BY JOHN JEANSONNE (newsday.com)
Shea Stadium staged rock-and-roll’s largest and best remembered major outdoor stadium concert, a smashing success in every aspect except one: Neither the crowd nor the performers themselves could hear any of the music produced by The Beatles on Aug. 15, 1965.
The New York Times described the 55,000 frenzied fans as being “in magnificent and terrifying voice,” creating “a sound so shrill and sustained that it quickly crossed the line from enthusiasm into hysteria and was soon in the area of the classic Greek meaning of the word pandemonium, the region of all demons.”
Mostly young and mostly female, the spectators wailed throughout The Beatles’ 30-minute set of 12 songs (beginning with “Twist and Shout”), delivered from a stage behind second base while 2,000 security personnel – many with cotton in their ears – spent a fair amount of time scooping up teenage girls who had fainted from the excitement.
The event was filmed by 12 separate camera crews from a documentary (clips are available on YouTube) and grossed a record $304,000. Coming at the height of Beatlemania, it gave a glimpse of the madness that soon would drive the Fab Four from concert tours into the recording studio almost full-time – the crowd’s racket rendering their music a virtual footnote. That music is still popular today.
During the Shea show, John Lennon, aware that neither the harmonies nor the instrumentals were getting through, began playing the keyboard with his elbows while Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr laughed. The entire scene resembled their 1964 film, “A Hard Day’s Night” – with massive, frantic crowds forcing them to be ferried onto the World’s Fair grounds by helicopter and whisked next door to Shea in an armored car – but noisier than the movie. It was the first of 12 performances (including two nights at the Hollywood Bowl) in a two-week march across North America that summer.
Though often cited as The Beatles’ first outdoor stadium appearance, the Shea concert in fact came a year after they had played two dates at the West Side Tennis Club stadium in Forest Hills, twice filling the venue with 16,000 fans in August 1964 during their first American tour.
On that trip, The Beatles also per- formed at Jacksonville’s Gator Bowl and Kansas City’s Municipal Stadium, then home to the Athletics baseball team and Chiefs football team.
With slightly less fuss and a smaller crowd of 45,000, the lads had a return engagement at Shea in August 1966 during a tour that included seven big-league ballparks across the country