Our favorite Grammy moments: Mariah and Kanye were memorable, but older performers -- including Madge, Paul McCartney, and (surprise!) Sly Stone -- showed the youngsters how it's done

By Gary Susman
Updated December 07, 2006 at 05:00 AM EST
Mariah Carey: Michael Caulfield/WireImage.com

2006’s best Grammy moments

The theme of the 2006 Grammys seemed to be Veterans Day, from the five wins for U2 to the performances by experienced pros and tributes to elder statesmen that were the highlights of the 48th annual ceremony. Here are the standout moments from Wednesday’s show:

Contortions on a Dance Floor Cartoon quartet Gorillaz and guests De La Soul opened the show with their hit ”Feel Good Inc.,” but they were quickly upstaged — by Madonna’s thighs. The Material Mom astonished everyone with the incredible tone of her 47-year-old bod, which got a dance workout during her performance of ”Hung Up.” Bonus points to Madge for her blond, feathered, retro hairdo, which complemented the ABBA sample that is the song’s bedrock.

Some More Drama After a blistering run through their recent hit ”Vertigo,” U2 dug their chestnut ”One” out of mothballs, a move justified by the presence of Mary J. Blige, whose impassioned vocals hijacked the song from Bono. Sure, she was a little off-key, but her unrestrained, gospel-ish take on the familiar tune was still a spine-tingler.

Big Macca Attack The next performer, said presenter Ellen DeGeneres, ”needs no introduction,” and for the first time in the history of the phrase, he didn’t get one. (She got a big laugh for leaving after uttering that one sentence.) Ellen was right: It was Paul McCartney, making his debut at the Grammys show at the tender age of 63. After a just-okay rendition of his 2005 track ”Fine Line,” McCartney told the crowd he had come to rock, then proved it with a furious performance of the Beatles’ thrasher ”Helter Skelter.” The hardest-rocking performance of the night came from Paul McCartney? Nothing could have been more surprising than that, except maybe Macca’s reappearance a few minutes later to sing the Beatles’ ”Yesterday” with unlikely partners Linkin Park and Jay-Z (who was wearing a John Lennon T-shirt).

The Adulation of Mimi In a taped intro, Mariah Carey spoke of the importance of faith in her life, underscored by the word Faith emblazoned across her chest in sparkles. Appearing on stage in a low-cut gown (Carey must have had faith in double-sided sticky tape), 2005’s comeback queen paid homage to her spiritual side by performing with Hezekiah Walker and the Love Fellowship Choir on a medley of her hits ”We Belong Together” and ”Fly Like a Bird.” Which is what her voice did, soaring into the rafters like only Carey’s can.

It’s a Family Affair The question all night had been: Would Sly Stone show? The reclusive funk pioneer, subject of the Grammy show’s all-star tribute centerpiece, hadn’t performed in public in 19 years. (Fittingly, the segment was introduced by everyone’s new favorite showbiz dropout, Dave Chappelle.) Performing a medley of Sly and the Family Stone hits was a wildly diverse group of performers, including Joss Stone (no relation), John Legend, Black Eyed Peas’ Will.I.Am, Ciara, Maroon 5’s Adam Levine, Fantasia (who earned a smile from the house band’s bassist, American Idol judge Randy Jackson), Robert Randolph, and Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler and Joe Perry. Finally, out came Sly himself, resplendent in a long silver frock coat and a platinum, mile-high Mohawk haircut. He sang and played keyboards for a few bars of his crowd-pleaser ”I Want to Take You Higher,” then mysteriously walked offstage, back into his own private world, leaving the others to bring the song to an awkward finish. It was a strange moment, and unforgettable.

Band Campiness Call it Drumline 2: Electric Boogaloo. Kanye West staged his hit ”Gold Digger” as a battle of the bands — the marching bands. The number (which also included a snippet of ”Touch the Sky”) was billed as a ”halftime show,” but despite the presence of some dancers in gold bikini tops and hot pants, there were no wardrobe malfunctions. West and his duet partner, fellow show-off Jamie Foxx, were clad as rival drum majors, leading dueling squads in elaborate dance routines that turned the Grammys into a pro-Kanye pep rally.

Easy Does It Those who endured all three-and-a-half hours of the ceremony were rewarded with an all-star homage to the Katrina-ravaged musicians of New Orleans, led by Crescent City vets Allen Toussaint, Dr. John, and Irma Thomas. Joining them on an exuberant ”Yes We Can” were Elvis Costello, Bonnie Raitt, Bruce Springsteen, and U2’s The Edge. It was a raucous, not at all maudlin tribute to the drowned city, a musical number that was sadly cut short by the mandate to end the telecast by 11:30.

What were your favorite Grammy performances?