Monday, August 29, 2016

The 50th Anniversary of The Beatles' Final Paid Concert

It was 50 years ago that The Beatles performed at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, California. Although none of the Fab Four probably knew it at the time (although it is almost certain they suspected it), it would the last concert they would perform before a paying audience. Afterwards they would perform in public only one more time: the famous free concert atop the roof of Apple headquarters on January 30 1969.

Several factors led to The Beatles' decision to stop touring, chief among them the fact that with the large number of screaming fans they could not even hear themselves playing. This had been a problem since The Beatles had become a phenomenon in 1963 and 1964. Originally The Beatles had used Vox AC30 amplifiers, but in 1964 they switched to specially designed Vox 100-watt amplifiers in the hope that they and their audience might actually be able to hear them play. Unfortunately, even the 100-watt amplifiers proved inadequate in drowning out the crowds of screaming fans. Because they could not hear themselves, The Beatles felt their musicianship had begun to decline.

If the fact that The Beatles could not even hear themselves sing and play at their concerts was not enough to make them dislike touring, the fact that much of their set list on the final tour consisted of older songs probably would. Over the years The Beatles' music had grown considerably more sophisticated. Not only did many of their more recent songs feature backing musicians (such as the violin, viola, and cello players on "Eleanor Rigby"), but many of them utilised some very advanced recording techniques that would be impossible to reproduce in a concert setting. Even though it had just been released that August 5, The Beatles performed none of the songs from the album Revolver during their final North American tour. Indeed, The Beatles never performed any of songs from Revolver live. The most recent songs performed on the tour were all from Rubber Soul ("If I Needed Someone" and "Nowhere Man") and the singles "Yesterday",  "Day Tripper", and "Paperback Writer".

Worse than not being able to hear themselves or having to play songs that were several years old was the fact that touring for The Beatles had become dangerous. In a March 1966 interview with British journalist Maureen Cleave for the London Evening Standard, John Lennon commented on the decline of Christianity in the United Kingdom, including the offhand remark, "We're more popular than Jesus now...." In the United Kingdom John Lennon's comments on Christianity drew no reaction at all. Unfortunately for The Beatles, that would not be the case in the United States. It  was in its late July that the American teen magazine Datebook reprinted Maureen Cleave's interviews. Worse yet, they displayed one of John Lennon's quotes from the interview ("I don't know which will go first—rock 'n' roll or Christianity.") prominently on the cover. The Beatles soon found themselves embroiled in controversy. Around two dozen radio stations stopped playing The Beatles' records. A few communities, mostly in the Bible Belt, even held Beatles records and memorabilia burnings  The controversy grew so intense that The Beatles' manager, Brian Epstein, even considered cancelling their upcoming tour of the United States.  Prior to the tour Brian Epstein held a press conference at which he condemned Datebook for taking John Lennon's remarks out of context.

The controversy was still very much alive when The Beatles left for their tour on August 11 1966. It was at a press conference that John Lennon explained his comments and emphasised that he was not trying to compare The Beatles to Jesus, but merely remarking on the decline of Christianity in the United Kingdom. When pressed for an apology, he said, "...if you want me to apologise, if that will make you happy, then OK, I'm sorry." While John Lennon's explanation of his comments found some sympathy with journalists, unfortunately the controversy continued to some degree in many parts of the country. The KKK protested at some venues, and death threats were even received. Given the circumstances, no one could blame Brian Epstein for worrying about possible snipers with high powered rifles.

Even without the ongoing controversy over John Lennon's comments, The Beatles' final tour of the United States would not have been an enjoyable one. On August 20, when The Beatles were scheduled to perform at Crosley Field in Cincinnati, there were torrential rains. The band ultimately postponed the concert until August 21. That same day they went to St. Louis to perform at Busch Stadium and were again met with rain. A jury-rigged, rather ramshackle structure was created to protect the band from the rain, but The Beatles still worried about possible electrocution. On August 28 at Dodgers Stadium in Los Angeles fans rushed the field and were met by police. It took around two hours for the police to get control of the situation. The Beatles actually worried that they might have to spend the night at Dodgers Stadium.

