On August 29, 1966, The Beatles played their final concert at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, California. While the story has been told quite fully in The Beatles Anthology documentary, I thought I might try to provide a quick summary of one of the more momentous decisions in rock history.
Although The Beatles had been huge in England since early 1963, their early touring schedule, grueling enough as it was, rarely took them outside of the British Isles and could be accomplished in a single transit van. In January, 1964, fresh off of the Royal Command Performance and a second hit album, With The Beatles, The Beatles played 20 nights in Paris, France. What was supposed to follow was a quick seven day trip to the United States and a spot on The Ed Sullivan Show. We all know the rest.
But what ended up happening was that the music industry got their first taste of a degree of fame that rivaled, or even bested Elvis Presley in 1956. The Beatles were a cash cow, and promoters such as Sid Bernstein were only too eager to sign The Beatles on to hastily arranged tours designed to maximize profits, but minimize their comfort. 1964 and 1965 were especially grueling in this respect as The Beatles did three tours of the U.S., the aforementioned 20 day residency in Paris, a full tour of Western Europe, two full tours of the U.K., a tour of Australia, New Zealand, Scandinavia, and gigs in The Netherlands, Hong Kong and Denmark.
The Beatles fame had made them prisoners inside their own hotel rooms. Throngs of fans held all-night vigils outside of their hotels, so going outside was out of the question. And The Beatles own security at the concerts themselves began to be an issue. While trampling and hair pulling by adoring female fans is one thing, death threats are another thing entirely. Before coming to America, The Beatles famously turned down an offer from Philipines first lady Imelda Marcos to dine at the Presidential Palace. This caused a national uproar and The Beatles had to leave the country in fear for their lives (they were beaten and kicked by crowds in the airport and their plane was boarded and The Beatles manager and assistant were taken off the plane, where the authorities stole back all of the money they had earned on the trip). Add to that the furor in America over John Lennon’s quote (taken miles out of context) about The Beatles being “bigger than Jesus” and The Beatles decided, collectively, that they simply did not need the hassle of touring.
One other factor that made their decision possible was the fact that Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys had shocked the music world by excusing himself from touring (he would invite Bruce Johnston into the group to essentially play and sing his parts on stage) in order to write, record, and produce songs for the group while the band was on the road. This idea was unheard of in 1965. Bands toured. That’s just the way it was. But as the next 18 months brought “California Girls,” Pet Sounds, and “Good Vibrations,” I think that The Beatles heard the impact that remaining focused on studio compositions could bring.
So after their last scheduled show on the 1966 tour, George, Ringo, Paul and John made the decision that they were not going to do a tour like that again. I don’t think that any of them truly thought they’d never tour again. I think that they just knew that if they did it would not be of the limo-to hotel-to show-to limo-to airport variety. They also had Revolver topping the charts as a reminder of the things they could accomplish in the studio. Given the hectic pace, the safety concerns and their desire to break new grouond in the studio, it really isn’t any wonder that The Beatles decided to stop touring at the peak of their fame and in the prime of their earning power. But the true testament to this decision would be their next effort, the result of five consecutive months in the studio, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. But that’s a story for another post.