"There will be no Beatles reunion as long as John Lennon remains dead," George Harrison said back in 1989.
But even now that George has joined John across the universe, there's been no stopping headline-writers from declaring any meeting of the two surviving Beatles a "reunion." And that tradition continued in the lead-up to Sunday's 56th annual Grammy Awards as Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr came together for a much-hyped appearance.
But the 2014 Grammy weren't a first. In 2009, Ringo sat in with Paul for a benefit at Radio City Music Hall. The next year, Paul joined Ringo at a concert for Starr's 70th birthday. In 2007, the pair even chuckled through an interview with a befuddled Larry King (at one point he called Ringo "George").
You'd think by now we'd be used to seeing the two icons on the same stage. But no, any time Paul and Ringo walk onto the same stage, music journos typically start writing posts about how the Beatles are back together.
The hyperbole peaked in the build-up to the 50th anniversary of the Beatles' American debut on "The Ed Sullivan Show." That appearance brought 73 million viewers to CBS in February 1964, and ratings like that aren't easily forgotten.
The Grammy ceremony marks the kickoff to a series of CBS TV events commemorating the big bang of '60s rock. There will be a two hour special, "The Night That Changed America: A Grammys Salute to the Beatles," on February 9. Additionally, CBS News programs will devote features to the Beatles and their legacy. And it's expected that David Letterman, whose show broadcasts from the Ed Sullivan Theatre, will do something special for the anniversary too.
The Grammy broadcast celebrated the appearances by Paul and Ringo — who sat together in the audience like good sports. There were shout-outs from the stage from L.L Cool J, Steve Coogan, Jamie Foxx and Black Sabbath. The coming-up spots teased an impending musical performance of historic heaviness. Commercials ran teasing "Paul and Ringo reunite! A Grammy salute to the Beatles Wednesday, Feb 9!" Julia Roberts reinforced that message from the stage on Sunday.
CNN even horned in on the act, slipping in an ad that cut between images of the Beatles arriving at JFK airport and billboards that read: "MUSICALLY THEY ARE A NEAR DISASTER -- NEWSWEEK/ GUITAR GROUPS ARE ON THE WAY OUT -- DICK ROWE, HEAD OF DECCA RECORDS/ THE MOST REPULSIVE GROUP OF MEN I'VE EVER SEEN -- DAVID SUSKIND, TV HOST/ IN 1964 FOUR LADS INVADED AMERICA AND CHANGED EVERYTHING /FROM EXECUTIVE PRODUCERS TOM HANKS AND GARY GOETZMAN/ THE SIXTIES -- THE BRITISH INVASION -- CNN ORIGINAL SERIES."
Millions of dollars and countless creative hours had been spent enticing Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr to show up at the Grammys and act like Beatles. And as has happened to everyone else who ever tried to co-opt the Beatles, the Beatles turned it around to their own advantage. Paul and Ringo did not play a Beatles song: Instead, they each performed tracks from their solo careers and promoted new projects.
After Ozzy Osbourne stumbled on an autocued claim that the Beatles were his favorite band, Geezer Butler announced, "Here to perform 'Photograph' surrounded by images from his fab book 'Photograph,' it's Ringo Starr!" Ringo did a rousing, confident version of his 1973 hit backed by an all-star band and surrounded by photos from his new book.
Ringo then sat in with Paul and his band on "Queenie Eye," from McCartney's latest album, NEW. Paul played the "Magical Mystery Tour" piano, but that was as close to nostalgia as he got. The music was new, the performance was commited and when the cameras cut to Sean Lennon and Yoko Ono swaying in the crowd, it only reinforced what the bandmates who outlived John Lennon have told us all along: If it ain't John, Paul, George and Ringo, it ain't the Beatles.
A recent commercial featured another song from Paul's new album, while Grammy promos showed photos of McCartney on multiple screens. But the ultimate proof that he was still a current artist was when "Cut Me Some Slack" by McCartney and the surviving members of Nirvana from Dave Grohl's "Sound City" project beat the Rolling Stones, Black Sabbath, Muse and Gary Clark Jr. for Best Rock Song.
Grohl thanked the voters before adding, "I have to say that we wouldn't be here if it weren't for Paul and for Ringo." Krist Novoselic leaned in and added, "and for Black Sabbath and the Rolling Stones."
McCartney took the moment to mention that when Grohl invited him to record, "[Grohl] said, 'Come along and we'll do a jam on 'Long Tall Sally' ' and I said, 'No we've been there, we've done that. We should just make something up.'"
Which is what the Beatles always said. It's how they progressed in three years from "I Want to Hold Your Hand" to "Strawberry Fields Forever": We've been there, we've done that — let's do something new.