Press conference in Chicago #1 • Thursday, August 11, 1966

Press conference • Interview of The Beatles
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Astor Tower Hotel, Chicago, USA

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Flying from London via Boston, The Beatles landed on August 11, 1966, at 4:55 pm in Chicago. They were brought to the Astor Tower Hotel, where the group was staying that night and where a press conference was hastily arranged. The main theme of the press conference was, obviously, John Lennon’s recent comments about The Beatles being “more popular than Jesus”.

John tried to explain his reasoning behind the comments, that he didn’t want to create controversy. Eventually, he gave an apology.

The Beatles would participate in a second press conference in Chicago on the following day.

John had been passing quite valid and social comments that he felt that more people were prepared to turn out to see a Beatles show than would be prepared to turn out for God, to turn out for Jesus, to turn out to go to Church etc. He wasn’t boasting that ‘The Beatles were bigger than Jesus’ but, in fact, he was making a very valid social comment, one feels, in the context of the original piece. But lifted out and put alone like that, the comment disturbed a large number of people around the world and, perhaps, most of all in America’s Bible belt where, one recalls, copies of Beatles records and photographs of John Lennon were burnt and so forth.

The arrival in Chicago was auspicious from John’s personal point of view because, that night in the hotel, for the first time perhaps, he personally faced the press, TV and the world news media in his own right. Not particularly as a Beatle, or as an author, or anything like that, but in fact to sort of explain something. He was taking a great personal responsibility for something he felt terribly badly about and was greatly concerned that this thing, taken completely out of context, should rebound. He did not blame, for instance, Maureen Cleave in the least because of the way he had told it to her. He was concerned that this whole thing could rebound on The Beatles. He was more frightened, really scared stiff, that night, more than at any other time I’ve seen him, because the whole thing fell on his shoulders. It wasn’t your regular Beatles press conference, with a few nifty wise cracks passing to and fro with the other Beatles, this was John on his own, coming out into the hotel room. Three-quarters of which were filled with journalists, cameramen and so forth, but unfortunately the reporters there still seemed to have got the wrong impression.

Tony Barrow – From “The Beatles: Off the Record” by Keith Badman, 2008

John went to great lengths, perhaps spending five to 10 minutes, trying to explain what he had not meant and what he had meant. And at the end of this, fairly humble, explanation, up popped a reporter and said, ‘OK, the point is John, are you prepared to apologise?’ meaning that they just hadn’t taken the point of this at all. In desperation at the end of this session, I remember John saying, ‘OK, well look, if that will make you all happy, I’ll apologise, but I still don’t know what I have done. I’ve tried to tell you what I did do, but if you want me to apologise, and if that will make you happy, I will do.

Tony Barrow – From “The Beatles: Off the Record” by Keith Badman, 2008

In the press conference, John struggled to justify himself but he was on the spot and in the end he had to say the one word which he always found hard to drag out – sorry. But anyone who was at that press conference knew that sorrow was the last thing John Lennon felt about that affair. John Lennon did not think he had done a damn thing wrong and they just about had to drag the words out of him for once. And if you listen to the apology, it was very half-hearted. John just about got away with it, but if you ever look at that famous footage you can see John Lennon wasn’t sorry about anything.

Alistair Taylor – From “With the Beatles: A Stunning Insight by The Man who was with the Band Every Step of the Way“, 2011

JOHN: “If I had said television is more popular than Jesus, I might have got away with it. You know, but as I just happened to be talking to a friend, I used the word ‘Beatles’ as a remote thing– not as what ‘I’ think as Beatles– as those other Beatles like other people see us. I just said ‘they’ are having more influence on kids and things than anything else, including Jesus. But I said it in that way which is the wrong way. Yap yap.”

Q: “Some teenagers have repeated your statements– ‘I like the Beatles more than Jesus Christ.’ What do you think about that?”

JOHN: “Well, originally I was pointing out that fact in reference to England– that we meant more to kids than Jesus did, or religion, at that time. I wasn’t knocking it or putting it down, I was just saying it as a fact. And it’s sort of… It is true, ‘specially more for England than here. I’m not saying that we’re better, or greater, or comparing us with Jesus Christ as a person or God as a thing or whatever it is, you know. I just said what I said and it was wrong, or was taken wrong. And now it’s all this.”

Q: “There have been threats against your life, there have been record burnings, you’ve been banned from some radio stations– Does this bother you?”

JOHN: “Well, it worries me.”

PAUL: “You know, it’s bound to bother us.”

Q: “Do you think you’re being crucified?”

JOHN: “No, I wouldn’t say THAT at all!”

Q: “What do you think about the record burnings here in the United States?”

PAUL: “Well, I think it’s a bit silly. It seems a bit like a publicity stunt on their part, you know. I think they’re not going to gain anything by doing that.”

