Richie Feathers, Arts Editor
Fifty years ago this past Sunday, Ed Sullivan introduced The Beatles to a raucous crowd of teenagers as an English band, but by the end of the night the four lads from Liverpool were America’s band as well. A record-breaking 73 million viewers sat glued to their televisions as they witnessed the new lives of rock and roll and the arrival of the most important band of all time.
From the Grammys stage, as tribute to such a historic event, CBS hosted “The Night That Changed America,” a fifty-year anniversary celebration of the lives, influence and music of The Beatles. With Sir Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr looking on from the front row, an impressive lineup of artists performed some of the Fab Four’s greatest hits for a night of musical history and community.
Maroon 5 kicked off the show with “All My Loving,” the first song the young Beatles performed on “The Ed Sullivan Show” on February 9, 1964, before taking on the following year’s “Ticket to Ride.” Stevie Wonder made “We Can Work It Out” his own, while Jeff Lynne, Joe Walsh and Dhani Harrison teamed up for “Something,” the classic of the latter’s late father, and Keith Urban and John Mayer did an excellent cover of “Don’t Let Me Down.”
The program took a no-frills approach to commemorating the last half century of The Beatles, choosing instead to focus primarily on its performances. Although detours into interviews with female members of the original audience and the technical crew that designed the original set added variety, “The Night That Changed America” made the smart decision to emphasize the actual element that changed America: the music itself.
Imagine Dragons performed an excellent acoustic version of “Revolution” before Dave Grohl joined Jeff Lynne for a superb “Hey Bulldog.” One of the most anticipated performances of the night, The Eurythmics later reunited on stage for “The Fool On the Hill,” with stunning results. But Alicia Keys and John Legend’s gorgeous “Let It Be” and the mix of Gary Clark Jr., Dave Grohl and Joe Walsh for “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” were both standout covers of the show.
Of course, the honorees of the night gave the best renditions of their songs. Ringo chose early tracks “Matchbox” and “Boys” before leading the crowd in a sing-a-long to “Yellow Submarine.” Paul played an appropriate “Birthday,” a rousing “Get Back” and old favorite “I Saw Her Standing There.” Then, ushering his friend onstage, he performed “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” leading into “With a Little Help from My Friends.”
The two surviving members of The Beatles closed out the show with the beautiful “Hey Jude.” Sitting behind his piano of colorful, psychedelia-inspired patterns, Paul saw the wave of ease and admiration wash over the room as Cirque du Soleil performers dangled and danced from the ceiling and generations of music lovers sang along from the floor.
One of the best segments from “The Night That Changed America” was Paul and Ringo’s interview with David Letterman while standing on the same stage they commanded years ago. They discussed The Beatles’ early love and appreciation of American music, the nervousness that Paul lied about not feeling before performing and the impenetrable noise of the screaming crowd. When Letterman commented on Ringo’s cymbals being the only indication of rhythm for the four boys to keep in time with each other, Paul agreed, but added that they also “knew how it felt” to play each song. “Because we had each other,” he confided, “it worked.”
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