10 Things That Sucked About the Beatles 50th Anniversary Special

Sections: Grammy Award, Music, TV

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Katy Perry, Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Katy Perry, Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images

First off, please don’t get irate about that headline—there were many, many things that didn’t suck about the Feb. 9th Grammys Salute The Beatles special commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Fab Four’s debut on U.S. television.

For one thing, I think it was just great that there was a special saluting The Beatles. My all-time favorite band was so influential that, in my opinion, every band working today should bow down in reverence to them. They changed everything—not just music, but also clothes, hair, attitudes—everything. In under a decade they created a catalog of peerless music that no band has ever surpassed—and none ever will. They wrote many of the greatest songs of all time. Why shouldn’t The Beatles be recognized with a prime-time special?

Like I said, there were many things to like about it. The show was, from what I could tell, all live. The bands were playing, the singers were singing. No stupid lip-syncing (which I—rather controversially, it seems—delved into in last week’s round-up of 10 things that sucked about the Grammys). There were real musicians on the stage! Playing some of the best music ever! And we even got the two surviving Beatles, on stage, together, playing Beatles songs. Not the reunion we all hoped for (which will never happen, sadly) but it was something.

Still, there were some things I found rather flawed in the broadcast. Here they are, in no particular order:

Katy Perry Destroying (Not in a Good Way) “Yesterday”
Oy. Really? Did we need America’s favorite pop tart singing a totally irredeemable version of one of the greatest standards ever written? She saw fit to do a gender rewrite of the lyrics (“Why … he … had to go,” etc.) and sang it OK, I guess. But is the creator of “Firework” worthy of this music? I think not.

Alicia Keys and John Legend, Photo: Kevin Mazur/

Alicia Keys and John Legend, Photo: Kevin Mazur/

Alicia Keys: Over-singing Meets Attitude
Alicia Keys and John Legend did the dual-piano thing on a version of “Let It Be” that received a standing ovation. I thought Legend did a nice job … as did Keys, but was I the only one who was irritated by her over-singing? When she went into her vocal acrobatics, stretching out a single syllable into what seemed like 10, she wasn’t singing the song—she was showing off. As I wrote about Robin Thicke when he massacred Chicago songs during the Grammys broadcast a week earlier, it became more about “Look at me! Listen to what I can do-oo-oo-oo-oo-wo-wo-wo-oh-oh-oh” than “Listen to the great song I’m singing.” I’d prefer more of the latter and less American Idol-isms, thank you.

Furthermore, Keys’ self-righteous intro was troublesome: “We stand in the shadows of timeless and monumental artists like The Beatles and Stevie Wonder, Bob Dylan, Marvin Gaye and Aretha Franklin, who forever changed what pop music could say and what it could mean.”

OK, true enough. I hold all of those artists in high regard and respect their influence and talent. But this was a show about the G-damn Beatles! It felt like she was insulting them by implying that others on her list should be recognized as well, at that moment.

Legend, on the other hand, took the high road with his intro: “It’s a song that’s comforted generations with its beauty and its message.” And he sang the song—with style, sure, but without making it all about him. Kudos, Mr. Legend.

Is Tom Hanks a Beatle Now?
Like at the Grammys broadcast a week prior, the audience for this Grammys production was filled with Hollywood stars. That’s fine … but isn’t this a music show? Hard to tell, with plenty of Hollywood types all over this peace—Johnny Depp, Jeff Bridges, Sean Penn (more on him later), and, getting plenty of camera time, Tom Hanks and his wife, Mrs. Tom Hanks. (The fact that they were sitting with Olivia Harrison, George’s widow, probably helped, because all Beatles family got lots of camera focus, and rightfully so.) But it seemed like Hanks was a Beatle, because the cameramen certainly got plenty of reaction shots of him throughout the evening. Apparently we all want to see Tom Hanks’ every reaction to Beatles music.

Incoherent Sean Penn
Speaking of Sean Penn, what was up with that horrid, mumbling intro to the night’s biggest moment—the Paul McCartney mini-set that led up to semi-Beatles reunion of Paul and Ringo? Penn—one of our finest actors, who should know how to read off a Teleprompter—was virtually incoherent as he struggled to get through the lines. Was he substance-enhanced? Who knows or cares? But show a little respect, Mr. Oscar Winner!

