The Beatles’ record-breaking first performance at New York’s Shea Stadium was watched by 55,600 fans, and marked the beginning of the group’s second full US concert tour.
The William A Shea Municipal Stadium, to give it its full name, was the home of the New York Mets baseball team. The stage was located on second base, far from the audience, which was confined to the stadium’s spectator areas.
The concert at Shea Stadium set a world record for attendance figures, and also for gross revenue. The Beatles pocketed $160,000 of the $304,000 box office takings. The event was promoted by Sid Bernstein, and 2,000 security personnel were enlisted to handle crowd control.
The Beatles had hoped to land on the field by helicopter, but the idea was blocked by the New York City authorities. They travelled by limousine from the Warwick Hotel to a heliport, from where they were flown in a New York Airways Boeing Vertol 107-II helicopter, over New York City, to the roof of the World’s Fair building in Queens. From there they boarded a Wells Fargo armoured van, where they were each given a Wells Fargo agent badge, and were driven to the stadium.
The journey, which involved a sightseeing opportunity over the skyscrapers of Manhattan, was filmed by Ed Sullivan’s company Sullivan Productions, in association with NEMS Enterprises and Subafilms – owned by Brian Epstein and The Beatles. The concert was also filmed by 12 camera operators.
Other acts on the bill were, in order of appearance, Brenda Holloway and the King Curtis Band, Cannibal & The Headhunters, Sounds Incorporated, and the Young Rascals. The Beatles were introduced by Ed Sullivan.
Now, ladies and gentlemen, honoured by their country, decorated by their Queen, loved here in America, here are The Beatles!
The Beatles ran onto the field and took to the stage at 9.16pm, to a barrage of deafening screams. Despite new 100-watt amplifiers especially designed for the group by Vox, they were insufficiently loud and The Beatles instead used the in-house PA system.
Their set, which was retained throughout the US tour, comprised 12 songs: the group’s truncated version of Twist And Shout, followed by She’s A Woman, I Feel Fine, Dizzy Miss Lizzy, Ticket To Ride, Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby, Can’t Buy Me Love, Baby’s In Black, Act Naturally, A Hard Day’s Night, Help! and I’m Down. Some other dates on the tour had I Wanna Be Your Man instead of Act Naturally.
For Shea Stadium’s spectacular finale John Lennon played the organ part for I’m Down using his elbows. After the concert The Beatles ran back to the Wells Fargo van and were swiftly taken away.
A 50-minute television special on the show, The Beatles At Shea Stadium, was screened for the first time at 8pm on 1 March 1966 on BBC 1 in the UK. Its US debut was from 7.30pm on 10 January 1967. The film began with the concert’s closing song, I’m Down, and featured the other acts before The Beatles were introduced by Ed Sullivan.
She’s A Woman and Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby were left out of the resulting programme. The sound was also extensively re-recorded, in a secret session which took place in London on 5 January 1966.
The Beatles returned to Shea Stadium during their final tour the following year, on 23 August 1966.