Fresh Air At 25: A Live Musical Tribute

May 11, 2012
Originally published on May 23, 2012 8:48 am

Friday marks the 25th anniversary of the day Fresh Air became a daily national NPR program. Before that, the show was broadcast only on WHYY in Philadelphia. How long ago was May 11, 1987? On Fresh Air's first edition, TV critic David Bianculli reviewed the finale of the TV series Hill Street Blues.

A 25th anniversary is a pretty big event in the life of a show. To celebrate, it seemed appropriate to do something that reflected our 25 years on the air, so we decided to select some of Fresh Air's great live musical performances from our archive. Among the performers on Friday's show: Peggy King, Susannah McCorkle, Loudon Wainwright III, Charlie Haden, Shirley Horn, Arthur Alexander, Richard Thompson, Dave Frishberg, Rebecca Kilgore, Nick Lowe, John Doe and Catherine Russell.

So many other great musicians have performed on our show over the past 25 years. (You can find many of their performances online here.) We feel very fortunate — not many shows get to celebrate a 25th anniversary — because we've been given the greatest anniversary gift a show can ask for: you. Whether you've been listening for 25 years or just a few days, you have given us the privilege of marking this anniversary and continuing to produce Fresh Air. On behalf of all of us who have worked on the show over the past 25 years, our current crew and our alumni, thank you. A lot.

Fresh Air's executive producer is Danny Miller. The people who work so hard to find our guests, edit our interviews and keep us on the air include Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Roberta Shorrock, Sam Briger, Ann Marie Baldonado, Lauren Krenzel, John Myers, John Sheehan (who edited and mixed this anniversary show), Heidi Saman, Teresa Madden, Melody Kramer, Dorothy Ferebee and Audrey Bentham.


Medley

Some of the singing you hear on Fresh Air isn't from concerts; it's just guests breaking out into song. The medley on today's show features:

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: Well, happy anniversary - to us. Today marks the 25th anniversary of the day FRESH AIR became a daily NPR program. Before that, FRESH AIR was broadcast daily only on WHYY in Philadelphia, where we still produce the show. How long ago was May 11, 1987? Let's just say on our first edition, TV critic David Bianculli reviewed the finale of "Hill Street Blues."

A 25th anniversary is a pretty big event in the life of a show. To celebrate, it seemed appropriate to do something that reflected our 25 years on the air. So we decided to select excerpts of some of the great FRESH AIR concerts in our archive. The music that's been playing behind me is from clarinetist and composer Don Byron's 1997 FRESH AIR concert.

Actually, we started the national show with music. The day of our premiere, May 11, 1987, was also Irving Berlin's 99th birthday. He was still alive. So we paid tribute with a concert of his songs performed by a great jazz and pop singer, Peggy King. Here's a little of how that sounded.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHAKING THE BLUES AWAY")

PEGGY KING: (Singing) Shaking the blues away, unhappy news away. If you are blue, it's easy to shake off your cares and troubles. Telling the blues to go, they may refuse to go. But as a rule, they'll go if you'll shake them away. Shaking the blues away....

GROSS: Celebrating 25 years as a national program makes me think back to the first big anniversary we celebrated, our 50th broadcast as a daily national show, and even though it was just 10 weeks after our premiere, it was a huge accomplishment. It was really difficult building up from a no-budget local show to a national show.

It required a new control room, new interconnecting technology, a larger staff, a roster of contributors, and creating new office space next to really almost inside the boiler room. We were never sure we'd make it to day one. So when we reached the 50th show, we celebrated with champagne, cheap champagne, and sharing in the toast was one of my favorite singers, Susannah McCorkle, who had performed live on the show that day. Here's one of her songs from that concert.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'VE GROWN ACCUSTOMED TO HIS FACE")

SUSANNAH MCCORKLE: (Singing) I've grown accustomed to his face. He almost makes the day begin. I've grown accustomed to the tune he whistles night and noon, his joys, his woes, his highs, his lows are second nature to me now, like breathing out and breathing in. I was really independent and content before we met. Surely I could always be that way again, and yet I've grown accustomed to his looks, accustomed to his voice, accustomed to his face.

