Country has had a memorable couple of weeks, including some scintillating performances at the Grammys, news on filmmaker Ken Burns' upcoming documentary on the genre, and a slew of Nashville stars streaming through Jay Leno's final episodes of "The Tonight Show."
But that's all just been leading up to Sunday, when CBS airs a two-hour tribute to one of the greatest country bands of all time, with "The Night That Changed America: A Grammy Salute to the Beatles."
What? You don't think the Beatles are a country band?
Are you trying to tell me you don't think "country" when you hear the boozy Nashville swing of "Rocky Raccoon," the straight-up bluegrass of "I've Just Seen a Face" or the rockabilly squawk of "What Goes On"?
OK, OK, maybe I'm exaggerating a little — the Beatles, obviously, were so much more than a country act. But there's no denying that Nashville was a huge influence on the boys from Liverpool.
The Beatles' biggest rivals from back in the day, the Rolling Stones, get a lot of credit — and deservedly so — for practically inventing, along with Gram Parsons, the distinctive, grungy alt-country sound of the early 1970s.
But I've always felt the Beatles' genuine affection for country music, on full display years before The Stones came up with "Exile on Main Street," gets lost in the shuffle — they blended and borrowed so effortlessly from so many musical styles and influences.
Listening to the early Beatles, you hear country's impact everywhere, including in George Harrison's Chet Atkins and Carl Perkins-flavored riffs on "Everybody's Trying To Be My Baby" and "Honey Don't," John Lennon's honky-tonk wail on "I'm a Loser," and Ringo Starr's dead-on Bakersfield delivery in the band's classic cover of Buck Owens' "Act Naturally."
Even after the Beatles' breakup, Paul McCartney and Mr. Starr experimented with country in the 1970s. Mr. McCartney used an all-star group of Nashville session players to record the obscure but irresistible "Sallie G," and Mr. Starr recorded an entire country album, "Beaucoups of Blues," that featured a young Charlie "Devil Went Down to Georgia" Daniels on guitar and Elvis' backup singers, The Jordanaires, on harmony.
The album didn't sell a lot, but some still consider it to be Mr. Starr's best solo work.
Mr. Harrison's Traveling Wilburys won the Grammy for best rock performance in 1989, but "Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1" sounds more like a country album than a lot of the slick pop records Nashville puts out today.
Although The Beatles have borrowed, collectively and individually over the years from country, country has returned the favor, with Emmylou Harris ("Here, There and Everywhere"), Rascal Flatts ("Revolution") and David Ball ("I'll Follow the Sun") essaying fresh country takes on Beatles favorites.
This Sunday's tribute show, recorded last month, is chock-full, as you might expect, with pop artists — Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart reuniting as the Eurythmics, offering their take on "Fool on the Hill"; the omnipresent Dave Grohl crunching through "Hey Bulldog"; Maroon 5 with "All My Loving" and "Ticket to Ride"; and Katy Perry with a soulful "Yesterday."
But Nashville will be well represented, too.
Keith Urban trades guitar licks with Miss Perry's boyfriend, John Mayer, on "Don't Let Me Down," and Brad Paisley (what, Blake Shelton wasn't available?) and Pharrell Williams teamed up for "Here Comes the Sun."
Mr. Paisley, one of the biggest stars on the country scene over the past 10 years or so, is accustomed to playing to packed stadiums and notching No. 1 hits. But he acknowledged that he was a little nervous performing Beatles songs to an audience that included Mr. Starr and Mr. McCartney, the two surviving members of the Fab Four.
"There are reasons why people get blasted [by critics] when they cover Beatles songs in any situation. But we're all doing that tonight, so I guess it's an even playing field," he said.
Mr. Starr, who joined Mr. McCartney for a rousing singalong "Hey Jude" to close the show, was philosophical about the decadeslong musical and cultural phenomenon that swept up four lads from Liverpool, and he shared his thoughts on the missing bandmates, Mr. Lennon and Mr. Harrison.
"We were in a band. It's called the Beatles. And if we play, John and George are always with us. It's always John, Paul, George and Ringo," he told fans.
"The Night That Changed America: A Grammy Salute to the Beatles" will be broadcast at 8 p.m. EST — exactly 50 years, to the minute, after the band's first appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show."
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