Jimmy Fallon’s new album Blow Your Pants Off — a collection of weirdo experiments and famous-people duets from Fallon’s late-night talk show — drops today, and all the big hits are there, including “A History of Rap,” “Slow Jam the News,” and “Friday feat. Stephen Colbert.” (Sadly, his cover of Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” came too late to land on this album — thanks for filling in the blanks, Internet!)
EW got Fallon on the phone to talk about conjuring Tebowie, the debt he owes to Dr. Demento, and what it took to convince a Beatle to sing “Scrambled Eggs.”
Entertainment Weekly: First thing’s first: At what point did you realize you had a pretty good Neil Young impression?
Jimmy Fallon: I think I’ve done Neil Young since high school. My parents were into Neil Young, and I’d imitate him because he had such a distinct voice. But I never thought I could do anything funny with it. That’s where the writers come in. A writer said, “I know you do Neil Young, so what if you did Neil Young singing Fresh Prince of Bel-Air?” And I was like, “I don’t know.” So we just started goofing around with a guitar, and it just makes every song sound so beautiful. It’s kind of sad but poignant, and also kind of rock and roll at the same time. We did it to Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, we did it to Willow Smith’s “Whip My Hair.” We even made “Pants on the Ground” sound like a beautiful dirge — a mournful ballad.
“Whip My Hair” must have been tough, considering that song is already sort of ridiculous.
“Whip My Hair” is just a fun dance song from a little girl. When I called Bruce Springsteen about doing it, I said, “Hey, I do this impression of Neil,” and he said [imitates Springsteen], “Yep, that’s right, I’ve seen it, it’s funny.” I told him I was thinking of doing a version of Willow Smith’s “Whip My Hair,” and had he heard it? And he said, “I can honestly say I am not familiar with that song.” So I sent him her version, right when it was super popular, and I sent our version, which I recorded on my iPhone in my office, and he loved it. You’ve been waiting for Neil and Bruce for years, and the song they chose to collaborate on was “Whip My Hair.”
How did Springsteen end up appearing as ’70s Bruce?
That was Bruce’s idea. I just wanted him to sing with me as ’70s Neil, and he was like, “Well, if you’re going to be ’70s Neil, I want to be ’70s Bruce.” So he brought the actual sunglasses from the Born to Run tour. And he got into it. He was totally game. A great sport. It was one of the craziest moments of my life.
Has Neil Young ever weighed in on your version of him?
I saw Neil when he came to the show with his wife, Peggy, and he said that “Pants on the Ground” was his biggest hit in 25 years. That was good to hear. He’s a quiet guy, he keeps to himself, but he was nice enough to give me that compliment and let me impersonate him on the show and on the album.
How did you convince Paul McCartney to perform with you?
Paul McCartney was the craziest one. He’s my idol. I grew up listening to the Beatles. I was talking to him about the segment, and what we were going to talk about on the show. It’s a true story that when he wrote “Yesterday,” he originally wrote [sings], “Scrambled eggs/Oh my lady how I love your legs.” And then he went to sleep. But he wrote that just so he could remember the cadence and the rhythm of the song. So I told him I had this sketch idea where he would sing the full song “Scrambled Eggs,” and he goes [imitates McCartney], “I think I’ll just do a chat, just a fun chat.” And I was like, “It’s written, one of our writers put it together, it’s really funny.” And he said, “Yeah, I think we’ll just stick to some stories and have fun.” So I said, “Can I just play it for you?” So I did it for him, and I said, “Do you want to do it?” and he said, “Only if you’ll do it with me.” And then I just passed out, because a Beatle just asked me to sing a duet with him. Cut to Paul McCartney singing “Scrambled Eggs” over my shoulder. I’m so proud that we get to do all these fun bits and release them on CD so that people who aren’t awake when we do the show can hear them.
“Tebowie” is one of the weirder concepts you’ve come up with.
