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FLASHBACK: The Beatles Rock Shea Stadium


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It was 43 years ago today (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."

Singer Bobby Vinton and the Rolling Stones briefly visited with the Beatles before they hit the stage. Vinton remembers hanging out with the Stones as they made their way to the concert: "Well, I remember I went to see the Beatles at Shea Stadium when they were here. I still saw the poster, I think it was like five dollars to see the Beatles at Shea Stadium. I went with Mick Jagger and the Stones, and they didn't quite... they weren't there yet, you know? They were just comin', and I remember walkin' in New York to Shea Stadium and a couple of guys noticed Mick Jagger and they start punchin' him. And, I mean, these guys in New York are kinda rough, and I said, 'Oh yeah, those bad guys from England.' (laughs)." )

Eric Carmen says that although primitive by today's big budget concert productions, the Beatles' performances during their touring years were defined by the quality of the material they performed: "You know, pacing was probably never a problem for the Beatles. Because first of all, all those songs were just terrific. They were playing for a half an hour. So, I mean if you listen to an old Beatle tape of a concert, it's 30 minutes of 'Twist And Shout' and 'I Saw Her Standing There,' and 'Ticket To Ride." And how bad can it be?"

The Beatles' setlist for their 1965 Shea Stadium concert was: "Twist And Shout," "She's A Woman," "I Feel Fine," "Dizzy Miss Lizzy," their most recent Number One hit "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."

The show was filmed and eventually aired on U.S. TV in December 1966 as The Beatles At Shea Stadium. Although most of the footage from the show is featured in the group's Anthology series, nearly all of the behind-the-scenes footage from that day remains unreleased. The Beatles returned to Shea the next year, on August 23rd, 1966, to a less-than-capacity crowd, with as many as 15,000 seats going unsold.

Both Paul McCartney's and Ringo Starr's future wives -- the late Linda McCartney and Barbara Bach -- were present at the concert. McCartney said during The Beatles' Anthology that, "Linda was also there -- but as she was a real music fan she was quite (annoyed) with everyone screaming. I think she enjoyed the experience, but she genuinely wanted to hear the show. That wasn't the deal though. Not then."

In addition to the Beatles, other artists who have performed at Shea Stadium include the Rolling Stones, the Who, Eric Clapton, Elton John, the Police, the Clash, Simon & Garfunkel, Grand Funk Railroad, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jethro Tull, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, and Bob Dylan.

On July 18th of this year, McCartney joined Billy Joel onstage during the final concert at Shea before the stadium is leveled. McCartney -- playing the same Hofner violin bass that he did during the Beatles' 1965 and '66 shows -- performed "I Saw Her Standing There" and then took over piano duties from Joel for "Let It Be" -- marking it as the final song to be played in concert at Shea Stadium.

Billy Joel paid tribute to the Beatles numerous times over his two-night stint dubbed, "The Last Play At Shea," including wearing Ringo Starr's Wells Fargo agent badge that he had worn during their 1965 show.

Copyright © 2001-2008 KSHE 95 / St. Louis.

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