With 'The Tonight Show' looming, one last look at Jimmy Fallon's best 'Late Night' music bits

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Image Credit: Lloyd Bishop/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

Tonight, Jimmy Fallon officially launches the next wave for The Tonight Show when he kicks off his reign as host. (Fallon shared his own excitement about taking over the late night institution with fans on Instagram.) Though he has been saying for months that his version of The Tonight Show won’t waver very much from the format established by Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, we won’t know whether or not that is true until after the credits roll on this evening’s premiere (and really, we won’t truly know until Fallon settles into a groove a few months from now).

His first week is packed with huge stars. Will Smith and U2 appear on tonight’s show, with Jerry Seinfeld, Kristen Wiig, and Lady Gaga handling guest duties on Tuesday. Wednesday includes Bradley Cooper and Tim McGraw, while Thursday’s show welcomes Michelle Obama, Will Ferrell, and Arcade Fire. Longtime Fallon friend and collaborator Justin Timberlake will be the sole visitor on Friday.

But there’s at least one thing we can take for granted going into tonight’s kick off, which airs at midnight to accomodate NBC’s ongoing coverage of the Olympics. No matter what bits, characters, and themes make the shift from Late Night to Tonight, the Roots will continue to serve as Fallon’s musical accompaniment and secret weapon. When the hip-hop collective took the job back in 2008, it seemed like a step down for a group who had already won a Grammy and scored a couple of gold records along the way. But now, they’re as big a cultural institution as they’ve ever been, and much of Fallon’s success has been fueled by The Roots’ ability to act as a savvy improv troupe and roll with the host’s musical whims.

In fact, most every one of the best moments from Late Night With Jimmy Fallon are music-related. In honor of the five years Fallon ruled the after-hours slot, here are five highlights of his run. 

Slow Jam The News With Barack Obama

One of Fallon’s best current events-incorporating bits has been “Slow Jam The News,” a fantastic juxtaposition between banal news stories and Barry White-esque late night R&B. Fallon has had a number of guests slow jam with him, though perhaps the most impressive coup was getting the President to lay out a plan for freezing student loan interest and somehow make it sound dirty.

The History of Rap

Between his frequent tag-teams with Fallon and his work on SNLit’s a wonder Justin Timberlake doesn’t have a permanent office at 30 Rock. He and Fallon’s four-part “History of Rap” series not only creates some guffaw-worthy juxtapositions, but it also pays loving homage to hip-hop classics. The Roots’ ability to jump between songs and styles is especially impressive.

Bruce Springsteen & “Neil Young,” “Whip My Hair”

How did Fallon manage to convince stately rocker Bruce Springsteen to not only dress up as a parody of himself from the ’70s but also duet with Fallon’s fake Neil Young on a Willow Smith track? It’s one of the great testaments to Fallon’s charm and cool. Also, this bit has already outlasted Smith’s “Whip My Hair.”

Paul McCartney, “Scrambled Eggs”

Based on the fact that the stand-in lyrics to the Beatles’ “Yesterday” initially involved the phrase “scrambled eggs,” Fallon got McCartney to completely rewrite his most famous song. All references to waffle fries are gold.

Lip Sync Battle

Fallon has a knack for tapping into his guests’ secret talents, and there’s no greater evidence than Joseph Gordon Levitt’s commitment to mouthing the words to “Tiny Dancer.” It’s remarkable that Stephen Merchant’s take on Will Smith’s forgotten classic “Boom! Shake the Room” is only the second best thing in this clip.

Bonus! Jimmy Fallon and the Muppets, “The Weight”

Of course, the last bit to ever air on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon was a musical performance, this time teaming Fallon and the Muppets for a run through the Band’s “The Weight,” a knowing nod to Martin Scorsese’s The Last WaltzLike most of Fallon’s performances, it was smart, sweet, and musically impressive. Here’s hoping he is able to carry that momentum into the new studio and time slot.

What are your favorite moments—both musical and otherwise—from Late Night With Jimmy Fallon? And will you be watching The Tonight Show tonight? Let us know in the comments.

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