JOHN: “If they just didn’t buy the records, or threw them away, but burning them is…”

GEORGE: “It’s the same old wrong mess. They’ve just taken it the wrong way, and that’s just the pity that… It’s this misunderstanding which shouldn’t be.”

Q: “Mister Starr, you haven’t said a word.”

RINGO: “Well, I just hope it’s all over now, you know. I hope everyone’s straightened out, and it’s finished.”

RINGO: “Well, I just hope it’s all over now, you know. I hope everyone’s straightened out, and it’s finished.”

Q: “Is this an attempt to raise your flagging popularity?”

JOHN: “I could think of a much easier way…”

Q: “Such as?”

JOHN: “…to raise flagging popularity. I don’t know, if you think of stunts. But we don’t do stunts. I think we’ve done one in our lives that’s been completely a stunt.”

PAUL: “But anyway, that’s not the kind of thing that’s gonna…”

Q: “Are you sorry you said it?”

JOHN: “I am. Yes, you know. Even though I never meant what people think I meant by it. I’m still sorry I opened my mouth.”

Q: “Did you mean that the Beatles are more popular than Christ?”

JOHN: (sighs) “When I was talking about it, it was very close and intimate with this person that I know who happens to be a reporter. And I was using expressions on things that I’d just read and derived about christianity. Only, I was saying it in the simplest form that I know, which is the natural way I talk. But she took ’em, and people that know me took ’em exactly as it was– because they know that’s how I talk, you know.”

Q: “It was quoted, a recent statement by you, that the Beatles were anxious for what they called the downfall– that is, the time when they would no longer be on top. Are you anxious for it?”

JOHN: “Well, I don’t know what that is. No.”

PAUL: “I don’t think that we ever said that.”

GEORGE: “If we were really anxious, we’d just do something to…”

PAUL: “We’d DO it, you know.”

GEORGE: “…end it.”

PAUL: “That’s the thing. If we really wanted to get out…”

JOHN: “People say, ‘Oh, they must’ve done it on purpose. They must have a reason,’ you know. But I made a mistake, and I opened me mouth, but there was no alterior motive in it, either way.”

Q: “Are you concerned that your image may be changing and diminished in the eyes of the kids?”

GEORGE: “We change all the time, really– our style.”

RINGO: “I mean, we look different every time we come to America, if you look at the old photographs. We never keep to a strict fashion.”

JOHN: “You can see how we’ve changed.”

Q: “Do you do that on purpose?”

PAUL: “No.”

JOHN: “No. (giggling) We’re just growing old.”

RINGO: “No, it’s just that we don’t control ourselves that much. We just look the same for twelve months.”

GEORGE: “If you look at a photograph of yourself last year, you probably changed…”

Q: “It hasn’t been done by any design?”


Q: “Does that mean your hair is longer?”

JOHN: “Probably, yeah.”

RINGO: “It could be. I don’t think mine is.”

Q: “Do you chaps want to go into SHORT hair?”

RINGO: “No, I don’t like short hair, you know.”

JOHN: “We don’t follow fashion anyway.”

Q: “When are you gonna make another movie?”

RINGO: “Umm, maybe January, with any luck.”

Q: “Do you have any idea what it’s going to be about, or…”

RINGO: “It’s just a small idea. There’s no script yet.”

Q: “What’s the most enjoyable thing for you four about this adulation– this almost ‘Godhood on earth’ that you’ve achieved?”

JOHN: (looks away distastefully) “Don’t say that.”


PAUL: (pointing to the reporter) “It was him. He said it.”

JOHN: (to the other reporters) “Now, you all SAW that.”

Q: “Can we talk about your music a little bit? You’ve gone a long ways from ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ to ‘Eleanor Rigby’ and the raga and so on. What direction are you trying to move your music?”

PAUL: “The thing is, we’re just trying to move it in a forward direction. And this is the point– you know, this is why we’re getting in all these messes with saying things. Because, you know, we’re just trying to move forwards. And people seem to be trying to just sort of hold us back and not want us to say anything that’s vaguely sort of, you know, inflammatory. I mean, we won’t if, really– If people don’t want that, then we won’t do it– We’ll sort of just do it privately. But I think it’s better for everyone if we’re just honest about the whole thing.”

Q: “How are you going to respond after tonight? Are you going to try and explain yourselves every time somebody asks, or what?”

JOHN: “Well, I’ll try if they keep asking me, you know.”

Q: “It’s very important to you?”

JOHN: “I’ll try… I’ll go on and on trying until they get it straight, you know, because I just don’t like to be sort of thought of as what I’m really not, you know. It’s nothing like me– the thing they’re putting ’round is nothing to do with me as a person, you know.”

Q: (to George) “What about you? What was your reaction to what he said, and the reaction TO what he said?”

GEORGE: “Well, in the context that it was meant– it was the fact that christianity is declining, and everybody knows about that, and that was the fact that was trying to be made.”