By the time The Beatles played Candlestick Park in San Francisco, then, they were worn out from the tour. Fortunately for The Beatles, the only real hitch was that when they arrived they found the gates of Candlestick Park locked. The band and their entourage then found themselves driving around until such time as the gates were open.

Interestingly enough, The Beatles' concert at Candlestick Park would herald the coming of another band, albeit one manufactured for a TV show. NBC arranged to have thousands of promotional flyers boasting "The Monkees Are Here" distributed at the concert to promote their upcoming new TV show, The Monkees. The Monkees debuted on September 12 1966, and the band that grew out of the show became very much a phenomenon themselves. 

The opening act for the concert were The Remains, a Boston based band that broke up later in 1966. The Remains were followed by Bobby Hebb, whose song "Sunny" was still on the charts. Bobby Hebb was followed by The Cyrkle, another band managed by Brian Epstein. Earlier in 1966 The Cyrkle had a hit with "Red Rubber Ball", which went to no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. The band disbanded in late 1967. The final opening act was also the most famous. The Ronettes had a string of hits from 1963 to 1964, beginning with "Be My Baby". While they continued to perform live and appear on television, their recording career was in decline by the time they opened for The Beatles. Their last top forty hit had been "Walking in the Rain" in 1964, which had peaked at no. 20. Their current single, "I Can Hear Music", barely broke the Billboard Hot 100 by reaching no. 100. Sadly, Ronnie Spector was not present for any of The Ronettes' performances during The Beatles tour, as the increasingly jealous Phil Spector forbade her to go on the tour. Her place was filled by her cousin,  Elaine Mayes. With their records failing on the charts, The Ronettes would only remain together a short time following the end of The Beatles' tour.

It was at 9:27 PM that The Beatles took the stage. Prior to taking the stage Paul McCartney, perhaps knowing this could be their last performance, asked The Beatles' press officer Tony Barrow to record the show. Tony Barrow then stood near the stage with his tape recorder and was able to capture nearly the entire concert. Unfortunately, his tape recorder cut out in the middle of the final song, The Beatles' cover of Little Richard's "Long Tall Sally". Sadly there would be very little in the way of film footage of what would be The Beatles' final paid concert. Barry Hood, a 15 year old fan, was able to catch a portion of the concert on colour film. A local TV news crew shot a little footage in black and white.

The Beatles' set during their final tour, and the one that they played at Candlestick Park on August 29 1966, was a mixture of songs they had performed since their days at the Cavern Club and more recent material. The set list was as follows: their cover of Chuck Berry's "Rock and Roll Music"; "She's a Woman"; "If I Needed Someone"; "Day Tripper"; "Baby's In Black"; "I Feel Fine"; "Yesterday"; "I Wanna Be Your Man"; "Nowhere Man"; "Paperback Writer"; and "Long Tall Sally".

While their manager Brian Epstein wanted The Beatles to continue to tour, after the 1966 American tour the Fab Four had decided that they were tired of it. It would be later in the year that The Beatles would announce that they were no longer touring, which led to rumours in November 1966 that the band was actually breaking up. Of course, nothing was further from the truth, and The Beatles denied the rumours. Indeed, it was on November 24 1966 that they would begin recording their next album, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. It would take longer than any other Beatles album to record, a full five months.

While the general public did not realise it at the time, the concert at Candlestick Park on August 29 1966 would prove pivotal in the history of The Beatles, their final paid concert. Except for their famous free concert atop Apple Headquarters in 1969 all four Beatles never performed together live again. In the meantime Tony Barrow's recording of the Candlestick Park concert would pop up as a bootleg album. Although very little remains to document The Beatles' final concert, we should perhaps be thankful for what little we have.

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