By Brian Ives
As was mentioned numerous times on the GRAMMYs Sunday night, we’re nearing the 50th anniversary of the Beatles‘ first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. Some might ask, how many times do we have to pay tribute to a band who broke up 44 years ago? Why do we still love them? Those are questions that John Lennon would likely respect, if were still here today.
Monday night (Jan. 27) at the Los Angeles Convention Center, a cavalcade of big-name artists spanning generations and genres were showing their love, and paying tribute to the Fab Four while filming The Night That Changed America: A GRAMMY Salute To The Beatles, which airs Feb. 9 on CBS (which, in full disclosure, owns Radio.com). Dave Grohl, Alicia Keys, Katy Perry, Keith Urban, John Mayer, Brad Paisley and a reunited Eurythmics were among the artists to take the stage to put their spin on Beatles classics.
But another aspect of the show was the Beatles footage that was used in between performances. Watching the promo clips for “Strawberry Fields Forever,” “One After 909” and “Penny Lane,” plus footage of the band jamming in the studio, served as a great reminder of how much fun these guys were to watch. It was one of these film clips that opened the show; a video of the Beatles playing “All My Loving” ended abruptly, and Maroon 5 took over and finished the song, kicking off the first of many live performances.
Some of the guests were not surprising. Ringo’s brother-in-law Joe Walsh performed twice, once with Electric Light Orchestra’s Jeff Lynne and George Harrison‘s son Dhani on “Something,” and then again with Gary Clark Jr. and Dave Grohl (on drums) for “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” Of course, Grohl’s presence wasn’t surprising either; he and Sir Paul are bros and even shared a GRAMMY on Sunday (for their collaboration “Cut Me Some Slack”). “If it weren’t for the Beatles, I wouldn’t be a musician,” Grohl told the crowd, adding that they are his “mom’s favorite band, [his] favorite band and now [his] daughter’s favorite band.”
Alicia Keys and John Legend teamed up for a two-piano version of “Let It Be,” which led to the night’s first standing ovation. (In the same room three nights earlier, Ms. Keys got another standing O, that time for “(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman” at a GRAMMY tribute to Carole King; the girl respects her elders.)
Others team-ups were less expected: John Mayer and Keith Urban performed “Don’t Let Me Down,” which they also performed last year at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Festival). Pharrell Williams, again wearing that hat, and Brad Paisley teamed up for “Here Comes The Sun.”
Mayer’s occasional duet partner Katy Perry took the stage alone, taking on “Yesterday,” which marked a great contrast from her GRAMMY homage to witchcraft the night before. Ditto for Imagine Dragons, who did an all-acoustic, explosion-free performance of “Revolution.”
Stevie Wonder had neither robots nor Nile Rodgers with him for “We Can Work It Out,” but he did have his occasional backing singer (and one of the subjects of the documentary 20 Feet From Stardom), Judith Hill. He originally recorded the Beatles classic in 1970 for Signed, Sealed, Delivered, so he got along just fine sans cyborgs and disco legends, despite asking for a second take. You don’t say “no” to Stevie Wonder; the producers granted his wish.
One moment everyone was waiting for — partially because it was one of the only performances announced before the show — was the Eurythmics’ reunion, which did not disappoint. Their “Fool On The Hill” was a great choice. Interestingly, they didn’t use the house band, but other musicians. Could they be rehearsing with them in preparation for a tour?
But the moment everyone was really waiting for was the reunion of the surviving Beatles, Paul McCartey and Ringo Starr. First, Ringo took the stage, playing “Matchbox,” “Boys” and “Yellow Submarine.” While it would have been fun to see Paul jamming with him on those, it was also fun to watch him dancing in his seat.
Then Ringo exited and Paul took the stage with his longtime touring band, and played “Magical Mystery Tour,” “Birthday,” “Get Back” and “I Saw Her Standing There.” Paul often performs “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band” and ends it with a guitar jam. Tonight, however, when the song got to the “Biiiiiiiiiill! Leeeee! Sheeears!” point, Ringo ran on stage and went right into “With A Little Help From My Friends.”
As cool as it was seeing Paul and Ringo share a mic, it’s even cooler to see Ringo playing drums behind Paul. And on the last song, “Hey Jude,” they did just that.
Did seeing them perform, one more time, live up to the anticipation? Did the tribute live up to the challenge of being good enough, big enough, diverse enough for The Beatles? Let’s be real, nothing could live up to that anticipation, and no lineup ever totally speak to the band’s seismic influence. But the producers made a strong effort to demonstrate how The Beatles are truly, everything to everyone.
“The Night That Changed America: A GRAMMY Salute To The Beatles” airs on CBS Feb. 9 at 8 p.m. ET.