Inside The Grammys’ Epic All-Star Beatles Tribute

"The Night That Changed America: A GRAMMY Salute To The Beatles" - Fixed Show

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Dave Grohl did the most ferocious and powerful tribute to Lennon – a fiery combustible take on “Hey Bulldog,” which boasts one of John’s most explosive riffs and haunting refrains. Grohl explained it was a last minute throw-away composition John invented for the Yellow Submarine score (although Lennon did have a habit of writing masterpieces in one night, as he did with “A Hard Day’s Night” and “All You Need Is Love”). Grohl announced momentously, “This is ‘Hey Bulldog,’” and then launched into one of the most compelling songs of the night.

Alicia Keys and John Legend sat at two pianos and performed Paul’s classic piano ballad “Let It Be” with great restraint and power both – wisely not altering the famous melody too much – but allowing the passion to triumph –a graceful and powerful performance, showing great respect for the song and the songwriter while also pouring in their hearts. Standing ovation.

Some of the performances were less well-received, such as the Imagine Dragons’ acoustic take on Lennon’s “Revolution” and Ed Sheeran’s breezy, acoustic rendition of Lennon’s “In My Life.” But while many predicted prior to the show that Katy Perry couldn’t sing “Yesterday” well enough, she sang it with much poise and power, and did justice to the most recorded song of all time, dubbed “the greatest song of the 20th century.”

John Mayer and Keith Urban teamed up for an incendiary voyage through “Don’t Let Me Down,” which The Beatles performed in their last concert ever, up on the roof of Abbey Road, as seen in the end of the film Let It Be. The rooftop panoply was displayed across the stage to give it the authentic feel, and Mayer’s solos were inspired.
As this was a taping for a TV show, there were long gaps between acts as the stage set was shifted, during which delightful Beatles clips – from movies A Hard Day’s Night and Let It Be – were shown.

They also showed profiles of each Beatle, which will be broadcast, along with some filmed interviews with crew members of the original Sullivan show. There’s great stuff on the man who famously stood in during sound check for an ailing George – and wore a Beatles’ wig – as well as on a technician who explained that their headphones – against the wail of screams from the audience – were useless, and that after that date CBS switched to the big muffler-type headphones still in use, which drown out even the most vociferous crowd.

Jeff Lynne – who produced George Harrison’s classic Cloud Nine album and also teamed up with him in The Traveling Wilburys, did a beautiful tribute to his absent friend, along with Dhani Harrison and Joe Walsh, on George’s famous ballad “Something,” the song Frank Sinatra infamously called his “favorite Lennon & McCartney” composition. Walsh also played a beautiful version of George’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” with much allegiance to the original guitar lines, as played on the record by George and Eric Clapton. Grohl sat in on drums on this one, which also received a triumphant standing O from the crowd.

But nothing, of course, could touch the impact of seeing The Beatles live. Together. Doing Beatles songs! In fact, Paul and Ringo did team up on the night before – at The Grammys – but not on a Beatles song, but Paul’s recent “Queenie Eye.” They were saving it for this.

First Ringo performed. And since the great man has been out for decades with his All-Star Band as a frontman – often having his son Zak Starkey take over drum duties – he has become the only Beatle ever to dance sprightly while performing. So famous as the drummer for these legendary singers, Ringo is often neglected as a singing performer himself, but is a wonderful stylist with much joy in his step. He did a song which many have been delighting to on the recent Beatles at BBC collection, “Boys” (written by Luther Dixon and Wes Farrell, originally performed by The Shirelles), his big solo number when he started with The Lads. And as he did back then, he sang the hell out of it, with much soul and verve. He then sang a song Lennon wrote for him (as John also wrote “Good Night” for Ringo, and with Paul wrote “With a Little Help from My Friends” for him), a wonderfully spirited and joyous “Yellow Submarine.”

As Sir Paul was shown in the audience reacting during this, we knew there would be a break before he took the stage. And there was a long one – the most lengthy of the night – as Paul took over with his current band, consisting of the great Rusty Anderson (a local Angeleno hero, former member of Veg with the great Parthenon Huxley), guitarist Brian Ray, Paul “Wix” Wickens on keys and the mighty Abe Laboriel, Jr. on drums. (All of these guys were raised on Beatles, and sing the famous harmonies with great faith and prowess. Laboriel takes on Ringo’s distinctive drum patterns with great respect for the source, while also diverging just enough to make his own statement. )

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Introduced by Sean Penn, McCartney and band opened with “Magical Mystery Tour,” a wonderful and unexpected invitation into the mystery and magic of Beatles charm. Then, in regard to the famous birthday of their American invasion, he sang “Birthday,” a song he wrote using John’s technique of starting with a raw, killer riff. Paul’s band, as it has for years, leapt on all the magic inherent in these songs, so many of which we never heard live from The Beatles themselves, who ceased live performance in 1966.

Then came a song Paul wrote as a wish for The Beatles to reinvent themselves as a live band and get back to their roots, “Get Back” (from the album that was first called Get Back and then became Let It Be). But where would it go from here? First back in time to one of the earliest Beatles songs we had heard here in America, the rave-up “I Saw Her Standing There.”

And from there to one of the most classic songs of all time, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” which, as all Beatles fans know, leads directly into another song crafted for Ringo – though in the guise of the mythic Billy Shears – “With A Little Help From My Friends.” Indeed, Ringo came dancing onstage after the momentous ascending musical introduction of “BILLY SHEARS” and sang the song joyfully and flawlessly, to the palpable joy of the immense crowd. 

But first he paid tribute to those two bandmates who left us so tragically early, and whose absence rang like bells throughout the evening. “Wherever we play,” said Ringo, “John and George are always with us.”

He then sat down at the drums as Paul played the longest Beatles song ever recorded (“Revolution #9, being a sound collage and not a song, doesn’t count), “Hey Jude.” And as he has always done since that first momentous night when we heard this amazing song he wrote originally for John’s son, Julian, Paul sang with great soul and grace, and made us remember again just how great a great song can be.

It was the perfect ending to a remarkable night.

It was produced and hosted, off-camera, by longtime Grammys producer Ken Ehrlich, who had also pulled off the production on the night before of The Grammy Awards (the Grammys were held at the Staples Center in downtown L.A. and the Beatles show in the adjoining Convention center so that both productions could be created concurrently), and who admitted he hadn’t slept between shows. Still he managed to keep things rolling beautifully, explaining that the Grammys is quicker to shoot as they have multiple stages, while the singular stage they erected here required lengthy scene changes.

But nobody minded. When you know The Beatles are in the house – and are about to perform – it goes a long way. 

Afterwards the crowd seemed stunned. While some complained about some acts and praised others, nobody seemed unaffected by the great power of seeing Paul and Ringo join together in celebration of this legacy which has, indeed, changed the world.

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