Remembering Shea

The following article appeared in TV Guide magazine in the August 14-20, 2005 issue. This article was written by Paul Du Noyer.

One warm summer evening in 1965, a helicopter took off from Manhattan and pointed itself at Queens. On board, the four biggest stars in the world peered toward their destination, the home of the New York Mets. Already sick with nerves, the Beatles suddenly knew they were headed for the wildest night of their lives. Forty years later, the show they played that August 15 at Shea Stadium stands for the peak of that madness the world knew as Beatlemania.
Hysterical fans were the norm at Beatles shows by 1965. What was different at Shea was that the hysteria gripped the band as well. Captured on 12 TV cameras around the stage, the Beatles' performance was a riot of panic and hilarity. While 55,600 fans screamed and cried and 1,300 New York police struggled to keep order, the four young men at the center of it all looked at one another and knew this was something they could not control, only enjoy.
At that point, it was the biggest concert ever staged for a rock and roll act. (Yet its promoter, Sid Bernstein, spent not a cent on advertising - word of mouth ensued an instant sell-out.) When the Beatles' helicopter dropped them close to the stadium, they had to be smuggled inside by an armored Wells Fargo truck. George Harrison quipped: "I didn't think Wells Fargo were still going; I thought the Indians had got them all years ago." In the changing room, they were fascinated by the exotic names on the baseball players' hangers. But when they changed into their mod stage costumes, Paul McCartney said, they became "the four-headed monster."
It took a manic sprint to reach the stage, erected at second base, where they were introduced by Ed Sullivan, whose company was coproducing the TV special. The noise was deafening. "We were playing through the baseball speakers," Paul has said, "and you couldn't head a thing with the screaming." In vain they tried to retune their guitars. Not even the custom-built Vox amplifiers - primitive by today's standards - could prevail in that screaming cauldron of teen passion. And how many of those screaming girls fantasized about marrying a Beatle? Actuall, two of those present achieved exactly that: Barbara Bach became the future Mrs. Ringo Starr and Linda Eastman the eventual Mrs. McCartney.
In collar and tie, chewing impassively, the Beatles' manager, Brian Epstein, looked on. He knew he was witnessing the highest-grossing rock show so far ($304,000). Perhaps he also sensed that his life would never get better than this. But up on stage, his beloved "boys" were not thinking so must as just trying to make it through the show. They bashed their way through 12 songs, including the title track of their movie "Help!," which had premiered in New York four days earlier. Throughout Paul's new number "I'm Down," he watched George weep with laughter as John Lennon played the keyboard with his elbow. Neither they nor the audience could hear the difference. It was, Paul said, "like being in a washing machine."
After the show, they retreated to their lair on the 33rd floor of Manhattan's Warwick Hotel, still besieged by fans. Their guests included Bob Dylan and members of the Supremes. Security prevented the Beatles from accepting an invitation to visit Frank Sinatra, while Frank declined to drop by the Warwick.
By the time ABC finally aired the concert on January 10, 1967, is was already a document of a vanished age. Disillusioned by touring, the Beatles, had played their last-ever public show on August 29, 1966, in San Francisco. (Strangely, a return visit to Shea Stadium six days earlier had failed to sell out.) The band had decided to concentrate on recording.
Yet if Shea Stadium was the beginning of the end for the Beatles as live performers, itwas the dawning of a new era for rock music. Vast outdoor shows would become the superstar standard, as rivals like the Rolling Stones took up the baton the Beatles had dropped. Amplification and stagecraft advanced; bands such as Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin took the rock gig to heights previously undreamed of.
Consider this: John, Paul, George and Ringo took just two helpers out on the road. Modern acts like U2 take dozens. But Shea's importance will never be forgotten, it certainly haunted John. "At Shea Stadium," he once said, "I saw the top of the mountain."

Return to Beatles Articles and Interviews


Hosted by