LOS ANGELES — Nothing in pop culture has matched the pure adrenaline rush and seismic jolt of The Beatles' arrival on U.S. shores nearly 50 years ago.
In marking that watershed moment, famous admirers gathered Monday night to celebrate the band and its songbook during an all-star salute taped at the Los Angeles Convention Center.
And nothing they served up matched the sheer thrill of seeing and hearing the two surviving Beatles rekindle their magical heyday.
Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr closed their own tribute show, first in short separate sets, then in a joyous collaboration. The Night That Changed America: A Grammy Salute to The Beatles will air Feb. 9 (CBS, 8 p.m. ET/PT), exactly 50 years after the band's debut on The Ed Sullivan Show, an appearance that drew a record-setting 73 million viewers.
The two-hour special won't draw those numbers — not even the Super Bowl can — but there's plenty here to pull in Beatles fans and music junkies.
Among the pre-Fab highlights were Imagine Dragons' reimagined Revolution, the twin pianos duet of Let It Be by Alicia Keys and John Legend, Ed Sheeran's lovely acoustic In My Life and a snarling Hey Bulldog from Dave Grohl and Jeff Lynne.
"I can honestly say if it weren't for The Beatles, I would not be a musician," Grohl told the audience, noting that the legendary quartet is "my mom's favorite band, my favorite band and now my daughter's favorite band."
Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart reunited as Eurythmics for a powerful Fool on the Hill. Stevie Wonder sat at a keyboard for his soulful, high-energy take on We Can Work it Out, a song he first heard at age 15 and pledged to someday perform "with a little more funky thing to it."
Also on the bill: Maroon 5 (All My Loving, Ticket to Ride), Keith Urban and John Mayer (Don't Let Me Down), Katy Perry (Yesterday), Pharrell and Brad Paisley (Here Comes the Sun), Joe Walsh, Lynne and Dhani Harrison (Something) and Gary Clark Jr., Joe Walsh and Grohl (While My Guitar Gently Weeps).
Crowd fervor intensified when Starr took the stage, performing Matchbox, the Carl Perkins rockabilly tune The Beatles covered in 1964, and Boys, accented by Peter Frampton's guitar solo. He finished with a Yellow Submarine audience sing-along.
McCartney took over with a whirlwind set of tunes that fit the occasion: Magical Mystery Tour, Birthday and Get Back.
"You wanna get back?" he shouted. "Me, too!"
He nailed the youthful zest, and high notes, of I Saw Her Standing There, then tore into Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band with Starr returning to join in. The two sang With a Little Help From My Friends before wrapping up with an extended Hey Jude that featured McCartney on piano and Starr on drums as Cirque du Soleil's Beatles Love aerialists spun overhead waving red umbrellas.
Between songs, McCartney and Starr acknowledged the void left by the late John Lennon and George Harrison. (Their widows and sons, Yoko Ono and Sean Lennon and Olivia Harrison and Dhani Harrison, respectively, were in attendance.)
McCartney said he initially had reservations about participating in a show "to tribute yourself," but was persuaded by people who reminded him of the profound impact the band's U.S. debut had on American society.
The show is packed with film clips and interviews and includes introductions by such Beatles fans as Jeff Bridges, Johnny Depp, Anna Kendrick and Sean Penn.
"Nothing is ever going to be what The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show were," said Ken Ehrlich, the Grammy salute's executive producer, before the taping. "That's why 50 years later everyone is still talking about it and why we're celebrating it. With this show, we have an opportunity to reminisce, and for generations of people who may not have been born yet, to give them a sense of what it was like."
The Beatles landed at the newly named Kennedy Airport in New York on Feb. 7, 1964. At the airport press conference, they were asked, "How do you find America?"
Starr quipped, "Turn left at Greenland."
Two days later, the band hit the Sullivan stage with an opening set of All My Loving, Till There Was You and She Loves You, later closing the hour-long show with I Saw Her Standing There and I Want to Hold Your Hand, all to deafening screams. Sullivan warned fans to behave during segments by other acts (including impressionist Frank Gorshin and the cast of Oliver!), threatening, "If you don't keep quiet, I'm going to send for a barber."
Roughly 23.2 million U.S. households, or 45.3% of the nation, tuned in.
The band set foot on U.S. soil 77 days after the assassination of President Kennedy.
"When The Beatles hit that stage, for the first time we as a country felt like it was OK to move on," says Neil Portnow, president/CEO of the Recording Academy. "Talking to Paul and Ringo, I sensed they didn't fully realize what an impact it had on the country."
Of course, not everyone welcomed the British quartet. Newsweek's review of the Sullivan performance dubbed it "a catastrophe" and wagered that the mop-topped boy band "would fade away, as most adults confidently predict."
A half-century later, they're still here, there and everywhere.