The day before their final US tour began, The Beatles flew from London Airport to America.
Q: Hello John. Are you looking forward to the tour?
John Lennon: Yes.
Q: Now, this religious controversy, I know you don’t want to say too much about it, but does it worry you that it’s going to boil up when you get to the States?
Lennon: Well, it worries me, yes. I hope everything will be all right in the end, as they say.
Q: Do you think this is going to be a controversial tour like the Philippines?
Paul McCartney: Oh, no, no, no. It’s going to be fine.
Q: What makes you say that, Paul?
McCartney: Oh, it’s gonna be fine, you watch. Yeah, great.
The Beatles and their entourage stopped briefly in Boston, before boarding another aeroplane which took them to Chicago. They arrived in the Windy City at 4.55pm.
A press conference was hastily arranged, and took place in the Astor Tower Hotel, where the group was staying that night. The conference was held in the room occupied by press officer Tony Barrow.
At the time the group, and John Lennon in particular, were the subject of intense press scrutiny due to his comments that The Beatles were ‘more popular than Jesus’. A press conference was held on the 27th floor of the hotel, where the incident dominated the questioning.
Lennon was grilled for his supposedly blasphemous remarks, explained his reasoning behind the comments, and offered his regret for the escalating situation. Eventually he gave an apology, and the controversy was tempered somewhat, but the incident increased The Beatles’ resolve to cease touring and retreat to the studio.
John Lennon: If I had said television is more popular than Jesus, I might have got away with it. You know, but as I just happened to be talking to a friend, I used the word ‘Beatles’ as a remote thing – not as what I think as Beatles – as those other Beatles like other people see us. I just said ‘they’ are having more influence on kids and things than anything else, including Jesus. But I said it in that way which is the wrong way. Yap yap.
Q: Some teenagers have repeated your statements: ‘I like the Beatles more than Jesus Christ.’ What do you think about that?
Lennon: Well, originally I was pointing out that fact in reference to England, that we meant more to kids than Jesus did, or religion, at that time. I wasn’t knocking it or putting it down, I was just saying it as a fact. And it’s sort of… It is true, ‘specially more for England than here. I’m not saying that we’re better, or greater, or comparing us with Jesus Christ as a person or God as a thing or whatever it is, you know. I just said what I said and it was wrong, or was taken wrong. And now it’s all this.
Q: There have been threats against your life, there have been record burnings, you’ve been banned from some radio stations. Does this bother you?
Lennon: Well, it worries me.
Paul McCartney: You know, it’s bound to bother us.
Q: Do you think you’re being crucified?
Lennon: No, I wouldn’t say that at all.
Q: What do you think about the record burnings here in the United States?
McCartney: Well, I think it’s a bit silly. It seems a bit like a publicity stunt on their part, you know. I think they’re not going to gain anything by doing that.
Lennon: If they just didn’t buy the records, or threw them away, but burning them is…
George Harrison: It’s the same old wrong mess. They’ve just taken it the wrong way, and that’s just the pity that… It’s this misunderstanding which shouldn’t be.
Q: Mr Starr, you haven’t said a word.
Ringo Starr: Well, I just hope it’s all over now, you know. I hope everyone’s straightened out, and it’s finished.
Q: Is this an attempt to raise your flagging popularity?
Lennon: I could think of a much easier way…
Q: Such as?
Lennon: To raise flagging popularity. I don’t know, if you think of stunts. But we don’t do stunts. I think we’ve done one in our lives that’s been completely a stunt.
McCartney: But anyway, that’s not the kind of thing that’s gonna…
Q: Are you sorry you said it?
Lennon: I am. Yes, you know. Even though I never meant what people think I meant by it. I’m still sorry I opened my mouth.
Q: Did you mean that the Beatles are more popular than Christ?
Lennon: When I was talking about it, it was very close and intimate with this person that I know who happens to be a reporter. And I was using expressions on things that I’d just read and derived about Christianity. Only, I was saying it in the simplest form that I know, which is the natural way I talk. But she took ’em, and people that know me took ’em exactly as it was, because they know that’s how I talk, you know.
Q: It was quoted, a recent statement by you, that the Beatles were anxious for what they called the downfall – that is, the time when they would no longer be on top. Are you anxious for it?
Lennon: Well, I don’t know what that is. No.
McCartney: I don’t think that we ever said that.
Harrison: If we were really anxious, we’d just do something to…
McCartney: We’d do it, you know.
Harrison: …end it.
McCartney: That’s the thing. If we really wanted to get out.
Lennon: People say, ‘Oh, they must’ve done it on purpose. They must have a reason,’ you know. But I made a mistake, and I opened me mouth, but there was no alterior motive in it, either way.
Also on this day...
- 1969: Recording, editing: I Want You (She’s So Heavy), Oh! Darling, Here Comes The Sun
- 1969: John Lennon and Yoko Ono move into Tittenhurst Park
- 1967: The Beatles are photographed by Richard Avedon
- 1964: Recording: Baby’s In Black
- 1963: Live: ABC Theatre, Blackpool
- 1962: Live: Odd Spot Club, Liverpool
- 1961: Live: Cavern Club, Liverpool (evening)
Want more? Visit the Beatles history section.