My son called the other day.
It had been a couple of weeks since we’d last talked, but he soon started excitedly telling me about this excellent movie he’d recently watched: “The Last Play At Shea.”
“The Last Play At Shea” is a 2010 documentary/concert film centered around the last musical performance given at New York City’s Shea Stadium – home of the major league baseball team, the New York Mets. The July 18, 2008 star-studded concert was headlined by singer/songwriter/piano man Billy Joel.
Besides being about Billy Joel’s big night, the movie also chronicles some of the other concerts at Shea Stadium over the years and, of course, highlights the first and most-historic concert given there: the Sunday, August 15, 1965 show featuring The Beatles.
Well, having great faith in my knowledge of Beatle lore, my son had questions. Where did this show at Shea Stadium fit into the timeline of The Beatles’ performing career? Did it occur during their first tour of the US? Was it the biggest concert of their career?
Well, I knew some things about The Beatles’ concert at Shea, but I soon had to admit that I couldn’t answer many of his questions.
So, I did some research and, thanks to The Complete Beatles Chronicle (1992) by Mark Lewisohn, I found out.
When The Beatles played Shea Stadium in August of 1965, they were in the midst of their second tour of and third visit to America.
Their first trip to America came in February of 1964. They arrived at JFK International Airport in New York City on the 7th; performed on a live national television broadcast of the Ed Sullivan Show on Sunday, the 9th; concertised at the Washington (D.C.) Colliseum on the 11th and New York’s Carnegie Hall on the 12th; did another Ed Sullivan Show live from Miami Beach, Florida on the 16th; and, after a well-deserved vacation, flew home to England on the 22nd.
“The Beatles’ First American Tour” commenced on August 19, 1964 in San Francisco, CA and ended 25 performances later on September 20 at the Paramount Theatre in New York City.
The Beatles started the “1965 North American Tour”, their second of the USA, with the concert at Shea Stadium.
The Sunday, August 15th event brought 55,600 fans to see a concert that featured, in order of appearance: Brenda Holloway and the King Curtis Band, Cannibal & The Headhunters, Sounds Incorporated, The Young Rascals and The Beatles.
The 1965 Shea Stadium concert was the first pop concert held at a major stadium and it set a new world record in terms of attendance and gross revenue – $304,000. The Beatles’ share of that was $160,000, also, at that time, a record. Not bad for a 12-song performance that lasted little more than 30 minutes.
It was indeed the “biggest” concert of their career.
The “1965 North American Tour” ended 9 shows later on August 31st in San Francisco.
But, and this was news to me, August 15, 1965 was the not the only time The Beatles played Shea Stadium.
On Tuesday, August 23, 1966, in the midst of their “1966 North American Tour,” The Beatles again played Shea. This time, 11,000 seats remained empty but the group took home $29,000 more than in 1965.
Sadly, not only The Beatles’ “1966 North American Tour” ended on Monday, August 29 at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, CA, but their performing career did as well.
So, there you go. Now we all know.
P.S.: Shea Stadium opened on April 7, 1964. After The Beatles’ concert, groups such as Led Zeppelin (1973); Jethro Tull (1976); The Who (1982); The Police (1983); The Rolling Stones (1989); and Bruce Springsteen (2003) gave concerts at Shea. Billy Joel did the last two shows at Shea, one on July 16, 2008 and the finale, as stated above, on July 18, 2008. The last baseball game was on September 28, 2008 and the demolition of Shea Stadium began on October 14, 2008.
P.S.S.: From all of this research, the most fascinating information I discovered was way in the back of The Beatles Chronicle.
In a glossary entitled “Other Engagements Played,” under “1966,” Mr. Lewisohn writes: “The group’s 18 August Boston, Massachusetts concert, at Suffolk Downs Racetrack, was originally intended for the city’s Fenway Park.”