Q: (to George) “Do you agree with it?”

GEORGE: “I do agree. I agree that it’s on the wane.”

Q: “What do you think about that fact that you believe that it’s true? What’s your reaction to that truth?”

JOHN: “Well, my reaction is that I was deploring it, you know. I was pointing it out. I mean, if somebody like us says it, people sort of do take notice, you know– even church people are trying to be ‘with it’ with pop groups and things. They’re still doing it the wrong way, and I was just stating a fact as I saw it. And I wasn’t trying to compare me or the group with Jesus or religion at all, but just only in that way– the way I’m trying to tell ya.”

Q: “Can I have just one more question? I’d like to ask your reaction to the fact that at London Airport this morning, some of the girls were crying, ‘John, not Jesus.'”

JOHN: “Well you know, I don’t take that seriously, either.”

PAUL: “They’re taking it the wrong way like everyone else, you know.”

Q: “Are you unhappy about that?”

JOHN: “No, you know– It’ll get straightened out, because… I mean, I could have stopped there and said, ‘Now listen, that’s wrong, what you’re saying,’ but I couldn’t do that– I had to come over here anyway and do all this, and try and straighten THIS out first. So, if it does get straightened out, it’ll be straightened out for THEM.”

M.C: “Okay, that you very much.”

BEATLES: “Thank you.”

REPORTER: “Thank you, John.”

Departing Los Angeles for Chicago, I arrived on the scene and noticed that several hundred teenagers had beat me to it. The Astor Towers was surrounded by milling, screaming girls (and boys), and milling, yelling policemen. I couldn’t help wondering where all those adults who had predicted the demise of Beatlemania were. No doubt they couldn’t get through the crowds.

Getting into the hotel was quite a feat. I finally convinced the officer in charge of the revolving door that I really did have business there; I had to get in to meet Beatles’ press officer Tony Barrow so that I could get the proper identification which would have admitted me in the first place!

On the way to the 28th floor rendezvous with Tony, the elevator stopped at the 24th floor, and four Beatles walked in. All wit and pluck deserted me (not an unusual circumstance in itself), and I just stared for three floors. I was a bit incoherent when Tony handed me the open-all-doors-we-hope red tour pass. He told me just to “float” until press conference time, but I was way ahead of him.

The Beatles’ Chicago press conference was the first of their tour, and the center of attention for the whole nation — practically the whole world. Just a few weeks before the tour, John Lennon’s widely publicized comments on the respective Jesus/Beatles popularity had stirred up controversy beyond sensibility, and there were rumors that performances would be picketed, boycotted, or canceled. Chicago would be the first time, the press would or could confront John.

Judith Sims – From TeenSet Magazine – Quoted in “Ticket To ride – The Extraordinary Diary of The Beatles’ Last Tour” by Barry Tashian

From Lil Magill (AKA Nancy) on Twitter: “#Beatles August 1966 – Chicago – The “Bigger than Jesus” backlash press conference” / Twitter
From Mr Brian Epstein: Photo (
From Gotta Have Rock And Roll – Original 10 x 8 black and white photograph of the Beatles featuring John Lennon and George Harrison, 1966, Chicago, Illinois. Photo credit stamped on the verso, very good condition. Estimate: $200 – $300.
From Gotta Have Rock And Roll

All American eyes on Beatles; ‘Submarine’ enters U.S. charts

THE Beatles arrival in Chicago yesterday (Thursday) and their Press conference in the city were being covered by television for all America to see, cables June Harris. And expecting trouble, TV cameras will be stationed in the vicinity of the stadium where the group gives its first concert tonight. Questions to John Lennon about his attitude to religion will not be barred, although he has not been available to comment on the issue at home.

The Beatles departure for America started with a hitch. Their reservations – booked weeks ago – were cancelled by TWA on Wednesday because of the airline’s strike. The Beatle party was switched to Pan-Am and they left earlier than scheduled.

But if the Lennon storm has damaged the Beatles relations with a section of the American public, their record sales do not seem to have suffered. Ringo’s offering “Yellow Subarrine”, undoubtedly the most popular side, enters the Top 100 chart published next week at No 52 in “Billbord” and No 24 in “Cash Box”. “Eleanor Rigby” enters at 101 and 58 respectively.

And in Britain EMI announced on Wednesday that it had sold to dealers a quarter of a million copies of the new Beatles single — which enters this week’s NME Chart at No, 2 — issued only last Friday.

Sales of their new LP “Revolver” released the same day, have already passed the 200,000 mark. […]

From New Musical Express – August 12, 1966
From New Musical Express – August 12, 1966

From Performance in Chicago – The Beatles History (
From Performance in Chicago – The Beatles History ( – In a kimono, the journalist of the magazine “Musical Life” Rumi Hoshika.
From Performance in Chicago – The Beatles History (

Last updated on November 22, 2023

Going further

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Read more on The Beatles Bible


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