(Singing) I'm very glad he's just a man and so easy to forget, rather like a habit I could always break. And yet I've grown accustomed to that trace of something in the air, accustomed to his face

GROSS: Singer Susannah McCorkle. Your singing and your phrasing are really both magnificent. Do you have any formal training or anything?

MCCORKLE: I don't have any. I just always grew up singing in school choirs, which I think was great, and just always being confident about opening your mouth and singing. And we used to sing in the car a lot. We used to sing rounds. But the one time I tried - I was living in Rome, and I thought I should learn about breathing and scales.

And so I had a friend who studied classical singing, and I went to the teacher who taught her, was named Maestro Ricci(ph), and he had pictures of Ana Moffo(ph) kissing him, John Southerland(ph) kissing him. I knew he was the wrong one. But he insisted that he could teach me.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MCCORKLE: And he told me wear a surgical corset and, you know, whack my jaw, (speaking foreign language), keep your jaw relaxed. And I was so intimidated I couldn't even say I didn't really want to sing opera. And finally after a few lessons, he said I'm so sorry, really, you're a well-educated young lady, you speak good Italian, but you will never be a singer. You have a tiny, tiny thread of a voice. I'm so sorry to be the one to tell you this.

And I was really so relieved. You know, I said, well, really I didn't want to sing opera. I want to sing, you know, Gershwin. I tried to think of composers he'd identify. And he said for this you have enough of a voice already.

GROSS: That's Susannah McCorkle, live on FRESH AIR, July 17, 1987, her first of several FRESH AIR concerts. A lot changes over 25 years. Susannah took her life on May 19, 2001. She's not the only performer we'll hear from today who's no longer with us.

A month before Susannah's concert, singer/songwriter Loudon Wainwright came to our studio. How long ago was that? Loudon's now-famous son, singer and songwriter Rufus Wainwright, was about to turn 14. Loudon had been writing autobiographical songs about his family. This song from his FRESH AIR concert is about telling his kids why he and their mother, Kate McGarrigle, were separating. It's called "Your Mother and I."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOUR MOTHER AND I")

LOUDON WAINWRIGHT III: (Singing) Your mother and I are living apart. I know that seems stupid, but we weren't very smart. You'll stay with her; I'll visit you at Christmas, on weekends and the summertime too.

(Singing) Your mother and I are not getting along. Somehow, somewhere, something went wrong. Everything changes, time takes its toll. Your folks fell in love, love's a very deep hole.

(Singing) Your mother and I will do all we can do to work this thing out and to take care of you. Families get broken, I know it's a shame. It's nobody's fault, though, and you're not to blame.

(Singing) Your mother and I are both feeling bad. But things will get better; they won't stay this sad. And I hope when you grow up, one day you'll see your parents are people, and that's all we can be, your mother and I.

GROSS: Loudon Wainwright, recorded in June 1987. He's still writing autobiographical songs. We'll continue our 25th anniversary show with more music performances from the FRESH AIR archive after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: Today is the 25th anniversary of the day FRESH AIR became a daily national NPR show, and we're celebrating by listening to some of the great concerts we've recorded over the past 25 years. Sometimes, especially back in the first few years after our national debut, when the show wasn't well-known, we were surprised when famous or even semi-famous musicians that we invited to perform said yes.

We were surprised and thrilled when Shirley Horn, the great jazz singer and pianist, agreed to perform in our studio at the end of June 1992, on the day she was in Philadelphia to play at the city's summer jazz festival. She brought with her her long-time bass player, Charles Ables, and drummer, Steve Williams. One of the songs she performed for us was "Nice and Easy," which was made famous by Sinatra. I love his finger snaps on that record, and I've always remembered Shirley Horn's quite shoo-be-doo-be.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NICE AND EASY")

SHIRLEY HORN: (Singing) Let's take it nice and easy. It's gonna be so easy for us to fall in love. Hey baby, what's your hurry? Relax, and please don't worry. We're gonna fall in love. We're on the road to romance, that's safe to say, but let's make all the stops along the way, shoo-be-doo-be.

