When the Beatles Played Shea Stadium

[A guest post by reader Phil Capobianco. I think he’s a Beatles fan. – AC]

On August 15, 1965, in front of 55,000 adoring fans, The Beatles played to their biggest audience, ushering in a new era in concert history. It was the first stop on their second tour of the U.S. The show was considered rock’s first major stadium concert, and with that groundbreaking event paved the way for today’s megashows.

The concert was the brainchild of promoter Sid Bernstein, who first brought The Beatles to America in 1964. With Beatlemania still running in the red, the gig became the highest grossing event in any aspect of show business to that time. The box office gross was $304,000, half of which went to the band. Tickets sold for the ridiculous price of $4.50, $5.00 and $5.75.

The Beatles were introduced by Ed Sullivan, offering this in his trademark stuff way: “Now ladies and gentleman, honoured by their country, decorated by the Queen, loved here in America, here are The Beatles!”

With just the house PA—the speakers hanging in the stands used for announcements during baseball games—and just their new Vox 100 watt amps, it was difficult for The Beatles and their fans to hear the music. There was none of the sound reinforcement that would soon become standard for rock concerts.

The show was over in just 30 minutes and the set list consisted of a mere 12 songs, some of which were “Twist and Shout”, “I Feel Fine”, “Ticket To Ride”, “Can’t Buy Me Love” and “Help.”

On March 1, 1966 “The Beatles At Shea Stadium” a 50-minute documentary was aired on BBC 1

Fourteen cameras were used to capture Beatlemania on that summer day. Also shown were events leading up to the concert, like The Beatles helicopter ride from Manhattan to Flushing Meadows, preparations in the baseball team’s dressing room, and clips from opening acts some of which included The Young Rascals and Cannibal & The Headhunters to name a few. Marvin Gaye was introduced to the crowd but didn’t get a chance to play.

A little-known fact is that Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were in attendance that day. Also in attendance were two future Beatles’ wives, Linda Eastman (who married Paul McCartney in 1969) and Barbara Bach (who tied the knot with Ringo Starr in 1981).

On August 23, 1966, The Beatles would play Shea Stadium again but it didn’t quite live up to the hype. In fact, it wasn’t even a sellout. That ’66 tour was also the Beatles last. After a final show at Candlestick Park in San Francisco less than a week later, they stopped touring forever.

Fittingly, Paul McCartney (along with Billy Joel) returned to Shea in 2008 to play the final concert before it was closed.

-Phil Capobianco ([email protected])

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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