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The Beatles staged their third concert tour of America in August 1966, and it was the last commercial tour they would ever undertake. Lasting a total of 19 performances, with 17 shows in American venues and two in Toronto, Canada, it was plagued with backlash regarding the controversy of John Lennon’s remark about the band being “more popular than Jesus“, death threats, and the band’s own dissatisfaction with the noise levels and their ability to perform live. Although it was a commercial success, ticket sales had noticeably declined in number. After the tour, they would become a studio band and focused exclusively on record production.
Incidents and controversy
“More popular than Jesus”
In March 1966, Maureen Cleave interviewed John Lennon and the rest of the Beatles as part of a London Evening Standard series on the theme “How Does a Beatle Live?” During the Lennon interview at Kenwood, Cleave noted Lennon’s interest in Christianity and religions, to which he replied:
“Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue about that; I’m right and I’ll be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first – rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It’s them twisting it that ruins it for me.”
Although the article went largely unnoticed in the United Kingdom, the American magazine Datebook printed the quote containing Lennon’s words on the front cover of its August issue.
Fearful of the possibility that protesters or radicals would try to kill them for their supposed “anti-Christ” stance, the group’s manager, Brian Epstein, contemplated cancelling the tour altogether. However, during the tour’s stop in Chicago, he arranged for a press conference to address the controversy and for Lennon to explain himself. Lennon stated that he was only commenting on the decline among churchgoers, that he made a mistake in using the Beatles’ following in comparison with that of organised religion, and that he “never meant it as a lousy anti-religious thing“. Despite this explanation, Lennon continued to be asked about the topic in subsequent press conferences throughout the American tour, often visibly exasperating not only him, but his bandmates as well.
Despite numerous explanations by Beatles’ press agents and Lennon’s televised apology, the Memphis city council voted to cancel the 19 August afternoon and evening concerts rather than have “municipal facilities be used as a forum to ridicule anyone’s religion“. The Ku Klux Klan nailed a Beatles LP to a wooden cross, vowing “vengeance“, and conservative groups staged further public burnings of Beatles records. Despite the fact that it had originally been canceled, Epstein agreed to proceed with the concert in Memphis. Various threats were made before the concerts. Although no problems took place during the afternoon show, an audience member threw a lit firecracker onstage that did not hit any of the members, but the band believed that somebody had tried to shoot them.
When the firecracker went off, the Beatles’ press agent Tony Barrow recalled that “everybody, all of us at the side of the stage, including the three Beatles on stage, all looked immediately at John Lennon. We would not at that moment have been surprised to see that guy go down. John had half-heartedly joked about the Memphis concert in an earlier press conference, and when we got there everything seemed to be controlled and calm, but underneath somehow, there was this nasty atmosphere. It was a very tense and pressured kind of day.”
The Beatles’ final paid concert — not only of the tour, but also of the band’s career — took place on 29 August 1966 at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, California. Only 25,000 tickets were sold despite the fact that Candlestick Park has a capacity for 42,500 people. A local company called Tempo Productions was in charge of the arrangement and due to the low ticket sales and other expenses, this concert resulted in a loss for them. At 9:27 pm, the Beatles finally took the stage and proceeded to play eleven songs: “Rock And Roll Music“, “She’s A Woman“, “If I Needed Someone“, “Day Tripper“, “Baby’s In Black“, “I Feel Fine“, “Yesterday“, “I Wanna Be Your Man“, “Nowhere Man“, “Paperback Writer” and “Long Tall Sally“.
Knowing that this would be their last concert, members of the band took measures of their own to capture their last moments on stage. Each brought a camera and McCartney asked Beatles’ press agent Tony Barrow to successfully make a rough audio tape recording from the field. The recording of this final concert is now widely circulated on bootlegs. “Long Tall Sally” on the bootlegs is not complete, due to Barrow not flipping the tape over during the show. Barrow gave the original tape of the Candlestick Park concert to McCartney. He also made a single copy, which was kept in a locked drawer in Barrow’s office desk. After the show, the Beatles were quickly taken to the airport in an armoured car. They flew from San Francisco to Los Angeles, arriving at 12:50 am. During the flight George Harrison was heard to say: “That’s it, then. I’m not a Beatle anymore.”
Lasting between 30 and 40 minutes per show, the typical set list was as follows (with lead singers appropriately noted):
- “Rock and Roll Music” (John Lennon)
- “She’s a Woman” (Paul McCartney)
- “If I Needed Someone” (George Harrison)
- “Day Tripper” (Lennon and McCartney)
- “Baby’s in Black” (Lennon and McCartney)
- “I Feel Fine” (Lennon)
- “Yesterday” (McCartney)[nb 1]
- “I Wanna Be Your Man” (Ringo Starr)
- “Nowhere Man” (Lennon with McCartney and Harrison)
- “Paperback Writer” (McCartney)
- “Long Tall Sally” (McCartney)
None of the songs from the group’s most recent LP, Revolver, released only days before the start of the tour on 5 August 1966, were performed, nor was the group’s concurrent US single, “Eleanor Rigby“/”Yellow Submarine“. Four of the songs from the US-only Yesterday and Today, released on 20 June 1966, were the most-recently released songs performed. “If I Needed Someone” was the most recent US released song (appearing on Yesterday and Today in June 1966) and “Paperback Writer” was the most recent US released single (released in May 1966) performed. The three remaining tracks performed from Yesterday and Today were previously released in 1965 and early 1966 as singles. […]
Last updated on June 30, 2017
19 concerts • 2 countries
Aug 28, 1966
Aug 25, 1966
Aug 23, 1966
Aug 21, 1966
Aug 21, 1966
Aug 16, 1966
Aug 15, 1966
Aug 13, 1966