(Singing) The problem now of course is to simply hold your horses. To rush would be a crime 'cause nice and easy does it, nice and easy does it, nice and easy does it every time. Let's take it nice and easy, it's gonna be so easy for us to fall in love. Hey baby, what's your hurry?

GROSS: Shirley Horn singing and playing piano in our studio in 1992. She died in 2005 at the age of 71. We're grateful to have had our moment with her. Public radio used to have a big annual conference. In the evenings, national shows would give parties and try to impress program directors who weren't already carrying the show that they should.

So when we were showing off at our party at the 1993 conference, we featured Arthur Alexander, a great R&B singer who recorded in the '60s and was just starting off on a comeback after years as a school bus driver. We recorded the concert for broadcast.

Arthur Alexander had never become famous in the U.S., but in England his song "Ana" was covered by the Beatles, and the Rolling Stones did his song "You Better Move On." Here's a song from the concert we produced at the Public Radio Conference. The song, "Go On Home, Girl," was written by Arthur Alexander. The band was led by guitarist Ben Vaughn, who also produced Arthur Alexander's 1993 comeback album.

ARTHUR ALEXANDER: This is a song that I did years ago, and I also had the pleasure of doing on my new Electra album, a little thing that goes a little something like this. Same title, "Go Home, Girl."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GO ON HOME, GIRL")

ALEXANDER: (Singing) Well now, me and Frank, we're the best of friends, and our friendship will never end. But it would hurt him so for him to know that I love his girlfriend. Now the love of a girl and the love of a friend are two things you can't compare. So my heart will ache, but I will let it break 'cause I know it just ain't fair.

(Singing) Go on home girl, let's call it a night. Go on home girl, this just ain't right. But before you go, I want you to know that I love you, yes I do. Though it may break my heart, but darling we must part, 'cause I know Frank loves you too.

GROSS: We broadcast that concert with Arthur Alexander on May 7, 1993. On June 9, just as his comeback was gaining momentum, right after he kicked off a summer concert tour, he died of a heart attack at the age of 53. We were grateful that his FRESH AIR concert could serve as another document of how great this too-long-neglected performer was.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: You may remember this music as FRESH AIR's first theme music. Here's the story behind it: 25 years ago, our executive producer, Danny Miller, and I knew we needed a theme for our national show. We wanted it to be jazz, a little avant-garde, a lot of fun, and a real curtain-raiser. Our first choice to do it was Jaki Byard, a pianist and composer who borrowed tonal clusters and weird dissonances from the avant-garde but also loved stride piano.

Before leading his own band, he played with Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy. He substituted for Duke Ellington in the band when Ellington was ill. So we figured he'd say no. But he said yes, and he came up with this great theme that started with his whole left hand crashing down on a cluster of bass notes and had this really fun ending.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: Since Jackie was a great improviser, each time he'd play the theme, it was different. Here's the opening of two versions from the rehearsal that we recorded on cassette in Jackie Bayard's living room in Queens. To get him into the spirit, I did my this is FRESH AIR.

From Philadelphia, I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: We loved all the variations of the theme Jackie was giving us, but there was a big problem. Each variation timed out differently, and we needed the theme to be exactly 58 seconds. Danny Miller, our executive producer, is in the studio with me for a moment of reminiscing. Danny, do you remember what it was like trying to get Jackie, this like great improviser, to get it to exactly 58 seconds?

DANNY MILLER: Oh sure, and like you, I really love Jackie's playing, especially with Charles Mingus and Eric Dolphy on a live in Europe I'd been listening to a lot those days. Now, when we went up there, he had pretty much written the body of the theme, but like you said, we wanted a really spectacular and distinctive opening that would announce the beginning of the show and also say this is not your typical public radio theme song.

You know, we were the new kids on the block, and we wanted attention. So we went up to Jackie's house, mostly to work on the beginning and the end of the theme and to get a feel for, you know, how it would feel for you talking over it, Terry. But because it had to be exactly 58 seconds long, I brought a stopwatch, I had a metronome.

