On Feb. 9, 1964, a little band called the Beatles performed for the first time on "Ed Sullivan." It was a rilly big shew, as Ed used to say, and it's not even slightly hyperbolic to say that it changed pop culture forever. Half a century later, the effects of that one monumental night are still being felt.
And roughly half a century later, on Jan. 27, the Recording Academy hosted "The Night That Changed America: A Grammy Salute To The Beatles" at the Los Angeles Convention Center, making full use of the all-stars in town from the previous night's Grammy Awards, including surviving Beatles Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr themselves. The concert will air Sunday — exactly 50 years to the day, date, and time of the Fab Four's original "Ed Sullivan Show" appearance — on Sullivan's old network, CBS. Yahoo Music witnessed this historical event, and here's what you can expect to see on TV...
"We're not really trying to recreate that night; all we can do is celebrate it," explained Grammys producer Ken Ehrlich at the start of the historical concert, before a rotating cast of very different A-list artists, all united by their love for the Beatles, took the stage with very different results.
[Related: Paul and Ringo Reunite at the Grammys]
Among the best tributes of the night were the reunited Eurythmics doing "Fool on the Hill," with Annie Lennox, resplendent in a floor-sweeping bronze ball gown, delivering a theatrical and borderline-unhinged performance; piano soul stylists Alicia Keys and John Legend teaming up for a positively stunning "Let It Be"; Stevie Wonder, perfectionist that he is, running through two attempts at a funky remake of "We Can Work It Out"; George Harrison's onetime Traveling Wilburys crony Jeff Lynne and Eagles's Joe Walsh joining George's son Dhani for a lovely cover of "Something," while George's widow Olivia beamed in the audience; and another George tribute, an absolutely incendiary "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," by Joe Walsh and Gary Clark Jr., with the Foo Fighters's Dave Grohl on drums.
Dave Grohl also got in the best Beatles-fanboy speech of the night, when he told the audience: "I can really say if it weren't for the Beatles, I would not be a musician … [they're] my mom's favorite band, my favorite band, and now my daughter's favorite band." It was the perfect introduction for his unexpected performance of "Hey Bulldog," which he called the Beatles' "quintessential rocker," with Jeff Lynne. Also onstage: possibly the best "house band" ever, with a lineup that included Peter Frampton, Don Was, Steve Lukather, the Wallflowers' Rami Jaffee, and "The Voice"/"20 Feet From Stardom" powerhouse backup singer Judith Hill.
However, not all of the performances were so magical, although some of the song choices were definitely a mystery. While the appearance of Producer of the Year Grammy darling Pharrell Williams was a welcome one — especially since he was still wearing his famous Arby's/Canadian Mountie hat, and he was backed by some impressive guitar courtesy of Brad Paisley — "Here Comes the Sun" was totally the wrong song for Pharrell's groovy falsetto. A sexier, slinkier number, like "You Never Give Me Your Money" or even "Tomorrow Never Knows," would have worked much better.
Likewise, the maudlin ballad "Yesterday" wasn't quite the right fit for Katy Perry. Although Katy really tried to sell the song, staring down the camera with her winsome puppy-eyes as she stood centerstage in an elegant satin cape, and she pulled off the vocal for the most part, a more upbeat and jaunty tune like "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" or "Penny Lane" would have been a better match for her cartoonish personality. Judging from the muted and mixed reactions inside the Convention Center after her performance, it's likely that Katy will be on the receiving end of some Twitter hate from Beatles fanatics when this concert airs on TV.
Other guest performers included Maroon 5 (kicking off the show with a high-energy snippet of "All My Loving," followed by "Ticket to Ride"), Ed Sheeran (a tastefully understated "In My Life"), John Mayer and Keith Urban (a guitar-duel cover of "Don't Let Me Down"), and Imagine Dragons (a stool-seated, unplugged "Revolution" that was a complete 180 from their very plugged Kendrick Lamar mashup at this year's Grammys). Presenters included LL Cool J, Eric Idle, Anna Kendrick, Jeff Bridges, Sean Penn, Kate Beckinsale, and Johnny Depp, the latter of whom practically received a warmer reception than Paul and Ringo themselves.
But of course, Paul and Ringo were the men of the hour; to watch all of this unfold knowing that they were up there in the front row, enjoying the show with their respective wives, Yoko Ono, Sean Ono Lennon, and Olivia Harrison, was downright goosebump-inducing for the civilians in the crowd. And when Paul and Ringo finally took the stage at the end of the night, those goosebumps only got, well, goosebumpier.
First up was solo Ringo ("What a thrill following Stevie Wonder!" he gushed), singing Carl Perkins' "Matchbox" and the Shirelles' "Boys" before leading the audience in a psychedelic singalong of "Yellow Submarine," which he explained was his daughter's song request. As Ringo spotted fellow drummer Dave Grohl sitting the audience with his own family, Ringo shouted, mid-song: "Is that your daughter? Beautiful!" Aw.
The only thing that could top that was a set by Sir Paul, who hit the stage with his own band to run through "Magical Mystery Tour," "Birthday," "Get Back," and "I Saw Her Standing There." Then, as Paul neared the end of "Sgt. Pepper" and segued into the "Billlllyyyyyy Shearrrrrs" intro of "With a Little From My Friends," spectators braced themselves for the closest thing to a Beatles reunion that the world will ever see…as Ringo came out to sing the lead. (Let's assume no one was hoping or expecting that the aforementioned Peter Frampton would come out to reenact the "With a Little Help" scene from that doomed 1978 "Sgt. Pepper" movie.)
As the show ended in the most fab way imaginable, with a "We Are the World"-style singalong of "Hey Jude" — featuring every participant from the evening, confetti showers, and high-wire stunts by the Cirque du Soleil aerialists from "The Beatles Love" Vegas revue — Ringo bittersweetly declared, "Whenever we play, John and George are always with us." There's little doubt everyone in the audience felt the same way.