It is difficult to impart to young people today what a phenomenon the Beatles were in the 1960s. Imagine, when the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show, 73 million people were watching, and in 1964 the US population was only 192 million!
Sullivan’s failure to scoop the TV industry with[Elvis] Presley made him determined to get the next big sensation first. In 1964, he achieved that with the first live American appearance of The Beatles, on February 9, 1964, the most-watched program in TV history to that point and still one of the most-watched programs of all time. (Wikipedia)
At 8 o’clock on February 9th 1964, America tuned in to CBS and The Ed Sullivan Show. But this night was different. 73 million people gathered in front their TV sets to see The Beatles’ first live performance on U.S. soil. The television rating was a record-setting 45.3, meaning that 45.3% of households with televisions were watching. That figure reflected a total of 23,240,000 American homes. The show garnered a 60 share, meaning 60% of the television’s turned on were tuned in to Ed Sullivan and The Beatles. Source
Their appearance on Ed Sullivan took place exactly 80 days after the funeral of John F. Kennedy, which was another event whose impact on the American public is impossible to convey to anyone who didn’t live through it. You will often hear it said that we were in a collective state of mourning, and the Beatles appearance on Ed Sullivan was something that allowed the nation to come together with a sense of relief. Having lived through it, I agree.
In many ways the Beatles were the beginning of a universal youth culture, and they were at the center of the spirit of the 60s.
Up until this point, the world was much less interconnected. Prior to the Beatles, with the exception of a fluke, or one-hit-wonder, it would have been unthinkable to have a British artist at the top of the US pop charts. Our pop stars tended to have slick hair, and suddenly here were these guys from the North of England with (what was then considered) unbelievably long hair. Consider this quote from Elvis Presley while visiting the White House in 1970:
“The Beatles laid the groundwork for many of the problems we are having with young people by their filthy unkempt appearances and suggestive music while entertaining in this country during the early and middle 1960s.”
So getting back to the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, young people were excited and adults were by and large curiously amused or, like Elvis, contemptuous and alarmed.
I was a military brat, and from 1962 until the summer of 1965 I was in Anchorage, Alaska — yes, even there Beatlemania had broken out. To give you an idea how different times were back then, in Alaska our network programs were sent on video-tape by plane, and we were two weeks behind the lower 48 states. see So in reality, I saw the Beatles two weeks later than the rest of America. It took until 1980 before Alaska went live with regular satellite coverage.
By 1965 I was living in metropolitan DC, so when their 1966 concert tour was announced, I quickly bought a ticket.
My expectations were high as the days rolled by in August, and finally on August 15th, 1966 the Beatles were in Washington DC again. Even the Ku Klux Klan protesting outside the stadium in their full garb couldn’t kill the good vibe.
If you’ve seen the Shea Stadium video, that’s basically the same show we saw, but the cameras captured it much better than I did as a member of the audience.
I’ve been to plenty of loud concerts, and with the exception of some really bad feedback, I have never experienced anything as annoying and unpleasant as the unrelenting screeching of nearly 30 thousand teenage girls. It was painfully loud, like multiple jet engine loud. Being a naive 15-year-old boy I had gone expecting to hear a concert.
Truth is, we could barely hear or see them. I was in the lower seats above first base, and not too far back, but the Beatles were way out by second base.
A limousine drove out to second base before the concert started, and we assumed the Beatles were inside it, waiting there until they were to play. But it turned out that the Beatles came out of a dugout and made their way to the stage. That was the only time they were anywhere close to the audience.
There was a bit of additional excitement when someone made a NFL-worthy dash through the police and wimpy speakers. I’ve read some accounts where people remember him getting on stage, and one even remembered him knocking Ringo off his stool. I kind of remember the police grabbing him before he made it up on the stage. And I seem to remember a few others also making a break for the stage, but getting quickly caught.
They played for less than 30 minutes (I think) and then left in the limo. Who could blame them? Nowadays there is an established touring infrastructure and the necessary equipment to put on a stadium show, but this was the birth of stadium rock.
Here is the note on Wiki, which is basically how I remember it too, except the final song might have been “I’m Down”:
Lasting between 30 to 40 minutes per show, the typical set list was as follows (with lead singers appropriately noted):
- “Rock and Roll Music” (John Lennon)
- “She’s a Woman” (Paul McCartney)
- “If I Needed Someone” (George Harrison) – the first (and only) Harrison composition the group performed live
- “Day Tripper” (Lennon and McCartney)
- “Baby’s in Black” (Lennon and McCartney)
- “I Feel Fine” (Lennon)
- “Yesterday” (McCartney) – performed with all four Beatles, rather than the one guitar-string quartet arrangement by which the song was recorded, and in G major, not in F major
- “I Wanna Be Your Man” (Ringo Starr)
- “Nowhere Man” (Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison)
- “Paperback Writer” (McCartney)
- “Long Tall Sally” (McCartney) (I think it was “I’m Down” in DC)
None of the songs from the groups latest LP, Revolver, released only days before the start of the tour on August 5, 1966 were performed, nor the group’s most recent US single, Eleanor Rigby/Yellow Submarine. Four of the songs from the US-only issued Yesterday and Today, released on June 20, 1966, are the most recent US issued LP songs performed. “If I Needed Someone” is the most recent US released song (appearing on Yesterday and Today in June 1966) and “Paperback Writer” is the most recent US released single (released in May 1966) performed. The three remaining tracks performed from Yesterday And Today were previously released in 1965 and early-1966 as singles. (from Wikipedia)
There were some other artists on the bill. The Remains??? I don’t remember them, and regrettably, I don’t remember the Ronettes, although I liked them very much. I do remember Bobby Hebb singing his then current hit “Sunny.”