Bizarre Yoko Dancing
Maybe this was a highlight of the evening? As the camera crew, understandably, put a lot of focus on the Beatles members and families (when they weren’t zooming in on Tom Hanks, that is), we got a whole lotta Yoko on Sunday night. And Yoko—who has never passed up an opportunity to put herself out there—took full advantage of the camera time with some of the most bizarre dancing ever seen on American television. Her wild gesticulations were as much a Yoko performance art statement as they were a glimpse of someone enjoying the music. At least she didn’t sing, and she appeared to be having a good time, unlike her son …

Bored Sean Lennon Faces
Sean Lennon, son of John and Yoko, was there, and he didn’t look happy. While Yoko visibly embraced the celebratory nature of the event, Sean (who’s currently emulating his dad’s “Imagine”-period quasi-Hassidic fashion style) looked, at times, supremely bored and at other times, downright pissed off. Maybe Jr. was peeved because the show featured George’s son Dhani in a very fine version of his dad’s classic, “Something,” yet Sean was not invited to perform? Or maybe he was just too cool for the room?


John Mayer and Keith Urban, Photo: Kevin Mazur/

John Mayer and Keith Urban, Photo: Kevin Mazur/

Do These Folks Have to be on Every Show?
Apparently it’s a rule that every music-related show must feature Dave Grohl, Keith Urban, the dreaded Katy Perry, Pharrell Williams, Brad Paisley, Adam Levine, John Mayer etc. etc. etc. And plenty of Dave Grohl. Lots and lots of Dave Grohl. I like Foo Fighters and all that, but it’s enough with the Dave Grohl already!

Unnecessary David Letterman Interview Bits
I get it—the point of the show was to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Ed Sullivan appearance, which took place at the theatre that now houses the David Letterman show (aired, not coincidentally, on CBS). And it was fine to have some footage of Paul and Ringo touring the old facility. But was Letterman the right guy to do the interview? I enjoy Letterman’s show, but he seemed awkward and forced, and I didn’t get a sense he knew much about the band or its history. A little of that would have gone a long way.

Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart of Eurythmics, Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart of Eurythmics, Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images

What was Up with that Schmatta Annie Lennox was Wearing?
Seriously, that thing the Eurhythmics vocalist had on looked like a giant lampshade.

No John and George

Paul and Ringo, Photo: Kevin Mazur/

Paul and Ringo, Photo: Kevin Mazur/

While the “historic” set featuring Paul and Ringo onstage at the end, got plenty of hype—and deservedly so—it can’t be called a true “reunion.” The Beatles were four guys—John, Paul, George and Ringo. Two of them are, tragically, no longer with us—and that truly, deeply sucks.

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  • BarryinSF

    Funny stuff..I agree mostly with a few differences: No, Katy Perry was not ok. She was horrible. Interestingly enough, as you alluded, I think the performers unintentionally highlighted the difference between the artists who really feel the music, and others who want to outshine the music-the difference between today’s music with the Beatles time.

    One bad thing you forgot to mention- the ‘Love’ performers. Uh…what was that? It reminded me of 6th grade gum class when we had to do the rings and watched while 1/2 the kids tried so desperately to swing on them but just kind of….just stayed there. Totally unnecessary. And Yoko…tell me you didn’t think of Elaine on Seinfeld doing her dance schtick!

    The best part after Paul & Ringo? Was how much all the different kinds of people, young and old, enjoyed the show and let their hair down (no pun intended). Those Liverpool lads still know how to make people happy and loved- and that, in the end, is what they make.

  • Michael K

    Thanks for this review which details such horrors that I have no intention of watching the show when it airs in the UK. That Dame Annie Lennox was dug up (or, rather, dug HERSELF up) to assault some Fabs material was bad enough but that Katy Perry in a tent should be brought to do so, shows that American TV producers ought properly to be rounded up for Guantanamo Bay.

  • Micah Sheveloff

    Thank you Howard for pointing out some of these shortcomings, I guess some people enjoyed the event and positive energy is good…??? The thing that sucked most for me was the Eurythmics arrangement of Fool on a Hill using the incorrect chord changes. We are talking about an all-time iconic ballad and they can’t chart the song correctly? Lots bothered me about the event, but that particular item took the cake…

  • Daryl Wall

    I have to agree about Keys and Perry in particular. Neither of them deserve to be in the same room with Paul and Ringo let alone on the same stage.

    I remember Keys in a benefit/relief concert (Haiti? Hurricane Sandy?)… in any case she took the “look at me” opportunity to ruin another Beatles number there too. It’s a testament to Maca’s graciousness that he would allow her to be on the same bill again…if he was give any say, that is.

