The Beatles At Shea: A Sports Stadium Revolution

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On Aug. 15, 1965 at Shea Stadium in New York, the Beatles set a record: 55,600 fans packed the home of the Mets to see the Fab Four open their second U.S. tour. At the time, it was the largest crowd in concert history.

And, as Beatles biographer Bob Spitz writes, it forever changed the relationship between the music business and sports stadiums. With the 50th anniversary approaching, Spitz joined Bill Littlefield on Only A Game to explain.

BL: Describe for us the scene at Shea Stadium.

It was madness. Nobody had ever seen that many screaming kids assembled in one place.

Bob Spitz, Beatles biographer

BL: In the concert footage, you can see fans clinging to the netting behind home plate and crying. Sometimes that happened at Mets games, but not very often. It is fair to say, I guess, that Beatlemania was at its peak?

BS: Well, yeah, without a doubt. In fact, the Beatles couldn't hear themselves. It was so loud that night that when they started to sing they started cutting glances at each other because there were no monitors in those days. Today a rock act sings and they can hear either every note coming from a monitor or through head phones. They couldn't hear each other. I know that John and George in particular, it was so loud for them that they didn't even bother singing most of the time.

BL: They also appeared in Toronto's Maple Leaf Gardens. At the Sam Houston Coliseum in Houston. Metropolitan Stadium where the Twins used to play. Did it get better? Did people learn anything about how to make the sound quality better? Or did it not matter cause people were screaming so loud that it was irrelevant? 

BS: Well, on this tour through '66, it was all screaming. And that's really what soured the Beatles to performing. It wasn't fun for them anymore. They couldn't hear themselves. They knew they weren't connecting with the kids. It was just an event. The Beatles did play ballparks across the United States through 1966, ending in Candlestick Park in San Francisco, at which time they decided they would never appear in public as a band again.

The Beatles held their final concert at San Francisco's Candle Stick Park in 1966. After the concert they left the field in an armored car. (Fred Pardini/AP)
The Beatles held their final concert at San Francisco's Candlestick Park in 1966. The group left the field in an armored car. (Fred Pardini/AP)

BL: You have written that the Shea Stadium show was a major breakthrough for promoters. How did it change, this particular concert, the business?

BS: Well, from that day on, promoters had saucers in their eyes. Seriously. I mean they knew that they could make some money. By the time we hit Woodstock in 1969, the major groups only did big arenas and big stadiums. And it just grew and grew and grew, and it really stemmed from that date that the Beatles did at Shea Stadium.

BL: It strikes me that that concert may have been the beginning of a change in the way sports stadiums are built as well because now you see stadiums that are built with open ends and stages that can be wheeled out very quickly to change a venue so that it accommodates a soccer game one night and a big rock concert the next.

From that day on, promoters had saucers in their eyes. Seriously. ... They knew that they could make some money.

Bob Spitz, Beatles biographer

You're right about that. They can squeeze in every last person in a stadium. And they absolutely do think of that when they build stadiums these days.

BL: You realize that some of our listeners now are weeping with their heads in their hands saying, "No, no. There is no connection between the Beatles and One Direction."

BS: Yes, but there it is. We've done it to them.

This segment aired on August 8, 2015.



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