I also remember the Cyrkle doing their hit “Red Rubber Ball.”
The sound system was totally inadequate, but at least the screaming wasn’t as loud during the supporting acts. Little could we have suspected that this would be the last month of touring the Beatles would ever do. Exactly two weeks later, on August 29th they gave their final stadium concert. So of course I am glad to have taken in a bit of musical history and to have had that experience, but in terms of music, it was very disappointing. The screaming was horrific and I absolutely understand why the Beatles gave it up. When I think back to it, it is hard to believe this was the same group who had just released “Revolver” ten days earlier, clearly they had moved on musically.
I remember a couple of years later in my high school a rumor went around that Leonard Bernstein was going to do a concert with the Beatles recreating Sgt. Peppers live in NYC, and I was determined to be there. But of course it was just a rumor, and a few years later the Beatles broke up and went their separate ways. That seemed like the end of the line for seeing the Beatles music performed live. George, John and Paul were each establishing themselves as solo artists, and they weren’t willing or interested in performing Beatles material.
Paul McCartney was extremely prolific after the Beatles, and toured under the Wings banner, but finally in 1989 Paul McCartney did his very first tour under his own name. This was ten years after his last big UK tour with Wings, and 13 years since his Wings Over America Tour. Finally at this stage in his life McCartney embraced his entire musical legacy, opening the show with a 30 minute film by Richard Lester. This tour was filmed and sold as a video.
Paul had also just released “Flowers in the Dirt” which was an album with very strong material and a great group of players involved: Robbie McIntosch (guitar, Pretenders), Hamish Stuart( guitar, bass, Average White Band), Chris Whitten (drums), Paul Wickens (keyboards). So this wouldn’t be a situation where you were treated to new songs you didn’t particularly like.
When I made plans to see the concert, I had no idea he would be recreating so many of his greatest songs from the Beatles era, and it was a fantastic surprise. I was lucky to be in Europe, so I caught him in Frankfurt, at the end of the first week of the tour.
After the disappointment of the Beatles concert, I was determined to get a good view for this concert, so we got there many hours before the gates opened. Once they did we made a mad rush to the stage, and my “3rd Row Lucky Streak” began, but that’s another story.
During the wait it was fascinating, there was a group of young German teenagers who were the same age I had been when I discovered the Beatles, and I was amazed that 25 years later Paul still attracted such ardent young fans. They knew all his material, and discussed it in-depth.
A little more than ten years later I had a similar experience. The Beatles CD “One” had just been released (year 2000) and we were at a beach on a lake here in Germany and a couple of teenage girls were listening to “One” with earplugs and singing along to all the songs — in a foreign language. Another generation still attracted to this music.
But back to the concert in Frankfurt, at this point they were not yet filming the concerts. Almost a month to the day later, I flew to the Netherlands to see his concert in Rotterdam, and by this point the concert was being filmed. In Rotterdam I also managed to get to the 3rd row, nearly an identical vantage point.
The concert in Frankfurt turned out to be much better in terms of energy. Make no mistake about it, Paul McCartney is a consummate entertainer who understands the various ways of reaching an audience and marketing himself and his music. In Rotterdam he played to the world audience, in that he played to the cameras. In Frankfurt, he played to the live audience.
It is interesting for me to see the Festhalle in the photo above, because during the concert I never turned around. I had the good fortune to see a lot of concerts, but if I had to choose the most unforgettable, it would either be this concert, or the Allman Brothers with Duane Allman in Daytona Beach. I couldn’t choose, but I can tell you this, in 1989 Paul was a very youthful 47, and completely on top of his game as a singer and musician, and what incredible stamina!
In contrast to the 30 minute Beatles concert, this was two and a half hours! The encore might well have been longer than the Beatles concert, and his band managed to wonderfully recreate the original music. Here is the amazing set-list they played:
Figure of Eight
Got to Get You into My Life
Band on the Run
Ebony and Ivory
We Got Married
Maybe I’m Amazed
The Long and Winding Road
The Fool on the Hill
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
Good Day Sunshine
Can’t Buy Me Love
Put It There
Things We Said Today
I Saw Her Standing There
My Brave Face
Back in the U.S.S.R.
Twenty Flight Rock(Eddie Cochran cover)
Let It Be
Ain’t That a Shame(Fats Domino cover)
Live and Let Die
Carry That Weight
It was an absolutely stunning 150 minutes of music, and a testament to his gift was a songwriter. I’ll leave you with three video clips from that year, one from his “Flowers in the Dirt” CD, one from Wings material, and a clip from his Beatles material. I was so close I could see every facial expression, it was amazing, the sound was fantastic, and although I didn’t make eye contact with Paul, I did with Linda and she even waved. An absolutely unforgettable experience.