Sunday night, February 9, marks the 50th anniversary of The Beatles‘ legendary first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. That moment will be celebrated with a special called The Beatles: The Night That Changed America — A Grammy Salute, airing Sunday night at the same time, 8 p.m., and on the same network, CBS, that aired the original performance.
While the two-and-a-half-hour show features an impressive cast of big-name music artists singing classic songs by the Fab Four, the biggest highlight of the night is a rare reunion performance by the surviving Beatles: Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr.
The show’s executive producer, Ken Ehrlich, tells ABC News Radio that, initially, the two old band mates weren’t sure they wanted to be involved with the special. One reason, he suggests, is that celebrating the 50th anniversary of something makes you seem old, and McCartney and Starr want to still be seen as vital touring musicians. But, says Ehrlich, “Once they came around and embraced the idea of it, they just got into it.”
Since The Beatles broke up, Paul and Ringo have rarely performed Beatles songs together, and certainly not on TV, so Ehrlich says it was a real treat for the audience at the taping, which took place the day after the Grammys, to get to witness the mini-reunion.
“Everybody was kind of expecting it,” Ehrlich says with regard to McCartney and Starr performing a few Beatles’ classics. “I mean, there are no secrets left in the entertainment industry anymore, but I don’t think that, as anticipated as it was, that they even had a clue as to how really electric it was when the two of them got together. It’s really something.”
Other stars featured on the special include Stevie Wonder, The Eagles‘ Joe Walsh, Jeff Lynne of Electric Light Orchestra and The Traveling Wilburys, and ’80s pop-rock icons Eurythmics, who reunited especially for this event.
Ehrlich says one of the standout performances was a version of the late Beatle George Harrison‘s classic love ballad “Something” that featured Walsh, Lynne and Harrison’s son, Dhani.
“It’s pretty special,” gushes Ehrlich. “Jeff Lynne obviously worked with George in The Wilburys and he’s got that George sound. And Dhani’s harmonies, you think you’re listening to The Beatles. And Joe just captures that guitar solo in ‘Something’ so wonderfully.”
The Eurythmics, made up of Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart, chose to do the Beatles song “The Fool on the Hill,” Ehrlich says, adding, “It’s such a gorgeous song, and the way they’ve interpreted it is beautiful.”
The lineup for The Beatles: The Night That Changed America special also includes Dave Grohl, John Mayer, R&B stars Alicia Keys and John Legend, country guitar slingers Keith Urban and Brad Paisley, pop-rock act Maroon 5, pop singers Katy Perry and Ed Sheeran, blues rocker Gary Clark Jr. and modern-rock group Imagine Dragons.
In addition to all the performances, The Beatles: The Night That Changed America — A Grammy Salute also will feature a historical look back on the original Sullivan performance, through archival footage and new interviews, including a conversation David Letterman conducted this past week with McCartney and Starr. Though at that point the Beatles had already scored their first #1 hit in the U.S., nobody in America had really ever seen them perform live before, so more than 70 million viewers tuned in to the show to see what all the fuss was about. It’s considered a watershed moment in pop culture, and countless rock stars have said that watching the show that night inspired them to make careers for themselves in music.
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