Former Beatles Paul McCartney (L) and Ringo Starr after they had just performed onstage.
No one plays a Beatles song quite like a Beatle. That lesson was learned Monday night when a reunion of Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr concluded a tribute to the Beatles that CBS will air on Feb. 9, the 50th anniversary of their first appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” They still can’t be topped.
McCartney and Starr joined forces at the Los Angeles Convention Center on “With a Little Help From My Friends” and “Hey Jude” after watching 13 performances of the music they recorded in the 1960s with John Lennon and George Harrison. Between segments by acts such as Katy Perry, Maroon 5 and Stevie Wonder, vintage clips from the Beatles’ films, performances and press conferences were screened along with shots of Beatlemania at its peak.
“At first when asked, I wondered whether it was the right thing to do,” McCartney said during his five-song set with his band, noting he asked a few American friends for the their opinion. “They said you don’t understand the importance of the ‘Ed Sullivan Show’ on America. And I didn’t understand until then.”
Producer Ken Ehrlich applied the trademark “Grammy moment” and generated stirring results from the pairings of John Mayer and Keith Urban, Alicia Keys and John Legend, and Gary Clark Jr., Joe Walsh and Dhani Harrison. Less successful was the union of Pharrell Williams and Brad Paisley that attempted to marry Indian influences with country guitar licks.
Don Was led a band that included the guitarists Peter Frampton and Steve Lukather of Toto, keyboardists Greg Phillinganes and Rami Jaffee, and the drummer Kenny Aronoff who backed Perry, the paired performers and Wonder.
For the most part, guitarists shined throughout the night, using the material for soulful explorations of themes the Beatles never wholly mined on the records. The Mayer-Urban duel was particularly heated; Walsh used his distinctive tone while precisely and poetically quoting Harrison’s solo on “Something.” The show also features another reunion, that of Eurythmics’ Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart, who covered “Fool on the Hill.”
Among the presenters were Sean Penn, Jeff Bridges, Eric Idle and Johnny Depp; the audience included Yoko Ono, Sean Lennon, Olivia Harrison, Tom Hanks and the Civil Wars’ John Paul White.
The set list for CBS’ Beatles salute:
Maroon 5 – “All My Loving”
Maroon 5 – “Ticket to Ride”
John Mayer and Keith Urban – “Don’t Let Me Down”
Ed Sheeran – “In My Life”
Alicia Keys and John Legend – “Let it Be”
Imagine Dragons – “Revolution”
Katy Perry – “Yesterday”
Eurythmics – “Fool on the Hill”
Pharrell Williams and Brad Paisley – “Here Comes the Sun”
Dave Grohl and Jeff Lynne – “Hey Bulldog”
Joe Walsh and Jeff Lynne – “Something”
Gary Clark Jr., Walsh and Grohl – “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”
Stevie Wonder – “We Can Work It Out”
Ringo Starr – “Match Box,” “Boys,” “Yellow Submarine”
Paul McCartney – “Magical Mystery Tour,” “Birthday,” “Get Back,” “I Saw Her Standing There,” “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”
McCartney and Starr – “With a Little Help From My Friends”
McCartney, Starr and ensemble – “Hey Jude”