On a Sunday night not too long ago, a crowd of about 60 people stood elbow to elbow at The Britannia Pub in Santa Monica, California to hear some live music. Requests were shouted, hit after hit was played with uncanny tenacity, and the band's most popular songs were routinely met with wild applause and emphatic "WOOS!" The band was Number 9, and if you hadn't guessed it by this article's title, they are a Beatles tribute band. Playing a set that spanned the Beatles' entire catalog, Number 9 supplied a live soundtrack that left the bar's patrons feeling nostalgic and full of energy.
Although the Beatles broke up over 40 years ago, people still want to hear their songs live. There's something about the music that translates well in a live setting; perhaps the universal familiarity creates a sense of community when listening as an audience. Nonetheless, the power and quality of their songs is a testament to their talents as a live performing band.
Although some could argue that the Beatles reached their creative and musical pinnacles in the studio during their later years (after they stopped touring entirely) the Beatles ability to consistently deliver quality live performances was an important element to their early success. Well-rehearsed, dynamic and precise, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr were also excellent live performers before they officially retired from touring and became primarily a studio band.
This list outlines five of the most iconic and significant live performances in Beatles history, permanently seeped into pop culture's consciousness. These performances are also listed chronologically to illustrate the musical progression of the group. So turn up your speakers and check out the Beatles live.
01. First Appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show - February 9, 1964
47 years ago on a Sunday evening, over 73 million Americans tuned their TV dials to the popular Ed Sullivan Show to catch a glimpse of a new musical craze. After Ed Sullivan introduced the "youngsters from Liverpool," John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and George Harrison gave a smiley, bopping, rock and roll performance that captured the attention of the nation and exhausted the voices of hysterical girls as they screamed toward the shaggy-haired English gentlemen.
Not only did that first performance shatter the record of recorded television viewership at the time, but this appearance contributed to the Beatles' rise to international stardom; at the time, they were nationally recognized in England, yet weren't the cultural icons that they eventually became.
The group's first U.S. television appearance consisted of the sweet love song, "All My Loving" (with Chet Atkins-inspired guitar solo from Harrison), the crooned "Till There Was You" (with yet another warm and brilliant guitar solo), and loud rock anthems "She Loves You," "I Saw Her Standing There" and "I Want to Hold Your Hand." The performance set the tone for what could be expected for future live Beatles performances: the staggering volume of female screams which nearly drowned out the band's amplification, the tight and well-rehearsed vocals from Paul, John and George, and of course, Ringo's steady drum grooves.
Interestingly, the epidemic "Beatlemania" had only begun to infect America a few weeks prior to the Ed Sullivan appearance. After watching a short feature on the Beatles which appeared on Walter Cronkite's "CBS Evening News," Sullivan became aware of the Beatles' rise in England, and, perhaps recognizing their fame potential, decided to book them a few months after his discovery. Promotion soon followed and the dramatic appearance of never-before-heard Beatles music on national radio led America to become increasingly excited to watch the unique group of shaggy-haired musicians perform.
Even Elvis Presleywho also shared a famous Ed Sullivan appearancewrote the group a telegram of well wishes before they took the stage. And as the TV cameras panned over the Beatles in the Ed Sullivan studio, the stage was set from then on for the Beatles rising fame and saturation into 1960s pop culture.
02. Live at Shea Stadium - August 15, 1965
Here we have another record-breaking appearance: The Beatles concert at New York's Shea Stadium was seen by over 55,000 people on a Sunday evening in 1965. This concert marked the beginning of The Beatles' second full tour of the United States and, like their Ed Sullivan appearances, showcased the absolute hysteria that surrounded them.
The Beatles arrived at Shea Stadium via armored van and took the stage, which was elevated over the 2nd base area. The group played through a full-set of crowd-pleasers, including "Twist and Shout," "I Feel Fine," "Ticket to Ride," "Baby's in Black," "A Hard Day's Night" and "Help!" Although the band was equipped with 100-watt amps designed for them by Vox, the magnitude of the stadium and deafening volume of the crowd necessitated a full use of the in-house PA system. Many fans tried to run past the security guards (there were over 2,000 of them at the event) and the stadium's signs even flashed the warning "For safety sake please stay in your seats" (you can catch it in the video). Pure madness.
