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When Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr last performed a Beatles tune together, 3 1/2 years ago at New York's Radio City Music Hall, screams filled the arena, giving those of us who weren't around for Beatlemania an earful of what it must of been like all those years ago.
McCartney’s surprise appearance came at Starr's 70th birthday show. Now their latest – and perhaps last – Beatles song duet hits TV Sunday during an even more momentous occasion: a CBS special airing 50 years to the day their debut on "The Ed Sullivan Show" with John Lennon and George Harrison drew a then-record 73 million viewers.
For McCartney and Starr, the special – called, “The Night That Changed America: A Grammy Salute To The Beatles" – isn’t shaping up as a victory lap as much as another sign of the long and winding road coming full circle. The CBS broadcast, featuring performances by the likes of Alicia Keys, John Mayer, Stevie Wonder and the reunited Eurythmics, also caps the recent hoopla surrounding the golden anniversary of the British Invasion.
The tribute was taped Jan. 27, the day after the Grammys, and details have leaked. We won’t give away spoilers other than to say McCartney and Starr played separately before coming together for one of the band’s best numbers.
McCartney and Starr are maintaining a careful balance in keeping the Beatles’ legacy alive while creating new music and drawing concert crowds on their own, some 44 years after the group last recorded.
Judging from iTunes sales and the young acts paying tribute, the anniversary isn’t about nostalgia as much as about celebrating music that's as fresh as the day it was released. The screams that resounded through Radio City Music Hall as McCartney and Starr played "Birthday" that July night in 2010 emanated from a crowd that ranged from kindergartners to retirees.
Sunday’s special provides McCartney, Starr and legions of Beatles fans of all ages a welcome opportunity to roll up not for a finale, but for the latest stop on a magical mystery tour that keeps finding new places to take us away.
Check out a preview below:
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.