LOS ANGELES—Even before Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr took the stage Monday night to close out the taping of “The Night That Changed America: A Grammy Salute to the Beatles,” the audience had already gotten nearly three hours of tasty Fab Four covers by some of today’s top artists.

The CBS special, which airs Feb. 9, celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ first appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” It airs a half-century later —to the day and time— of that momentous occasion. The country was still mourning the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the excitement over the Beatles is credited with helping lift the  nation’s collective spirit.

{SPOILER ALERT: Don’t read any further if you don’t want to know about the artists on the program)


The taping at the Los Angeles Convention Center kicked off with footage of The Beatles playing “All My Loving” on the Sullivan show and all the attendant screaming girls (Fun Fact: The Sullivan show used a fifth camera, focused solely on the audience, for the first time. Plus, the crowd was so loud, none of the cameramen could hear the director so their shots were by guess work and memory from the rehearsals).
The Beatles performance segued into Maroon 5, dressed in similar black suits and skinny ties as the four lads, finishing the song.

Hosted by Grammy go-to guy LL Cool J, the show interspersed classic Beatles footage and short bios on John, Paul, George and Ringo with new interpretations of the Beatle classics. As is usually the case, some versions worked better than other: The Eurythmics’ take on “Fool On the Hill,”  Stevie Wonder’s funkified “We Can Work It Out,” John Mayer and Keith Urban’s rooftop re-creation of “Don’t Let Me Down,” and Alicia Keys and John Legend’s “Let It Be” were stand outs. Katy Perry’s “Yesterday” hit all the right emotional notes, although her voice would have been better suited for “Penny Lane” or something more upbeat. Pharrell Williams seemed the wrong fit for “Here Comes the Sun,” although Brad Paisley’s guitar work on the tune was, as always, stellar. Imagine Dragons took the biggest risk: restyling “Revolution” as if channeling Elvis Presley, sitting on four stools, clad in black leather, complete with Scotty Moore-type guitar licks.
The production values greatly enhanced the performances, with each act playing before an ever-changing kaleidoscope of colorful images: some familiar from Beatles’ movies, such as “Yellow Submarine,” and some brand new, but just as entertaining.

Ken Ehrlich, who executive produced the show (he also helms the Grammys), kept the taping moving quickly. During any downtime, clips from Beatles movies, such as “Help” and “A Hard Day’s Night” made things lively…though those were most likely for the benefit of the studio audience and won’t make the two-hour special.

The special included taped interviews with four “Sullivan Show” staffers, recounting in glorious detail the Beatles appearances (they made three) . The oral history is endearing, informative, and wildly entertaining, especially from Vince Calandra, who found himself filling in for a sick George Harrison during rehearsals.

Both Starr and McCartney, looking tremendously healthy and spry,  performed mini-sets on their own before joining together for “With A Little Help From My Friends” and “Hey Jude” (with Starr on drums).
Whether you were born when the Beatles appeared on “Sullivan” or have only heard about it from your parents, the CBS special brings it all back alive in a way that will have you diving into the Beatles catalog as soon as the show is over.

Below is a rundown of the performances. Clearly, some of them (probably some of Starr and McCartney’s tunes) will have to be cut for the two-hour running time, but will hopefully be included in what is sure to be a forthcoming DVD of the event.


“All My Loving” (partial) – Maroon 5
“Ticket to Ride” – Maroon 5
“Don’t Let Me Down” – John Mayer and Keith Urban
“In My Life” – Ed Sheeran
“Let It Be” – Alicia Keys and John Legend
“Revolution” – Imagine Dragons
“Yesterday” – Katy Perry
“Fool on the Hill” – Eurythmics
“Here Comes the Sun” -- Brad Paisley and Pharrell Williams
“Hey Bulldog” --- Dave Grohl and Jeff Lynne
“Something” –  Jeff Lynne, Joe Walsh, and Dhani Harrison
“While My Guitar Gently Weeps” – Joe Walsh, Gary Clark Jr. , and Dave Grohl (on drums)
“We Can Work It Out” – 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”/”With a Little Help From My Friends” – Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr
“Hey Jude” – Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr (on drums)