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The Beatles Played Their Last Concert 51 Years Ago

Although they performed a surprise gig on 30th January 1969 on the rooftop of the Apple Boutique in London, the Beatles’ final official concert took place on 29th August 1966 at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park. No one, apart from the band, knew that this was going to be the last show.

By 1966, the Beatles had had enough of touring. When in the Philippines in July of the previous year, they were attacked by angry mobs and forced to surrender their concert earnings after being accused of disrespecting the country’s First Lady. Then, during the 1966 US tour, John Lennon’s controversial statement about the Beatles being more popular than Jesus provoked protests and other disturbances during performances. At Memphis, a firecracker exploded, making the group believe that someone had acted on the assassination threats. Towards the end of the tour, an open-air show in Cincinnati had to be cancelled due to a heavy rain to avoid the risk of electrocution. And it only got worse: at the Los Angeles show, dozens of people were arrested and many more injured when fans clashed with the police.

In addition to the many negative and frightening experiences, the sound quality of the performances was also extremely poor, as the contemporary technology was not ready to make stadium concerts enjoyable. With foldback speakers and other more sophisticated pieces of equipment yet to be invented, neither the audience nor the band could hear the music properly. As Paul McCartney said, “the Beatles were the show, the music wasn’t”. Also, not only did they play the same songs every single day (sometimes twice a day), but these were pieces of their old material, since the advanced studio techniques employed in their more recent tracks simply couldn’t be reproduced on the stage. As a result, they did not get the same thrill out of touring anymore as they had at the beginning of their career.

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The Beatles arrive at San Francisco International Airport on 29th August 1966

“There was a big talk at Candlestick Park that this had got to end. At that San Francisco gig it seemed that this could possibly be the last time, but I never felt 100% certain till we got back to London,” Ringo Starr is quoted as saying in ‘The Beatles Anthology’. “John wanted to give up more than the others. He said that he’d had enough.”

Disappointingly, only 25,000 of the 42,500 seats were sold at the final show on 29th August, which resulted in a financial loss for the concert’s promoter Tempo Productions. But there were still plenty of screaming fans the band had to be protected against, so the five-feet high stage was surrounded by a six-foot high wire fence.

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The Beatles walk to the stage at Candlestick Park

There were four supporting acts: The Remains, Bobby Hebb, The Cyrkle and The Ronettes. Radio host “Emperor” Gene Nelson was the MC for the night. As quoted in the book ‘The Beatles Off The Record’, Nelson said about the event: “(…) Candlestick Park in August, at night, was cold, foggy and windy. The funniest thing this night was one of the warm-up acts, Bobby Hebb. He stood up on the stage at Candlestick Park, with the fog, and the wind blowing, and he was singing ‘Sunny’! It was tough anyway to work a ballpark as an MC, especially as the Beatles were taking their time to get out. I was trying to entertain a crowd that was shouting, ‘Beatles, Beatles, Beatles.’ The dressing room was chaos. There were loads of people there. The press tried to get passes for their kids and the singer Joan Baez was in there. Any local celebrity, who was in town, was in the dressing room. They were having a party in there. They were having a perfectly wonderful time, while I was freezing my buns off on second base!”

When they finally appeared on stage just before 9.30pm, the Beatles played 11 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’. At the end of the show, Lennon and McCartney took pictures of themselves and the crowd, signalling that this would be the end.

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An early selfie by John Lennon at Candlestick Park

Before the performance, McCartney asked press officer Tony Barrow to record the concert on an audio cassette with a simple hand-held recorder. Although it cuts off before the last song ends, this is the only recording made during the Candlestick Park show. It has since appeared on many bootlegs, but it’s unclear how that could have happened, since Barrow had made a single copy for himself and gave the original tape to McCartney.

 

 

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