The performance itself may have suffered a bit though; apparently, because of the volume of the crowd, the Beatles had trouble hearing themselves and extensive overdubs were needed for the final filmed version of the concert. So although the film doesn't contain much of the actual live performance, the pure spectacle of the concert is what makes the video captured by 22 camerasso impressive.
03. Live in Manila - July 4, 1966
The significance of this event has less to do with the group's actual concert performance, but rather the controversy tied to their trip to Manila, Philippines in 1966. After playing two shows at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium for an estimated 80,000 people total, the Beatles, were escorted to their hotel and retired for a needed day off.
The Queen of Manila, Imelda Marcos, had invited them to a royal lunch reception at her palace the following day, however the group was unaware of the invitation. They became fully aware of the invitation after watching the irate Queen on television, enraged that the group stood up the royal event. What ensued was a public out lash as the band struggled to leave the country. Several of the Beatles reported being "terrified" as they made their way to the airport to catch their plane back to England. Violence even ensued while the band and crew lugged their equipment through the airport, amid blows from hateful locals.
Although recounts of the day's events differ from person to person, check out the video for accounts from George, Paul, and Ringo. Evidently, the event shook the Beatles, who may have felt that Beatlemania good and bad was taking a toll on them. Where the Beatles too famous at this point? More importantly, what did people expect of them? The ominous nature of the Manila trip suggested disharmony in their international fame, even hinting that all was not well.
04. Live at Candlestick Park August 29, 1966
A month after the events in Manila, and a little over a year after the stunning spectacle of Shea Stadium occurred, the Beatles ended their touring careers with a final concert in San Francisco's Candlestick Park, in August, 1966. Knowing the performance would be their last official concert, Paul McCartney asked if Tony Barrow, the Beatles' press officer, would record the performance. He did, and captured the show with a lone microphone held above his head.
The concert consisted of their usual hits of high-energy rock and roll, but also included some slower, mellower tracks off of "Rubber Soul," such as "Nowhere Man" and "If I Needed Some One." With a tight performance and goofy stage banter, the Beatles final concert hinted toward their eventual break up of the group, not sure where they were exactly going; before "Paperback Writer," for instance, Paul introduced the song by stating, "We'd like to carry on, I think. We're not really sure yet. I'd like to carry on, certainly. Definitely. Well, shall we just watch this for a bit? Just watch it. The next song is called Paperback Writer.'"
At this point, The Beatles had just released "Revolver," a record that found them increasingly immersed in studio experimentation. Following the end of their touring days, more time would be dedicated to songwriting and album production. Gone were the days of squeaky-clean rock n' roll love songs and matching stage suits; taking their place would be legendary studio sessions that resulted in a string of highly creative and innovative albums "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," "Magical Mystery Tour," "The Beatles (White Album)" "Abbey Road" and "Let It Be." And although, after this concert, the Beatles recorded some of their most influential work, the end of their touring days could be considered to be the beginning of the gradual movement toward their official breakup a few years later.
05. "The Rooftop Concert" January 30, 1969
After the Candlestick Park concert, there was one more official Beatles live performancetheir final final performance occurred atop of London's Apple building on a cloudy and windy January day in 1969, three years after Candlestick. Needing an ending to the film, "Let It Be," the decision was made to play a rooftop concert and watch the public's reaction. John and Ringo wore their wives' overcoats; Paul McCartney sported a burly lumberjack-like beard; spectators craned their necks in disbelief that the Beatles were actually performing on a rooftop during normal business hours.
Producer and "Fifth Beatle," George Martin, recorded the live feeds in the building's basement, and behind the scenes were also engineer Glyn Hons and young tape operator Alan Parsons, who later produced Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon."
In a casual fashion, the group, along with keyboardist, Billy Preston, went through multiple takes of "Get Back," "Dig a Pony," "One After 909," "Don't Let Me Down" and "I've Got a Feeling." The raw, yet full-sounding performance was both intimate and relatively less rehearsedJohn Lennon even needed an assistant to prop up song lyrics in front of him.
And in a cinematic climax that effectively became the last time the entire band would play together as a group, the police eventually emerged on the roof and ordered the band to stop playing. As they wrapped up their final song, John Lennon addressed the accumulated audience on the street below, summing up the group's live legacy with soft humor: "I'd like to say thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves, and I hope we passed the audition."
By Zach Pino