By Randy Lewis Los Angeles Times
Dave Grohl was on his way to rehearsals for a TV special marking the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ U.S. television debut on “The Ed Sullivan Show” when the panic set in.
“Suddenly it hit me: Maybe I ought to listen to the record again before we rehearse it,” the founding member of Nirvana and Foo Fighters said of his impending run-through of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” with guitarists Joe Walsh and Gary Clark Jr. for “The Night That Changed America: A Grammy Salute to the Beatles.”
The two-hour special will air Sunday on CBS, exactly half a century after the Fab Four’s appearance on Sullivan’s show kicked Beatlemania into high gear on American shores.
“When I got there and sat down at the drums and started playing, all the fills were there — they just came out (because) I’ve been listening to this stuff my whole life.”
Grohl’s moment of clarity about the DNA-deep resonance of the Beatles’ music in his life was echoed repeatedly by the musicians who perform in the Beatles special, which piggybacks on this year’s Grammy Awards show with performances by Stevie Wonder, Katy Perry, Imagine Dragons, Gary Clark Jr., John Legend, Pharrell Williams, emcee LL Cool J and, of course, the surviving members of the Fab Four: Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr.
“We had no idea Ed Sullivan was the biggest show in America,” said Starr, 73, said
“We just knew we were coming to do some TV show. All we cared about was that we were coming to America. New York! Nothing else mattered.”
Wonder not only vividly remembers the profound impact the Beatles’ performance on the Sullivan show had on him as a 13-year-old musician but also recalled his early exposure to them while he was on tour in England, a child R&B prodigy at Motown Records who was billed at the time as Little Stevie Wonder.
“I’d heard them in England from being over there and I was telling people about the Beatles, how they had a great sound, with these great chord structures,” Wonder said.
In addition, the show’s tribute to the ongoing impact of the Beatles’ music spurred the reunion of Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart as the Eurythmics, performing together for the first time in nearly a decade.
Alicia Keys, Walsh, Jeff Lynne, John Mayer, Keith Urban, Brad Paisley, Ed Sheeran, performers from the Cirque du Soleil Las Vegas Beatles show “Love” and George Harrison’s son, Dhani Harrison, are among those featured in the Beatles special who didn’t appear on the Grammy telecast.
Johnny Depp, Sean Penn, Jeff Bridges, Kate Beckinsale and actress-singer Anna Kendrick pump up the celebrity content with their introductions to various performances.
Longtime Beatles associate and Monty Python founding member Eric Idle deliver a lighthearted introduction tapping into his Rutles parody of Beatlemania.
Idle also narrates separate video biographies of each Beatle that will be included in the show.
The efficacy of grabbing several au courant hit makers to serve up their interpretations of Beatles songs isn’t likely to ingratiate this show to aficionados.
But to those for whom there can never be an overdose of Beatles music in the world, it’s worth noting that the show inspired the first performance of the biggest hit of the Beatles’ hit-laden career, “Hey Jude,” by McCartney and Starr together since they recorded the song in 1968, well after the group had given up live concerts.
“That was incredible,” said Was. “It’s the best thing I’ve ever seen.”
“The Night That Changed America: A Grammy Salute to the Beatles” airs at 8 p.m. Sunday on CBS.