50 years ago this February, The Beatles made their network TV debut in America on The Ed Sullivan Show. It was a seminal moment in music and television history as the Lads from Liverpool were brought into homes across America, sparking a wave of fandom that has yet to cease and has since spread worldwide.
To mark this golden anniversary, the city of Los Angeles was the site of a stunning tribute to the legendary band as a cavalcade of performers and celebrities gathered to display their instrumental and vocal prowess on a wealth of the group’s most notable (and a few obscure) songs and offer commentary on what makes The Beatles such an enduring force in society. That this event occurred one day after and in the same complex as the 56th annual Grammy Awards made it even more memorable as so many notable musicians were already in town. In a way it was a sequel to the Grammys, but with a more unified concept: paying homage to most significant band of the 20th century.
The Los Angeles Convention Center is in no way thought of as a concert venue, but this was first and foremost a TV taping and the cavernous hall provided an abundance of space for camera equipment and an accommodating layout for three IMAX-size screens flanking the stage to display music videos and film clips between songs as well as colorful animations during the performances. In what turned out to be a marathon nearly four hour affair, Maroon 5 were the first of many artists to deliver their renditions of classic Beatles material. There were rumors and confirmations of who would be in attendance for this historic night, but surprises were still plentiful. Comedian Eric Idle briefly amused the large crowd and added pre-recorded narration to biographical segments on bandmates John, Paul, George and Ringo. A-List actors were on hand to introduce most of the acts and TV and motion picture stars including LL Cool J, Kate Beckinsale, Anna Kendrick, Johnny Depp, Jeff Bridges and Sean Penn made the most of their brief speeches. Ed Sheeran captivated the room with only his voice and a guitar while other guests were backed by a top notch house band including Peter Frampton on guitar, Don Was on bass, Kenny Aronoff on drums, three background singers and four horn players, among others. The organizers spared no expense in arranging and inviting some of the biggest names to toast The Beatles.
John Legend and Alicia Keys performed a piano duet on “Let it Be”, Imagine Dragons offered a stripped-down take on “Revolution”, Katy Perry impressed with her range in tackling “Yesterday”, The Eurythmics reunited to perform “The Fool on the Hill”, Dave Grohl gave the room a shot in the arm with versions of “Hey Bulldog” (accompanied by Jeff Lynne) and a positively crushing “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” with Joe Walsh and Gary Clark Jr. The list of musicians in the house was seemingly endless: Keith Urban, John Mayer, Brad Paisley, Pharrell Williams, Dhani Harrison and Stevie Wonder all did justice and gave new twists to these unforgettable songs while the Cirque Du Soleil troupe from LOVE in Las Vegas added aerial feats to the evening’s entertainment. Fortunately this was not a one-sided showering of praise as the recipients of these accolades, Ringo and Paul, would also perform solo sets to the delight of the audience before collaborating to the absolute thrill of everyone in the room and, surely, even those who could not be there in person. To see the two surviving Beatles genuinely enjoy each other’s company and trade off on “With a Little Help From My Friends” and “Hey Jude” was an incredibly joyous moment that has not yet even begun to sink in. I can only remain grateful that I was able to join in the celebration and look forward to experiencing it from a different perspective when the special airs on CBS on February 9th.
The show will be broadcast on CBS Sunday 9th February at 8pm 50 years to the day, date and time of the band’s first appearance #TheBeatles50
SETLIST: The Night That Changed America @ Los Angeles Convention Center 1/27/14
(All songs with the House Band unless otherwise noted)
All My Loving (The Beatles Ed Sullivan Show clip > Maroon 5 only)
Ticket to Ride (Maroon 5 only)
Don’t Let Me Down (Keith Urban and John Mayer)
In My Life (Ed Sheeran only)
Let it Be (Alicia Keys and John Legend)
Revolution (Imagine Dragons only)
Yesterday (Katy Perry)
The Fool on The Hill (The Eurythmics)
Here Comes the Sun (Brad Paisley, Pharrell Williams and Cirque du Soleil)
Hey Bulldog (Dave Grohl and Jeff Lynne)
Something (Joe Walsh, Jeff Lynne and Dhani Harrison)
While My Guitar Gently Weeps (Gary Clark Jr., Joe Walsh and Dave Grohl on drums)
We Can Work It Out (Stevie Wonder)
We Can Work It Out (Take 2 – Stevie Wonder)
Matchbox (Ringo Starr)
Boys (Ringo Starr)
Yellow Submarine (Ringo Starr)
Magical Mystery Tour (Paul McCartney)*
Birthday (Paul McCartney)*
Get Back (Paul McCartney)*
I Saw Her Standing There (Paul McCartney)*
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Paul McCartney)*
With a Little Help From My Friends (Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr on vocals)*
Hey Jude (Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr on drums, Cirque du Soleil and all guests on vocals)*
* with Paul McCartney’s Band