“Ladies and Gentlemen…Honored by their country, decorated by their Queen, and loved here in America…here are The Beatles.” So went the introduction by Ed Sullivan standing on the makeshift stage built over second base on that hot August night in Shea Stadium. At that point, the crowd’s frenzied screams of anticipation pinned the needle at a level that would continue for the next thirty-plus minutes, blocking out even the ability to recognize what songs they were singing. But let me step back for a minute.
I was a fan from the first moment I heard “I Want to Hold Your Hand” coming over the transistor radio at the end of December 1963. I was playing touch football with some of my friends and, so taken was I by the unique sound, energy and harmonies, unlike anything at the time, that I had to stop and walk over to the radio that sat playing on the hood of a car nearby and just listen.
By April of ’64, their songs held the top five positions on the Billboard charts and, in my bedroom, I was stringing together old radio speakers pulled out of junked cars to plug into that same radio so I could hear those inspiring sounds bigger and clearer. Soon, I would go to Eclipse Music and F.W. Woolworth’s in downtown Paterson, New Jersey to buy my first three long-play vinyl albums, “Meet the Beatles”, “The Beatles Second Album”, and “A Hard Day’s Night”.
That August, along with my fellow high-school rock and roll band mate, Paul Blum, I took a bus to the Port Authority building in New York City, and walked to one of only two movie theaters in the entire metropolitan area showing the film “A Hard Day’s Night” on the first day of its USA release. There they were on the big screen, with big sound, acting like themselves, with all that cheeky, sarcastic humor, being adored and chased by fans, and singing all of those amazing songs. That was it. They were just too good to be true. How could they possibly be real?
One year later, on August 15, 1965, along with over 55,000 other fans, I had a chance to find out. With a ticket in my pocket that cost $5.75, I had a seat waiting for me in the second level behind third base. Now 17 with a three-month-old driver's license, I drove my friend Paul and Beatle-obsessed girlfriend, Michele, to the Port Authority Terminal in Manhattan where we parked the car and took the Number 7 train out to the Shea Stadium/Willets Point stop. The excitement was thicker than the August humidity. We found our way to our seats and, over the next hour, the crowd impatiently sat through opening act performances by King Curtis, Cannibal and the Headhunters, Brenda Holloway and Sounds Incorporated (the band that, only two years later, would play on the Sgt. Pepper’s album track “Good Morning, Good Morning").
Finally, it was time for The Beatles to appear and prove that they were actually real…live…people! Ed Sullivan made his twenty-word introduction that triggered the unprecedented explosion of human-generated noise, and John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr emerged from the third-base dugout, instruments in hand. As I mentioned earlier, and as the story has often been told, for the next thirty minutes, screams were the only thing that those of us in the crowd could hear… for this was the first stadium rock concert ever and no sound system had yet been built that could handle it. Yes, it was very frustrating not to be able to hear them play, but we all knew their songs by heart. The real reason we were all there was to see them and prove to ourselves that they were real… and to be there in the same place and time with those four lads from Liverpool who would still be bringing us incalculable joy and a stadium full of memories fifty years later.