I used the metronome to find and set the right tempo for it to end on time. And of course this was in the days before digital editing, where you could easily knock off a second here or there. Now, we had to really - Jackie had to come in on time.

So each time we practiced this, I'd be there with 10 fingers in the air, and as the stopwatch got to 10 seconds, I'd count them down, 10, 9, just kind of closing my fingers so Jackie would see that we're almost out of time, and hopefully he'd get to the finish line in time.

Well, Jackie hung in there. I felt a little silly, but we got it done.

GROSS: And you actually just found the rehearsal tape that we've been hearing, and there's one take on it in which you actually hear the metronome.

MILLER: Set at 138 beats a minute.

GROSS: OK, and here's that take with the metronome.

(SOUNDBITE OF METRONOME)

MILLER: This is 138.

GROSS: From Philadelphia, I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: So Danny, as I remember, even in the recording studio, when we were doing the final recording of the theme, many takes of it, it was still hard to get it to 58 seconds because Jackie's nature is an improviser. That's why we loved him. Were you still there with the metronome and the stopwatch?

MILLER: Yes, and I've got to say, Jackie was so patient with us, so game to do this and I think kind of amused with us, with why this had to be so precise. And remember, Jackie Bayard played with Charles Mingus, who was probably one of the most demanding band leaders in the history of jazz and somebody who would countenance, you know, no mistakes whatsoever.

So here I am saying, no, Jackie, it was 58 and a half seconds. Please, can we do it a half-second quicker? And he was a sweetheart about it.

GROSS: He was wonderful. He was wonderful. So eventually he nailed it, exactly 58 seconds, and we used his theme for several years. The story behind our theme music had a very happy ending. Jackie's story had a tragic ending. In 1997, he was found dead in his home, dead of a gunshot wound. He was 76.

We're going to end this half-hour with the closing music that he composed and performed for us. For several years we ended each show with this. Thank you, Jackie Bayard, for all the great music you recorded over the years, including our little theme. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Today marks the 25th anniversary of our premier as a daily NPR program. Before that, FRESH AIR broadcast daily only on WHYY in Philadelphia, where we still produce the show. We're celebrating by featuring songs from some of the great concerts we presented. But the next thing you're going to hear isn't from concerts. It's just guests breaking out into song - either to demo a song we've been talking about or because I did my best to force them to sing a few bars of something. I like doing that.

In a couple of highlights you are about to hear, there was conveniently a piano nearby. These voices are famous, so see if you can figure out who they are. I'll give you the answers after. Here it is, our breaking out into song medley.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDINGS)

AL GREEN: (Singing) I'm so tired of being alone. I'm so tired of on my own. Help me girl as soon as you can.

NATHAN LANE: Well, I used to deliver singing telegrams.

GROSS: Such as?

LANE: (Singing) Happy hysterectomy. Happy hysterectomy.

You know, I was like ridiculous. Congratulations, Shirley. Your stretch marks hardly show.

DAVID SEDARIS: (Singing) Oh I love to eat it every day. And if you ask me why I'll say that Oscar Meyer has a way with b-o-l-o-g-n-a.

JAMES BROWN: (Scatting) I mean that's a different. And you count it off right on the one. Bam. Doom. Bam. Bam.

MARTIN SHORT: (Singing) I shot the sheriff. However, I did not shoot the deputy. Dingdong. Dingdong. You know, it never played.

JASON SEGEL: (Singing) There is a castle on a cloud. I sang the little girl song from "Les Miserables" from beginning to end.

PATTI SMITH: (Singing) I'm going to get you on a slow boat to China all to myself alone. Something like that.

RICHARD BELZER: So I fantasized what Bob Dylan's bar mitzvah must've been like. (Unintelligible singing)

And then when he gets older, you know, oy. oy. Once upon a time you dress so fine. (Unintelligible) a dime in your prime, didn't you?

