It was 51 years ago tonight (August 15th, 1965) that the Beatles played their legendary concert at Shea Stadium in New York City. The show was the first on their 1965 U.S. summer tour, and it was also the first-ever open-air stadium rock concert. The group flew into New York on August 13th and a day later taped a five-song performance for The Ed Sullivan Show to be broadcast the following month. Sullivan returned the favor by introducing the group the next night at Shea, in front of a sell-out crowd of 55,600 fans.
The Beatles, who performed on a makeshift stage near where second base would normally be, earned a whopping $160,000 for their 30-minute set — which was a record payout at that time. The New York Police Department was worried that fans attending the shows would jam the tunnels in and out of Manhattan, so the Beatles were escorted from the Warwick Hotel to the Manhattan East River Heliport and flown by helicopter to the roof of the World’s Fair building in Flushing Meadows Park, not far from Shea Stadium. Next, the group jumped in a Wells Fargo armored van and were driven to the stadium. The van driver gave each of the Beatles a Wells Fargo “agent badge,” which they all wore at the evening’s concert.
Unlike today’s stadium events, no seats were set up on the field for safety reasons. Throughout the concert — which also featured legendary New York DJ Murray The K and opening acts the King Curtis Band, Cannibal & the Headhunters, Brenda Holloway, and Sounds Incorporated — fans were constantly stopped from making mad dashes towards the stage.
Ringo Starr recalled the concert in The Beatles Anthology, saying, “What I remember most about the concert was that we were so far away from the audience. . . And screaming had become the thing to do. . . Everybody screamed. If you look at the footage, you can see how we reacted to the place. It was very big and very strange.”
John Lennon recalled the show in 1970, saying, “At Shea Stadium, I saw the top of the mountain.” During his last full-length TV interview in April 1975, Lennon told Tomorrow Show host Tom Snyder that the entire “Beatlemania” era was as confusing and disconcerting to the group as one would imagine: “It was like being in the eye of a hurricane, and you thought — ‘What’s going on?’ That was about as deep as it got: ‘What is happening?’ You’d suddenly wake up in the middle of one — a concert or a happening — and (think) ‘How did I get here? Last thing I remember was playing music in a club and the next minute this.” The movie, which features rare and exclusive footage, is produced with the full cooperation of Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Yoko Ono, and Olivia Harrison.
Photo Courtesy of Apple Corps