The Beatles Epic Shea Stadium Concert, August, 1965
It was a hot August 15th, 1965, night, when the first rock concert filled with 58,000 fans caused mayhem at Shea Stadium.
Tickets were sold for $4 to $5 dollars, which back then, would buy a stereo LP and took several hours of work to earn. You could fill up your gas tank in the car, cigarettes were only 25-50 cents a pack. Sid Bernstein was the promoter for this concert and he could have charged $10 easily, but he wanted all kids to enjoy the concert.
The stage was located around the second base area. The Beatles had never played in such a venue ever. Their largest was a few thousand at best. They thought of playing in a sports stadium seemed to them like a doomed failure. It was too big. Unlike many concerts, this event would be filmed by ABC for posterity. After all, it was the first rock concert.
It is extremely hard to describe Beatlemania if you were not around then. Words like hysteria, zombie-like, mayhem, pandemonium, or chaos lack in so many ways. Watching the concert today remains an astonishing and unbelievable account. Even today, any viewer walks away in a state of shell shock and awe at hysteria of 58,000 screaming fans fenced in behind police barrier hundreds of yards away. You think, how can this be? or never again will this happen. It was an atomic bomb in rock music going off.
Reading eyewitness accounts are astonishing, to wit, Murray Kaufman, a radio disc jockey at one of NYC first rock radio station:
"From the time The Beatles came on to the time they left (30 minutes), I felt I was in a snake pit. Nobody could hear anything from the shrieking screams of their fans. Total hysteria and real physical emotions. I was very close to the stage and I could barely hear them play, I heard only a few words at most. The noise was incredible. I went under the nearby stands and it was like I had entered a disaster area. NY police and medicals staff were carrying fainted fans from their hysteria. Some fans were being sent to doctors and nurses for evaluation, most were girls from 10-17. The ones who did not faint, still were screaming for The Beatles, as medical staff tried to calm them. There were at least 400 of them in this triage area. Ambulances also started to arrive.I soon left because it was just too crazy".
As for the Beatles, they were in shock and awe themselves as they got on stage. John said he could not make anyone out being so far from fans, yet, even they had PA problems hearing themselves sing and play because of the constant shrieking screams. They soon realized that if they could not hear themselves play, neither could fans, so the band just did standard hit numbers and many times were off key. They enjoyed it because anything they did was fine, who could hear?
While the police did maintain some control, the hysteria and the longing for them by fans caused many to break through the barriers police had set up. So, as the band played, they witnessed fans overriding the barriers and streaking for the stage being chased by police. It was true chaos. Not many of the teens made it to the stage, some were arrested.
But for anyone who was there, they only recall the hysteria of Beatlemania at its pinnacle. The chaos. The shrieking shrills from 58,000 fans. It was like all the fans were zombies so in love with them then could not contain themselves.
The Beatles concert grossed $304,000. At the time, the largest ever in rock history. The Shea Stadium event made a lasting impression on all the Beatles and in the 70's, Sid ran into John somewhere in NYC, They chatted and then out of nowhere, John said, " Shea, those were the days. Wasn't that THE one?" Sid smiled, "Yeah, those were the days".
Twelve days later, the Beatles finally met their God- Elvis Presley at his home. He is what caused all of the Beatles to pick up guitars and drums. Paula and John idolized him and both were very nervous during the few hours of visit. Of course, Elvis knew how big they were, but would not admit that he was no longer the "King of Rock and Roll" at that time. However, by 1967, he did and even he had longer hair.
In 1961, the Beatles jokingly aspired to be bigger than Elvis. In 1962, Brian Epstein told Decca records after being rejected, " The Beatles are going to be bigger than Elvis". He was laughed at.
Life is full of ironic moments. The prophecy was fulfilled.