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.
Now we were playing stadiums! There were all those people and just a tiny PA system – they couldn't get a bigger one. We always used to use the house PA. That was good enough for us, even at Shea Stadium. I never felt people came to hear our show – I felt they came to see us. From the count-in on the first number, the volume of screams drowned everything else out.
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.
Shea Stadium was an enormous place. In those days, people were still playing the Astoria Cinema at Finsbury Park. This was the first time that one of those stadiums was used for a rock concert. Vox made special big 100-watt amplifiers for that tour. We went up from the 30-watt amp to the 100-watt amp and it obviously wasn't enough; we just had the house PA.
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.
I was putting my foot on it and George couldn't play for laughing. I was doing it for a laugh. The kids didn't know what I was doing.
Because I did the organ on I'm Down, I decided to play it on stage for the first time. I didn't really know what to do, because I felt naked without a guitar, so I was doing all Jerry Lee – I was jumping about and I only played about two bars of it.
It was marvellous. It was the biggest crowd we ever played to, anywhere in the world. It was the biggest live show anybody's ever done, they told us. And it was fantastic, the most exciting we've done. They could almost hear us as well, even though they were making a lot of noise, because the amplification was tremendous.
Nothing really reached us because we were so far away, but we could see all the posters. It's still the same: up there with the mike, you don't try to work out what it all means, you forget who you are. Once you plug in and the noise starts, you're just a group playing anywhere again and you forget that you're Beatles or what your records are; you're just singing
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.
Now it's quite commonplace for people to play Shea Stadium or Giants Stadium and all those big places, but this was the first time. It seemed like millions of people, but we were ready for it. They obviously felt we were popular enough to fill it.
Once you go on stage and you know you've filled a place that size, it's magic; just walls of people. Half the fun was being involved in this gigantic event ourselves. I don't think we were heard much by the audience. The normal baseball-stadium PA was intended for: 'Ladies and gentlemen, the next player is...' But that was handy in that if we were a bit out of tune or didn't play the right note, nobody noticed. It was just the spirit of the moment. We just did our thing, cheap and cheerful, ran to a waiting limo and sped off.
Also on this day...
- 2010: Paul McCartney live at Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia
- 2009: Paul McCartney live at Piedmont Park, Atlanta
- 1969: Recording: Golden Slumbers, Carry That Weight, The End, Something, Here Comes The Sun
- 1968: Recording, mixing: Rocky Raccoon
- 1966: Live: DC Stadium, Washington, DC
- 1963: Live: Odeon Cinema, Llandudno
- 1962: Live: Cavern Club, Liverpool (evening) – Pete Best’s final show with The Beatles
- 1962: Live: Cavern Club, Liverpool (lunchtime)
Want more? Visit the Beatles history section.