BILL MURRAY: (Singing) There were elegant dames. You know, stuff like that. Just hey, Jack, you know, a lot of that yelling at the band. Hey, louder. You know, stuff like that and - (Singing) Some of these chicks were a bit more than I could, you know, anything.

PAUL MCCARTNEY: (Singing) Do, do, do, do, do, do, do. Do, do, do, do, do, do, do. Do, do, do, do. Do, do, do, do, do, do, do, do. I got arms as large to hold you. It's just that - do, do, d, do, do, do.

MEL BROOKS: (Singing) I'm the German Ethel Merman, don't you know.

TOM KENNY: It's pretty easy to sing in that voice. (Singing) La, la, la, la, la, la, la. My dog has fleas.

JACK BLACK: (Singing) Ya, ye, ya, ya, yow. (Speaking) You know, that's just flexing in the mirror. Vocal flex.

BRET MCKENZIE: (Singing) I can't live if living is without you. I can't give, I can't take anymore.

DOROTHY FEREBEE: (Singing) I'm Chiquita banana and I'm here to say, bananas give you energy for work and play.

ROBIN WILLIAMS: I can sing but it tends to be more like Ethel Merman.

I go for the big numbers like in "Aladdin," which is like Ethel Merman.

GROSS: Oh yeah.

WILLIAMS: Do I have, yeah. (Singing) Hello, young lovers.

SHORT: Other kids my age were protesting (Singing) Hey the revolution. I was up in my room singing, (Singing) Weather-wise, it's such a cuckoo day. You know.

RAY MANZAREK: I've got a song called "Light My Fire." So he plays the song for us and it's kind of a Sony and Cher kind of (singing) da, da, da, da, da, da, da, da, da, da, da. Light my fire. And it's like, OK. OK. Good chord change. What are the chord changes there? And he shows me an A minor. ..

(SOUNDBITE OF PIANO CHORD)

MANZAREK: ...to an F sharp minor.

(SOUNDBITE OF PIANO CHORD)

MANZAREK: And that's like whoa. That's hip.

(SOUNDBITE OF PIANO CHORD)

MANZAREK: And then...

(SOUNDBITE OF PIANO CHORD)

MANZAREK: And that's when he went into the Sonny and Cher part.

(SOUNDBITE OF PIANO)

MANZAREK: And then - (Singing) Da, da, da, da, da, da, da, And I said no, no, no, no.

JAY-Z: (Rapping) I'm the king of hip-hop, that renewed like the rebop. The key in the lock with words so provocative, as long as I live. And I look back on that rhyme now and I'm like, man, that's pretty prophetic.

SHORT: (Singing) NPR is quite a thing. You get to do - let's hear the songs to sing. The people talk to you every day and then at the end of the day you go home and have dinner. Da, da, da, de, de, de. And that would be a new song, NPR. You get a residual.

GROSS: OK. So, let's see how many people he recognized in that weird FRESH AIR medley. Starting from the beginning, Al Green sang "Tired of Being Alone." Nathan Lane delivered the singing telegrams. David Sedaris sang the old Oscar Meyer Wiener commercial in his Billie Holiday voice. James Brown counted off on the one. Martin Short did "I Shot the Sheriff" as Frank Sinatra. Jason Segal did the little girl song from "Les Mis." Patti Smith sang Frank Loesser's song "Slow Boat to China," the kind of song she likes to sing around the house. Richard Belzer imagined Bob Dylan at his bar mitzvah. Bill Murray yelled at the band in character as a lounge singer. Paul McCartney gave us a few bars of the great Beatles' song "From Me to You." Mel Brooks was the German Ethel Merman. Tom Kenny sang in the cartoon voice he's best known for, SpongeBob. Jack Black flexed his rock god voice. Bret McKenzie channeled some Harry Nilsson in the song "Without You." How about that Chiquita banana song? That was our administrative assistant Dorothy Ferebee. And you get extra credit if you recognized her. You probably did recognize Robin Williams, giving us his Ethel Merman. Martin Short returned to sing "Come Fly With Me." Ray Manzarek of "The Doors" revealed "Light My Fire"'s inner Sonny and Cher. The king of hip hop was Jay-Z. That's the first rhyme he remembers writing. And we brought back yet again Martin Short to conclude the medley in his character of the old Tin Pan Alley songwriter Irving Cohen.

