In a rare joint interview, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr share with David Letterman their memories of The Beatles’ historic “Ed Sullivan Show” appearances, the excitement of their 1964 U.S. debut and their impressions of the Ed Sullivan Theater, on “The Beatles: The Night That Changed America – A Grammy Salute.”
The show will be broadcast exactly 50 years to the day, date and time of the original event, from 7 to 9:30 tonight on the CBS Television Network.
Letterman, host of CBS’s “The Late Show with David Letterman,” conducted the interview with McCartney and Starr without a studio audience Tuesday at the iconic Ed Sullivan Theater, home to Letterman’s “Late Show” and the site of the Fab Four’s groundbreaking “Ed Sullivan Show” appearance on Feb. 9, 1964.
As Letterman, McCartney and Starr walked onto the stage of the theater where they made their historic first appearance, Starr recalled the excitement he felt then, which he is feeling again with the upcoming anniversary.
“No, I was just so excited,” Starr said. “I mean, even coming back yesterday… I’ve been back a hundred times, I’ve done the show with you, but it’s like, oh, I’m getting involved in all the excitement of it all then. You know, it’s not like we go around saying, ‘Oh, that day.’ Now, I’m here, I’m looking out the window, I’m in the plaza and all the kids were down there. And now we’re back on the stage again…” Starr’s memory of the Ed Sullivan Theater was that it was “four times bigger than this,” and Letterman pointed out that “there was another balcony. There was a third level of about 150 more seats. So it wasn’t that many more, but enough to make a difference.” “It’s like going back to your old school, isn’t it?” McCartney said. “Yeah, well, that’s right, yeah,” Letterman said. “It looks little now,” McCartney commented. “You thought it was huge…”
Also during the interview, McCartney recounted a story to Letterman about the band’s 1965 “Ed Sullivan Show” appearance, their fourth and final live appearance on the broadcast, featuring his solo performance of the classic, “Yesterday.”
“So, it was decided that I would do ‘Yesterday,’” McCartney said. “But I’d never worked without the band, so now I’m now going to be working solo on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show.’ So I agreed to do it, so I’m standing there ready to go on, never having worked without the band, a little bit nervous, and there were curtains, and there’s a Teamster on the inside of the curtain so they won’t catch. So I’m standing there all prepared with my guitar ready to go on, and he says, ‘Are you nervous?’ I said, ‘No, not really,’ lying. He says, ‘You should be, there’s 73 million people watching!’”
Letterman’s full interview with McCartney and Starr can be seen on “The Beatles: The Night That Changed America – A Grammy Salute,” celebrates the remarkable legacy of the seven-time Grammy Award-winning Beatles and will mark the 50th anniversary of their U.S television debut on the “Ed Sullivan Show.” That historic appearance is one of the most-watched television events ever, with 74 million people tuning in to watch the group perform five songs during the variety hour. It is considered by many historians and critics to be one of the most important moments in music and television.
The all-star primetime special features McCartney and Starr performing together as well as today’s top artists covering songs performed by the Fab Four that momentous evening in 1964 and other Beatles classics through the years. The show will also include footage from that landmark Sunday night, as well as other archival material. In addition, various presenters will help highlight and contextualize the musical, cultural and historical impact of the group and this legendary performance.
As previously reported, the all-star lineup for this historic event features performances and presentations by The Beatles LOVE by Cirque du Soleil, Kate Beckinsale, Jeff Bridges, Gary Clark, Jr., Johnny Depp, Dave Grohl, Eric Idle, Imagine Dragons, Alicia Keys and John Legend, Anna Kendrick, David Letterman, LL COOL J, Jeff Lynne, Maroon 5, John Mayer and Keith Urban, Katy Perry, Brad Paisley and Pharrell Williams, Sean Penn, Ed Sheeran, Joe Walsh, Stevie Wonder, and a one-night-only reunion of Eurythmics’ Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart.
The house band for the event includes notable musicians Kenny Aronoff (drums), Lenny Castro (percussion), Chris Caswell (keyboard), Peter Frampton (guitar), Rami Jaffe (organ), Steve Lukather (guitar), Greg Phillinganes (keyboard) and Don Was (bass), who also served as musical director.
My excellent colleague George Lang chatted with KOMA on-air personality Ronnie Kaye and other local luminaries about the 50th anniversary. To read his fascinating feature, click here.