charge of me. (Speaking) And it's almost like a Jell-O thing or something in his throat at, just certain points of his singing.
And I'm a huge fan, of course, of Bob Dylan. So the fact that we were able to pull this off, it came off pretty cool. I was happy with the end result.
GROSS: Well, Jimmy Fallon, I think you're really incredible. Thank you so much for talking with us.
FALLON: Oh, you're the best. This is so much fun. I feel like I actually have inhaled fresh air.
GROSS: Great. Thank you.
FALLON: This is phenomenal.
GROSS: And here is Jimmy Fallon as Bob Dylan. Thank you again.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHARLES IN CHARGE" THEME)
FALLON: (Singing as Bob Dylan) New boy in the neighborhood. Lives downstairs and it's understood. He's there just to take good care of me, like he's one of the family. Charles in charge of our days and our nights. Charles in charge of our wrongs and our rights.
FALLON: (Singing) Charles in charge of our days and our nights, Charles in charge of our wrongs and our rights. Charles in charge of our days and our nights, Charles in charge of our wrongs and our rights. And I want Charles in charge of me.
GROSS: Jimmy Fallon is the host of NBC's "Late Night." His new comedy album is called "Blow Your Pants Off." To hear my entire interview with Jimmy Fallon which was recorded last year, visit our website, freshair.npr.org, where you can also download podcasts of our show.
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