So now that you know who everyone is, if you want to listen again to our breaking out into song medley, go to our website, where you can stream or download the whole thing. That's FRESH AIR.NPR.org.

I saved for last what I think may be the most moving example of someone singing a little during a FRESH AIR interview. I was talking to the great jazz bass player and composer Charlie Haden in 1997 after the release of his Quartet West album "Now Is the Hour." The title track is the farewell song of the Maori people of New Zealand, but Charlie Haden new it as a pop song on the radio during World War II, when it became about waiting for soldiers who had gone to war. The Quartet West track is an instrumental, but I wanted to hear the lyrics.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GROSS: Would you sing the song as you remembered it?

CHARLIE HADEN: Well, I'll try. (Singing) Now is the hour when we must say goodbye. Soon you'll be singing far across the sea. While you're away oh then remember me. When you return you'll find me waiting here.

GROSS: That's a really lovely song.

HADEN: Yeah.

GROSS: Charlie Haden, recorded on FRESH AIR in 1997. I'd never heard him sing before. I later learned it was the first time he sang in public in 45 years. As a child, he sang on his parents' country music radio show, when he stopped singing at the age of 15 after polio temporarily paralyzed the left side of his face and his vocal cords.

According to the liner notes Orrin Keepnews wrote for a Haden album two years after our interview, it was because I persuaded him to sing on FRESH AIR and then urged him to sing on his next album that he actually did. He sang "Wayfaring Stranger" on his 1999 album "The Art of Song." I can't tell you how proud that makes me because I love Charlie Haden's singing.

We'll get back to some more FRESH AIR concerts and continue the celebration of our 25th anniversary as a daily NPR show after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: Today is the 25th anniversary of the day FRESH AIR became a daily national NPR show. We're marking the occasion by listening to some of the great music performances we've featured over the past 25 years.

One of my favorite singer-songwriters is Richard Thompson. He's got a great sense of humor but many of his songs are really dark. When I thought was especially remarkable about his first FRESH AIR performance is that, as I recall, he recorded in the late morning, a time when many singers can't get much more than a croak out of their voice, and he gave a perfect and intense performance. I wasn't sure how he could get to such a level of intensity in our radio studio with just me in the room staring at him in awe.

Here he is playing his song "I Feel So Good" on February 7, 1994.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I FEEL SO GOOD")

RICHARD THOMPSON: (Singing) I feel so good I'm going to break somebody's heart tonight. I feel so good I'm going to take someone apart tonight. They put me in jail for my deviant ways, two years seven months and 16 days. Now I'm back on the street in a purple haze. I feel so good. I feel so good. I feel so good I'm going to break somebody's heart tonight. I feel so good I'm going to make somebody's day tonight. I feel so good I'm going to make somebody pay tonight. I'm old enough to sin but I'm too young to vote. Society been dragging on the tail of my coat. But I've got a suitcase of 50 pound notes and a half naked woman with her tongue down my throat. And I feel so good. And I feel so good. Feel so good I'm going to break somebody's heart tonight. They made me pay for the things I've done. Now it's my turn to have all the fun. I feel so good I'm going to break somebody's heart tonight. And I feel so good. I feel so good. I feel so good I'm going to break somebody's heart tonight. Oh. Oh. Oh. Feels so good I'm going to break somebody's heart tonight. Break somebody's heart. Break somebody's heart.

GROSS: That was great.

THOMPSON: Thank you.

GROSS: Something else I have to say about your guitar playing. It's all - all the technical virtuosity is in service of the music and the emotion. I just feel like you're such a not showoff player.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUITAR STRUMMING)

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GROSS: Yeah. Right. Such...

(SOUNDBITE OF GUITAR STRUMMING)

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GROSS: Yeah.