  • Beth MacLeod

    Couldn’t agree more about Alicia Keys – enough with the exaggerated vocalizing and yes, that little speech was not at all appropriate. Somehow suggested, as you said, that these other artists should have been included. Praising one group does not in any way lessen the impact of the other artists she mentioned. She sounded mean spirited and very “look at me”. Not at all a class act. Legend was, however. It was celebration of the Beatles – one of the best groups of all time. Those lads came from very humble beginnings, worked very hard, paid their dues – and they changed the world of music forever. NOBODY deserves that tribute more than them and yes, Paul is still a vital amazing talented and very skillful musician and song writer – he’s been doing it consistently for over 50 years – even more amazing and worthy of respect and praise. Ringo is a delight in every respect and has his own strong points. So lovely to see him and that great energy. Loved Joe Walsh’s performances – truly magnificent and I really liked Grohl’s energy. He expressed the exuberance we all feel in the presence of this music. Sean Lennon is evolving. It must be difficult for him in many ways but at some point surely he must accept that his father was a very talented, revered and complicated man who lived his live on his own terms and who loved Sean dearly. John’s life is completed. Time to accept that and the gifts he left us. Time to be grateful and stop disecting. It is what it is – it can’t be changed. Sean has his own life to live. Love the show. Hope to see it again many times. Long overdue.

  • Thomas

    Agree on all points. But I have an additional two.
    1) Why was Julian Lennon ignored? He is saying NOW that he didn’t want to be a part of it but if you read his Facebook posts prior to the taping, he wrote that he offered to perform and was turned down. Now who could have been responsible for that? Hmmm. I wonder.

    2) Why do Paul and Ringo insist on playing Beatle songs separately???? You have them there together for one of the very few times and they can’t play the songs at the same time???? That annoys the hell out of me cause this could be the last opportunity.

    3) Lastly, there just wasn’t enough John & George.

  • Mary

    Agreed. I, too, thought it a bit awkward. Maybe there just were too many memories and sensibilities for the producer to handle. Maybe Katy was thrown in to appeal to today’s young. Hey. This was not about today’s music. The Beatles’ music was timeless. It just wasn’t as entertaining as I thought it would be. Where was Bob Dylan?

  • GeeGee

    You forgot about ‘Pharrell” with “Here comes the sun”. I think it should have been called “Here comes the shit”. Pharrell was crap!!! What the hell was that? ….It would have been a great show had Julian done a song with Paul and Ringo and Sean and Dhani.

  • leslie schoenherr

    I totally agree with everything you oni was surprised to see peter frampton.but your correctabout dave from the foo I didnt even know who he was.tom and his wife really pissed me off the performers were in the first few rows why tom hanjs did he pay for it.?also who was the 1st bbald drrummer he was incredible pauls drummer is always awesomme big guy he can hit those drums at the end when they did sgt. peppers and eveyone tried to look like the album cover annie lenox had ahiv positive tee on if everyone else had their own saying itwouldnt have looked so 80s I thought yoko was delightful and I dont care for her. Thanks

  • Kat

    Agreed on many points. Katy Perry was terrible. Gender swapping lyrics is fine. In fact, my favorite Beatles cover is The Carpenters Ticket To Ride. But Perry oversang it and crippled the spirit of the song. She was the only performer that we ended up fast forwarding through. Her outfit was odd, but it did look like it may have been an actual vintage 60s piece, so there’s that.

    I don’t agree on your take on Sean Lennon though. During this show and the Grammys, it seemed that he was having a great time, but became self-conscious and stopped dancing anytime they put him on camera. I don’t blame him, and felt very sympathetic.

    Annie Lennox has terrible stage anxiety. If you look at some of her other performances, she wears very elaborate clothing- almost like she’s trying to get into a performing character. Look at her eyes at the beginning of her song. She looks terrified, and sounds like it too.

    As for Grohl, I adore him. He seemed like this was one of the greatest things to happen to him. He has genuine enthusiasm and appreciation for the legacy.

  • Greg Wilder

    John Legend awesome, but loved Alicia too. That was the best perf. of all. Had tears in my eyes. The downer was that dweeb trying to do “In my life”. Woeful. Worst of all, he totally disrespected the guitar riff which introduces the song and is a refrain throughout. George would’ve been mortified.

  • Patricio

    I thought all the young generation of invited artists sucked. WHat’s so wrong with the last generation of pop stars? It seems like they misunderstood all the lessons of pop.

  • Rock Colors

    Actually, popular music is always changing. What you said is like saying the Beatles should have just covered Stephen Foster.