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ARTISTS RELIVE GREATEST GRAMMY MOMENTS

When that last piece of day-old pumpkin pie is tossed into the trash or down your gullet on Friday, it’s time to switch to a new season. No, not Christmas. It’s Grammy-time! And the kick-off is Ken Ehrlich’s smart and at times poignant stroll down memory lane through 59 Grammy Awards ceremonies, Grammys Greatest Stories: A 60th Anniversary Special.

The two-hour special, which airs Friday at 9pm on CBS, isn’t a full six-decade overview—there’s no Louis Prima, Frank Sinatra or Bob Newhart. Mostly, the night is a celebration of the last 35 years with the stars who have been key players in “Grammy moments”: U2, Bruno Mars, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, Justin Timberlake, Christian Aguilera, Sting, Elton John, Mary J. Blige, Ed Sheeran and the show’s hosts, John Legend and Carrie Underwood.

With new interviews— conducted by Ken—and some terrific rehearsal footage in addition to aired material, the number of back stories unearthed in substantial. The night Ehrlich and Timberlake quickly assembled an Al Green tribute with the reverend and BoyzIIMen. The solution to Amy Winehouse’s visa problems. Whitney Houston’s death. The last minute audible Paul McCartney called to close a ceremony. Mars’ belief that a tribute to Prince would be “career suicide.” It goes on.

The evening is divided quite neatly between the opening numbers—who remembers The Spinners powerfully starting the show with “Mighty Love”?— the starmaking turns for artists such as P!nk and Sheeran; the speeches; the tributes—nearly forgot Christina Aguilera’s powerful version of James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World”; and, of course, the pairings that only happen on the Grammys—Blake Shelton on his performances with The Highwaymen and Glen Campbell; Wonder with Pentatonix; Dave Grohl playing with McCartney; Keith Urban swapping guitar lines with B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Elvin Bishop; Elton with everyone.

Taken collectively, Grammys Greatest Stories: A 60th Anniversary Special drives home the notion that the artists have fun on that stage. Pressure’s there, naturally, and it’s particularly intriguing to hear artists recall the moment they felt their performance was working and, what it ultimately meant for their careers.

Obviously the Grammys have not always been surrounded by the warm and fuzzys. Decades ago, people attended with the hopes of winning or giving a performance that could possibly help sell some records, but the idea that the Grammys play a role in showcasing modern mainstream music has largely been a 21st century phenomenon, save for rare moments.

Bono recalls not being at the ceremony in 1985, but having the telecast of “the grannies” on while he was bathing in a hotel room in New York. Then he heard Pops Staples perform. “This is primetime TV; this is radical music,” he says of the moment prior to U2 becoming regular attendees, performers and winners.

Multiple stars try to boil down what makes the annual gathering special—most have variations on themes of community and artists being given a chance to collaborate—but Bono finds a different angle. The show, he says, reaching into the bullpen for a very non-Irish metaphor, has niche artists who are “brought in the middle of the stadium, given a bat and ball and a chance to knock it out of the park.” Well said.

 

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