THOMPSON: Yeah, it's true, isn't it?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GROSS: That was Richard Thompson in 1994. Some of the people we're hearing on our 25th anniversary show have performed on FRESH AIR several times. Richard Thompson is one example.

Our next performers, songwriter, pianist and singer Dave Frishberg and singer Rebecca Kilgore, have performed together and separately several times on our show. Their first performance together was in 1995. Here's the opening song from that concert, which was written in 1933 by Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HAPPY AS THE DAY IS LONG")

REBECCA KILGORE: (Singing) I got my trousers pressed, shoes shined. I had my coat and vest realigned, take a look at my lapel, see the flower, can't you tell? I'm happy as the day is long. Haven't got a dime to lend. I've got a lot of time to spend. Just a pocket full of air, feeling like a millionaire. I'm happy as the day is long. Got a heavy affair and I'm having my fun. Am I walking on air? Gee, but I'm the lucky one. I've got my peace of mind, knock wood. I hear that love is blind. That's good. 'Cause the things I've seen never seems to worry me. I'm happy as the day is long. I'm happy, happy, happy as the day is long. I'm happy. So happy. Happy as the day is long. Got a heavy affair and I'm having my fun. Am I walking on air? Gee, but I'm the lucky one. Got my piece of mind. I hear that love is blind. That's good 'cause the things I never see never seem to worry me. I'm happy as the day is long. I'm happy as the day is long.

GROSS: That's Rebecca Kilgore singing with Dave Frishberg at the piano. Another musician who's performed on our show several times over the past 25 years, is songwriter and singer Nick Lowe, who wrote the song "What's So Funny About Peace, Love, and Understanding?" which became a hit when it was recorded by Elvis Costello.

One of Lowe's FRESH AIR performances was scheduled in 2001 to coincide with the release of a new album. It ended up also coinciding with 9/11. It was just three weeks after the attacks. All the programs we were doing then were about the attacks and terrorism, and we really weren't in the mood for a fun concert. So one of the things Nick Lowe suggested was an un-ironic version of "What's So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding?" and it really worked. Here it is.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHAT'S SO FUNNY ABOUT PEACE, LOVE, AND UNDERSTANDING?")

NICK LOWE: (Singing) As I walk this wicked world, search (technical difficulties) light in the darkness of insanity, oh, yeah. I ask myself is all hope gone. Is there only pain, hatred, and misery? Oh, yes. And each time I feel like this inside there's one thing I want to know. What's so funny about peace, love, and understanding? Ooh, what's so funny about peace, love, and understanding?

(Singing) And as I walk on through troubled times, my spirit gets so downhearted sometimes, sometimes. Where are the strong and who are the trusting? And where is the harmony, sweet harmony? 'Cause each time I feel it slipping away it just makes me want to cry. What's so funny about peace, love, and understanding? What's so funny about peace, love, and understanding? Mmmm, what's so funny about peace, love, and understanding?

(Singing) Understanding, brother. Understanding, sister. Understanding.

GROSS: That's Nick Lowe performing in our studio. That sounded great. How does it sound to you now? I do think there's times when it's had this ironic cast to it.

LOWE: Yes. I think when I thought it up, originally, everything was changing. The old hippie ideals were going and everyone was getting a bit slick and knowing. And so I originally thought it up as some poor old hippie saying, oh, well, I might be on the way out, you know, but there's one thing I know, you know.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LOWE: That what is so funny about this thing? You all think that you're so clever now, you know. But it wasn't really until Elvis Costello recorded it and he gave it this whole other slant, and it was like this kind of anthem, became this anthemic thing. And so I can't remember this. The original idea of it has kind of disappeared.

GROSS: Nick Lowe performing on our show three weeks after the 9/11 attacks. We'll continue our 25th anniversary show with more music performances from the FRESH AIR archive after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: Today is the 25th anniversary of the day FRESH AIR became a daily national NPR show, and we're celebrating by listening back to some of the great music performances we've featured over the past 25 years. When I'm preparing for a FRESH AIR concert, I work with the producer to make a list of songs I'd like the performer to do and then I consult with the musician about what they'd like to do and we come up with a song list.

