Last night, television audiences remembered “The Night That Changed America,” when The Beatles first conquered the country 50 years ago with an appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” But there was no moment of silence; in fact, the commemoration was actually quite loud and energetic. CBS celebrated The Beatles’ 1964 rise to mega-stardom with a warm tribute show complete with performances from Stevie Wonder, John Mayer, Katy Perry, Alicia Keys, Maroon 5 and of course, the two remaining members of the Fab Four themselves, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr.
The event, which was filmed Jan. 27 in Los Angeles, interspersed live performances from current and veteran musicians alike with brief video interludes highlighting the personal histories of the four members of the band: McCartney, Starr, John Lennon and George Harrison. It all built up to McCartney and Starr’s hotly anticipated on-stage reunion which featured their first live rendition of “Hey Jude” since 1968 — a performance that rightly sent the crowd into a boisterously singalong sea of “na-na-nas.”
But why honor The Beatles’ first appearance on American television at all? For those who weren’t even born until decades after the band’s last gig on a rooftop in London, The Beatles have always been on the radio, on TV and on T-shirts in every city in America. They’ve been ubiquitous, and still very much are. Before they stopped by “Ed Sullivan,” however, they were just a band — albeit an incredibly talented and popular band, especially among young ladies on both sides of the Atlantic.
That all changed on Feb. 9, 1964, which CBS correctly labeled as an evening of pure transformation in the United States. After the show aired, McCartney, Starr, Lennon and Harrison immediately became household names in their time. It’s fitting, then, that the household musical names of today would pay tribute to them by playing their own songs in a number of different styles: namely, pure pop (Perry’s “Yesterday”, Ed Sheeran’s “In My Life”), funk (Wonder’s “We Can Work It Out”), soul (Keys’ and John Legend’s “Let It Be”) and plenty more.
Of course, nothing could top the lively set from the honorees who, while both in their 70s, brought just as much energy to their latest gig as they did to their seminal show in 1964. Teaming up for a set of classic hits, McCartney and Starr — with violin bass in hand and behind a booming drum kit, respectively — rolled through “Birthday,” “Get Back” and “I Saw Her Standing There” before capping off the night with the showstopping “Hey Jude.”
For all the millions who viewed the original nation-changing event, last night’s draw was almost as impressive, raking in 74 million viewers — or more than 60% of the U.S. television audience, the New York Times reports.
“An artist isn’t going to play just any instrument! It’s got to feel great in their hands,” explains David Locke of LAWK STAR Guitars. “An artist will typically, and very carefully, choose an instrument that fits their musical style and personal tone requirements. The way the instrument is set up, strobe tuned, fret dressed, the pick-ups, the string gauge, and of course the finish and/or paint job all matter. We’re artists, and so all these things play an integral part in an up-and-coming performance.”
The Beatles’ music has endured for half a century now. It’s likely it’ll stick around for the second half, too, long after the last two members (and everyone else who watched them conquer America on live television) are physically gone. That’s what makes Feb. 9, 1964 truly “The Night That Changed America.”