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O’Brian, Letterman CDs Differ

December 23, 1997

NEW YORK (AP) _ David Letterman and Conan O’Brien have simultaneously broken into the music business. Thankfully, they aren’t singing.

That, they leave to trained professionals, the musicians who have appeared on their late-night talk shows. And now some of the best music segments of the past few years have been compiled on two new compact discs.

The comic stars found themselves competing with each other quite by coincidence when two separate record companies expressed interest in collecting some of the performances.

``I think they are different in the way the two shows are different,″ said Jim Pitt, music producer for ``Late Night With Conan O’Brien.″

``I only get competitive when I let myself become influenced by reviews,″ Pitt said.

The O’Brien disc, titled ``Live From 6A″ for the studio where the show is taped, skews heavily toward the alternative rock that would appeal to the young fans of the show.

``Live on Letterman″ is more mainstream. Music segment producer Sheila Rogers put a special emphasis on collaborations done specially for the show that can’t be bought anywhere else.

The only overlap is Elvis Costello, who sings the ballad, ``All This Useless Beauty″ on the O’Brien disc and is represented with the Burt Bacharach collaboration, ``God Give Me Strength,″ on Letterman’s CD.

Rogers culled 14 songs from among 850 musical performances on the ``Late Show″ since Letterman moved to CBS. Among them is a sweetly acoustic version of ``Friend of the Devil″ with the late Jerry Garcia and David Grisman.

Sinead O’Connor struggles, and ultimately fails, to keep her composure on a collaboration with a mischievous Van Morrison and the Chieftains on ``Have I Told You Lately?″ The laconic Lyle Lovett and soul shouter Al Green team up on ``Funny How Time Slips Away.″

``I was trying to feature music that was representative of what we like to do on the show,″ Rogers said. ``This is basically a rock album, the term used very loosely. Obviously, we have a lot of big stars on the show. But we’ve also taken some risks.″

The disc has its complement of big hits: ``Strong Enough″ by Sheryl Crow, ``Sweet Jane″ by Lou Reed, ``Think″ by Aretha Franklin and ``You Were Meant for Me″ by Jewel.

It also includes Patti Smith’s unusual Valentine’s Day selection of ``Who Do You Love,″ the growling rocker popularized by George Thorogood.

The best moment on the O’Brien disc is the first cut. The electrifying Ani DiFranco, who usually records for her own record label, allowed her performance of ``Shameless,″ with her devoted fans squealing in the background, to be used.

Matthew Sweet’s recorded version of Jeff Lynne’s ``Do Ya″ never made it onto the air. Sweet and his band played it to warm up during sound check, and Pitt liked it so much he asked to use it.

The album’s big star is David Bowie, who performed his song, ``Dead Man Walking.″ The other names are familiar mostly to fans of college radio: Bjork, Cake, 311, Soul Coughing, Squirrel Nut Zippers.

``I would have loved to have done something even a little more eclectic,″ Pitt said. ``The suggestion was to focus it toward the college crowd, to make it more alternative. We’ve had a lot of old blues people and alternative country artists that have appeared.″

Next time. Both Pitt and Rogers would love to turn their projects into a series of discs. They can even see theme discs tied to different musical styles. Spoken, of course, like two people who had to agonize over dozens of recordings that were left off.

Both discs have made modest starts in the marketplace. Through the end of November, Letterman’s disc had sold 12,000 copies and O’Brien’s had sold 3,700, according to SoundScan.

That put the lie, at least for now, to O’Brien’s sly marketing campaign. A huge downtown Manhattan billboard declared O’Brien, ``No. 1 in late night soundtracks.″ It poked fun at an earlier billboard battle waged by Letterman and Jay Leno over each other’s ratings.

Rogers doesn’t worry about the competition. ``I don’t think they affect each other, really,″ she said.

End Adv for Weekend Editions, Dec 26-28 and Thereafter