Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Beatles USA Debut - 50 Years Ago

by Bill Holmes

Ed Sullivan Show - 2/9/64
It seems that the 50th anniversary of the Beatles first American TV appearance is being celebrated everywhere. It has been mentioned on most TV news programs. Radio stations celebrated by playing Beatles songs. One local D/FW radio station played every Beatles song released in the U.S. all weekend. They even played their few clunker songs. This post is a review of perhaps the most fitting tribute and reminiscences of that evening by the CBS program with the rather unwieldy name.

The show was titled The Night That Changed America: A Grammy Salute to The Beatles. It was broadcast on CBS at 8:00 p.m. (EST) on Sunday. That's the same network, same time but exactly 50 years later. Part of the festivities were from the same venue, the Ed Sullivan Theater. CBS and/or the Grammys gathered an all-star cast of musicians to perform. The performances were at the Los Angeles Convention Center. 

A few general observations. There were a ton of commercials. The celebrities who introduced performances or other segments didn't add anything to the proceedings. Like all these type of shows the performances ranged from excellent to terrible and everything in between. Members of the Cirque du Soleil showed up in a couple of numbers but were not featured or needed. The house band was excellent, it included Kenny Aronoff (drums), Lenny Castro (percussion), Chris Caswell (keyboard), Peter Frampton (guitar), Rami Jaffe (organ), Steve Lukather (guitar), Greg Phillinganes (keyboard) and Don Was (bass), who also served as musical director. There were backup singers and strings too.

The show started out with a video of the Beatles singing All My Loving that night back in 1964 and segued into the same song by Maroon 5. Of course the Beatles version was accompanied by all the screaming fans in the Ed Sullivan Theater. Maroon 5 did OK and then did Ticket to Ride, which wasn't as good. From then on it was a performance or two alternated with clips of the Beatles either performing or about growing up in Liverpool. There were clips of Paul and Ringo revisiting the Ed Sullivan Theater with David Letterman scattered throughout the broadcast. There were also interviews with some of the people who were at the theater that night in 1964, both in the audience and behind the scenes. Interesting.
Maroon 5

I'll first go through the performances that I wasn't crazy about. Country singers don't shine on Beatles songs. Evidence would be Kieth Urban paired with John Mayer on Don't Let Me Down. Mayer was fair although he overdid the guitar licks. Kieth was less than fair. The other country artist was Brad Paisley who was paired with Pharrell Williams on Here Comes the Sun. Who came up with that duo? It wasn't very good. Other less than stellar performances were Ed Sheeran doing In My Life and Magic Dragons singing Revolution. Neither was terrible but there was no energy. Surprisingly I didn't enjoy Stevie Wonder's version of We Can Work It Out. It seemed a little sloppy to me. I'm not sure how to rate Katy Perry's rendition of Yesterday. Parts of it were good but on other parts she missed the mark. I probably would have picked someone with a better voice for this iconic song.

Luckily there were several good performances. The Eurythmics, Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart, together for the first time in over five years, performed Fool On The Hill. Annie was certainly loud but it was enjoyable. Joe Walsh (Eagles), Jeff Lynn (ELO) and Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters & Nirvana) each showed up a couple of times. All good, all real rock and roll guys. How about Jeff gets ELO together for a reunion. Joe and Jeff along with Dhani Harrison (Georges son) did Something (in the way she smiles). Jeff and Dhani sang and Joe played lead guitar. Very good. Jeff Lynn and Dave Grohl teamed up on Hey Bulldog, a lesser know song, but a good one. Later Joe Walsh and Dave Grohl, on drums, along with Gary Clark, Jr. performed While My Guitar Gently Weeps Joe played lead guitar and he did make it weep. It's a great song and a great rendition. Another dynamic duo did a terrific job on Let It Be. Alicia Keys and John Legend sat at facing grand pianos and sang the hell out of the song, John a little better than Alicia. Full disclosure, I am a big fan of each of them and would probably enjoy a song version of the phone book (you young folks, ask mom or dad what a phone book is) done by either one alone or together.
Alicia Keys & John Legend

Once all the guest performers got through the real guys took the stage. Ringo led it off with Matchbox, Boys and Yellow Submarine. Now we all know that Ringo doesn't have the greatest voice on the planet. That did not detract one bit from his performance. The guy is an entertainer and even at 73 years old is full of energy. It was a very enjoyable set.

Sir John was up next and he sang Birthday, Get Back, I Saw Her Standing There which was the first song John and Paul wrote together and Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band. Paul performed with his own group rather than the house band. 

For the finale, Ringo joined Paul onstage and sang lead on With a Little Help From My Friends while Paul and his group backed him up. The last song of the evening was Hey Jude with Paul at the piano and Ringo on drums. All the other performers came on stage towards the end of the song and joined in as did the audience. It was a fitting end to a show I enjoyed very much.

I give the show a B+. Most of the performances were good and it is always fun to see video from 50 years ago. If it comes on again, check it out. 

Author's note: This post was originally planned for 2/10/2014 but my trusty TV provider, AT&T U-verse, failed to record it on my DVR. I wasn't available to see the live (on tape) broadcast on 2/9. As late as Saturday, 2/8, when I last checked the recording was scheduled. Just another instance of U-verse being less than stellar in their service. Because of that I had to wait for the program to show to be rebroadcast on Wednesday 2/12/2014.


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