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Without John Lennon and George Harrison, there can be no Beatles reunion to celebrate the band's 50th anniversary. The recourse? Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, with a little help from their friends, in an all-star tribute that celebrates the songs and sensations of Beatlemania.

The Night That Changed America: A Grammy Salute to the Beatles airs Sunday (CBS, 8 p.m. ET/PT), exactly 50 years after the band's debut on The Ed Sullivan Show.

The special, taped Jan. 27 at the Los Angeles Convention Center, brims with faithful and retooled covers by admirers ranging from Katy Perry (Yesterday) and Ed Sheeran (In My Life) to Imagine Dragons (Revolution). None summon the excitement, awe and, yes, nostalgia, like the surviving mop tops. Their closing segment, in solo and collaborative sets, crowns the show's offerings. Starr arrives first with rockabilly classic Matchbox, the bouncing Boys and crowd sing-along Yellow Submarine.

Intensity spikes with McCartney's back-to-back blast of Magical Mystery Tour, Birthday and Get Back. With youthful vigor, he rips into I Saw Her Standing There before Starr returns to join him on a jubilant Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and With a Little Help From My Friends. With McCartney on vocals and piano and Starr on drums, they end with a hypnotic flourish on Hey Jude as Cirque du Soleil's Beatles Love aerialists spin overhead.

That's the best of five must-see performances. The other fab four:

  • Annie Lennox, with Dave Stewart in a one-night Eurythmics reunion, wrenches power and pathos from The Fool on the Hill.
  • Stevie Wonder belts a stirring, soulful We Can Work it Out. (At the taping, he asked for a retake after a fumbled first attempt. "Fire me, sue me," he joked.)
  • Dave Grohl teams with Jeff Lynne on a rabid Hey Bulldog, then takes to the drums for a pulverizing While My Guitar Gently Weeps with Joe Walsh and Gary Clark Jr.
  • Alicia Keys and John Legend, facing each other at baby grand pianos, trade vocals in a fervent Let It Be.
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