But sometimes we end up with a song that none of us was counting on. And that happened with John Doe, the cofounder of the seminal L.A. punk band X. When he performed in May 2009 he was doing songs from his then-new album of classic country, but we got sidetracked to a great song we weren't planning on. Here's how it happened. He had just played a song made famous by Hank Snow called "A Fool Such As I."

And I said the song would sound so different if it was called "A Fool Just Like Me" to which John Doe said...

JOHN DOE: That's the beauty of country music, is it has this weird colloquial, but sort of statesmen prosaic. Like I was thinking about we do this song live, "There Stands the Glass."

GROSS: I love that song.

DOE: Yeah.

GROSS: Oh, OK. Now you've got to do a few bars of it. I was going to ask you to do it but I figure, well...

DOE: OK.

GROSS: ...they don't necessarily know it.

DOE: All right.

GROSS: This is - yeah.

DOE: But anyway, this is like "There Stands the Glass." It's like that's a really weird sentence.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

DOE: It makes total sense, but it's like, aloft, the glass is before me.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

DOE: Drinketh me down the glass of beer.

GROSS: Oh, OK.

DOE: OK.

GROSS: Do a few bars.

DOE: OK.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THERE STANDS THE GLASS")

DOE: (Singing) There stands the glass that'll ease all my pain, that'll settle my brain. It's my first one today. There stands the glass that'll hide all my fears, that'll drown all my tears. So brother, I'm on my way. I'm wondering where you are tonight. I'm wondering if you are all right. I'm wondering do you think of me in my misery? There stands the glass. Fill it up to the brim, till all my troubles grow dim.

(Singing) It's my first one today.

GROSS: John Doe singing a song made famous by country singer Webb Pierce. Today we're celebrating our 25th anniversary as a daily NPR show with highlights of concerts from the past 25 years. We'll close from a song from our most recent concert with Catherine Russell. She spent years as a backup singer for Steely Dan, David Bowie, and others, before going solo. Her father worked as Louis Armstrong's music director.

This exemplifies what we try to do with some of our concerts, which is to call attention to performers we think are wonderful and should be better known. Matt Munisteri is accompanying Catherine Russell on guitar.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WAKE UP AND LIVE")

CATHERINE RUSSELL: (Singing) Wake up and live. Don't mind the rainy patter and you will find it's mind over matter. Dark clouds will break up if you'll just wake up and live. Yeah, wake up and live. Show the stuff you're made of. Just follow through; what are you afraid of? You'll try it, won't you? Why don't you wake up and live? Come out of your shell. Hey, fellow, find your place in the sun.

(Singing) Come out of your shell. See, fellow, just be a go-getting sun of a gun. Wake up and live if Lady Luck is yawning. Up on your toes, a better day is dawning. Don't let up, get up and give. Just give yourself a shakeup just to wake up and live. Come out of your shell. Hey, fellow, find your place in the sun. Come out of your shell.

(Singing) Say, hey, fellow, just be a go-getting sun of a gun. Yeah, wake up and live if Lady Luck is yawning. Up on your toes; a better day is dawning. Don't let up, get up and give. Just give yourself a shakeup just to wake up and live.

GROSS: Yeah. That was great.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GROSS: Thank you both so much. That was Catherine Russell recorded on FRESH AIR last January. There are so many other great musicians who have performed on our show over the past 25 years and we're really sorry we don't have time to fit them in. You know, not many shows get to celebrate a 25th anniversary.

We've been given the greatest anniversary gift a show can ask for: you. You who have been listening to us, whether it's been for 25 years or just a few days. You, no matter how you're listening - radio, Podcast, website, phone, Tablet, whatever. You have given us the privilege of marking this anniversary and continuing to produce FRESH AIR.

So on behalf of all of us who have worked on the show over the past 25 years, our current crew and our alumni, thank you. A lot. We'll be back Monday with a new show. We hope you'll be there too. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.