The Beatles in 1963.
Talk about a long and winding road. Fifty years after the Beatles rocked America with their appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” the Grammy Awards have deemed the massively influential British pop band worthy of a lifetime achievement award. Surviving members Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr are set to reunite on stage when they receive the honor at Sunday's awards.
And while you know that can’t be bad, considering the commercial and critical acclaim the band has received, it is, as the Beatles once sang in “Penny Lane,” “very strange.” Acts with far less success and influence have received the award since its inception in 1962. The Grammy gang was all shook up about Elvis in 1971. Fred Astaire, primarily known as a dancer, got a leg up on the Fabs when he received his posthumously in 1989.
Heck, even other ’60s groups like the Beach Boys, the Who, and the Grateful Dead beat the Beatles to the punch. Yes, you read that right. The Dead got in before the Beatles. So did Frank Zappa.
Fans of the Liverpool legends, at this point, might wonder what goes on in the minds of the Grammy committee. Probably not a lot of planning, said Tim Riley, NPR music critic and author of books on both the Beatles and John Lennon.
“My mental note was that the Grammys just kind of blew it with the Beatles,” Riley told TODAY. “They were so inconsistent when it came to the Beatles. The larger story here is that the Grammys have never been on top of rock and roll at all.”
Riley said the reason the Grammys might be paying tribute now is “Ringo and Paul finally agreed to appear on stage together and they said, ‘Oh sure we’ll give you a Lifetime.’”
During the band’s heyday, they only nabbed a handful of Grammys, though they picked more after their split. Pop culture historian Robert Rodriguez, who has written or co-written nine books on the band, says the Grammys' history with the Beatles is “kind of spotty.
“They were nominated a lot more than they ever won,” he told TODAY. “Which might surprise some people if you look at the people that beat them out, like the Statler Brothers and other acts that came and went and were not quite on the same artistic level.”
Rodriguez also said he believes the Grammys purposely held back giving the lifetime achievement award to the Beatles because “they were kind of keeping this event in their pocket to make a big celebration out of it. Afterward they’re taping a tribute concert to be run on the anniversary of (the band's 1964) ‘Ed Sullivan’ appearance.”
That Jan. 27 concert is being called “The Night That Changed America: A Grammy Salute to the Beatles.” Performers will include Alicia Keys, John Legend, and John Mayer, all of whom, ironically, won more Grammys than the Beatles ever did.
The big question now is what Beatles songs Paul and Ringo will play — and who they’ll play with. With John Lennon and George Harrison deceased, it’ll be a bittersweet way for them to get back.
First published January 25 2014, 6:34 AM