Tebowie is based on the premise of what would happen if David Bowie and Tim Tebow were one human. Thank God for comedy writers. It’s just an impression I’ve always had, but I didn’t know how to make it funny. It’s just David Bowie. But somebody pitched the idea that if David Bowie and Tim Tebow became one man, he’d be Tebowie. We clear all this stuff before we do it, but for that one we just did it and figured we’d hear from Bowie’s workers compensation lawyers. But right after we did it, it blew up. The Broncos were playing New England in the playoffs, and the Boston radio stations were blaring it. My Twitter people were like, “Dude, I just heard you on the radio with Tebowie!” It was kind of exciting. It was like that scene in That Thing You Do when they hear their song on the radio in the car.
Did you hear from either Tim Tebow or David Bowie?
I haven’t heard from Bowie himself, but his people like it. I had Tim Tebow on the show and I played it for him, and he said, “My only note for you is that you’re a bit pitchy.” Right now I’m working on a new Tebowie outfit because he’s on the New York Jets. The new uniforms haven’t been released yet, but as soon as they are, you’ll be able to see a new New York Jets Tebowie.
Where does your music-comedy background begin? Are you a big Steve Martin fan?
I’m a Weird Al guy, I’m a Tenacious D guy. I grew up listening to Dr. Demento, which was basically novelty songs. Any music comedy, really. There was a song called “Shaving Cream” by a guy named Benny Bell that I heard on Dr. Demento. It goes far back. I loved novelty songs. I just like funny songs. I collect comedy records. I have probably every comedy record that was made in the ’60s and ’70s. There was a lot of crossover with Dr. Demento. Cheech and Chong made funny songs that were also rock songs. Adam Sandler with “The Hanukkah Song” — it’s funny, but it’s also a really good song.
What was it like working with Dave Matthews on “Walk of Shame”?
We were doing this college show with the president of the United States, like one does. I said we should write a song that would be fun for college kids. The idea of the walk of shame was a part of my stand-up back when I was in college, about how when you hook up with someone and you have to walk across campus the next morning in the same outfit and your hair is all messed up. Me and two writers wrote the song, and Dave Matthews was the musical guest that day, so we sent it over to Dave to see if he would do a cameo. He said, “Yeah, I’m down.” So we rehearsed it like, twice, and if you watch the show, he came out to sing “Walk of Shame” and was pointing at himself, as though to say, “This is my walk of shame — having to sing this song with you.” He’s so great — just a great guy who doesn’t take himself too seriously and understands that we’re out to have fun.
Tell me about “Slow Jam the News.” Did you originally do it with Brian Williams in mind?
One of our producers came up with the idea for “Slow Jam the News,” to turn a news story into a sexy R&B song. We actually did it on the first show. It was one of the first bits we ever did. It was just me and the Roots on the first show. Then we did it with Diddy, and then Brian Williams saw it and got jealous. [Laughs] We went to him and said, “What if America’s favorite newsman slow jammed the news with us?” And he did it, but then it went viral, so now we can’t do it without him. He’s in the [same] building, we know where he is. So we have to hunt him down and take him away from his serious job every time we want to do it.
Are you able to do so much with music on the show because you have the Roots?
The Roots are so game, and they love music so much. I couldn’t have done any of this without the Roots. “The History of Rap” is incredible. It’s all live music played in the background. It’s mind-boggling. The music alone on that is worth it right there. It’s just insane, and it’s a good party jam too. They take days to make sure everything is right. They’re perfectionists. Justin Timberlake is a perfectionist too, and he always wants to make sure it sounds right and perfect. The Roots and Justin Timberlake could probably do it without me; I require a lot more practice. I’m not sure America is ready for me rapping.
Since all these big names have come on the show to goof around, has it gotten easier to get people to play along?
We still have to deliver the goods, but it doesn’t hurt that Paul McCartney and Bruce Springsteen have helped us out and done songs with us.
Read more on EW.com:
Jimmy Fallon, Carly Rae Jepsen, and The Roots perform ‘Call Me Maybe’ with classroom instruments
Revisit Jimmy Fallon’s ‘Idiot Boyfriend’ video, starring a pre-adorkable Zooey Deschanel
Jimmy Fallon’s Tebowie returns with Peyton Manning jam — VIDEO