The Night The Beatles Rocked Shea Stadium

Though the Fab Four found it hard to remember the second occasion, the Beatles actually played Shea Stadium twice. When he was later asked about the "second Shea Stadium concert," George Harrison replied, "Did we play Shea twice?" Ringo Starr was asked the same question and gave the same exact response, "Did we play Shea twice?"

This is rather understandable, with the Beatles' extraordinarily eventful career, the excessive drugs taken, and the natural flaws of memory. Another word would probably also apply: anti-climactic. The first Beatles concert is often considered an apogee, some kind of peak in the unforgettable phenomena we know as "Beatlemania." After their monumental first Shea concert, the second one just over a year later was surely anti-climactic -- the tickets didn't even sell out. (The poster at left is for the less-memorable second concert at Shea Stadium.)

The first Beatles concert at Shea Stadium was on August 15, 1965. Any Beatles fan worth his or her salt knows this one as "The Shea Stadium Concert."

A Full House

Although the Beatles had sold out countless theaters, local auditoriums, and dance halls, no rock group had ever played a concert at an actual sports stadium before. The crowd was at capacity, an eye-popping 55,600 fans, mostly screaming, crying, and even fainting women and teenage girls.

Interestingly, among the screaming, worshiping fans were two future Beatle wives. Both Linda Eastman and Barbara Bach (the future wives of Paul and Ringo, respectively) were sitting amongst the other adoring fans. (One has to wonder what was going through those girls' minds at the time.)

The boys were dramatically escorted to the roof of the World's Fair in a whirling helicopter. According to George, en route to the rooftop, the pilot was zipping and whizzing them wildly over the Big Apple, pointing out the various sights, as the Beatles sat in slight terror at the aerial acrobatics. The boys were then driven to the concert in a Wells-Fargo Bank van.

After they were deposited at the stadium, each of the Beatles was given his own little Wells-Fargo badge. (In the film of the concert, you can spot each Beatle proudly wearing his Wells-Fargo badge pinned to his jacket.)

Once the previous acts finished their obligatory, thankless performances, the Beatles walked out onto the field like four deities. The noise was deafening -- in the video footage, some of the security people can be seen putting their hands over their ears or sticking their fingers in their ears to block out the noise. Thousands of bright camera flashbulbs greeted the Beatles as they entered, making the field look like a wild electronics laboratory.

Video of the opening of the concert from YouTube user saltaeb99

The boys nervously picked up their guitars and Ringo climbed aboard his drum kit. They stood in the middle of Shea Stadium, small and distant figures, which probably added to the adoration and surrealism of the moment.

It was a typically brief Beatles concert, just 12 songs played in about 30 minutes. The Beatles used their "new" 100-volt amps, rather like using a portable hand mic to get an interview with King Kong, and throughout the deafening roar, they couldn't hear a note any of them played (or sang).

INTERVIEWER: "Does it bother you that you can't hear what you sing during a concert?"

JOHN LENNON: "No, we don't mind. We've got the records at home."

Because of the excessive noise and the need to somehow keep some kind of a beat, Ringo later confessed to watching the swinging rear ends of his three bandmates to give him some semblance of rhythm.

John opened with his version of "Twist and Shout," a usual routine, but Paul, George, and Ringo all noticed something slightly different about John. According to George, John Lennon "cracked up" that night. The surrealism of the event caught Lennon's fancy and, always the craziest of the Fab Four, John just "lost it."

In the video footage, John can be seen cackling and breaking up with mad glee several times, as the other boys look over the crowd, and each other, with slight disbelief. At one point, John holds his arms out-stretched and starts chanting, in a Peter Sellers-like voice, up at some imaginary heavenly presence above him. At another point, as Paul talks to the crowd, John does his usual spastic clawed hands impression and stomps his feet. (But that was a regular part of John's routine in those pre-politically correct times.)

During the closing number, as Paul sang "I'm Down," John went over to play the electric organ. Lennon started playing the organ with his elbow and laughing devilishly. The normally staid and conventional Paul is seen doing a full 360-degree spin, in seemingly pure exhilaration. Even the usually stone-faced George laughed out loud at John's antics.

In between the "Twist and Shout" and "I'm Down" bookends, George and Ringo each performed their obligatory solo turns. John and Paul rotated and sang lead in the other ten songs.

Thus, the band played on.

And then, the most amazing 30-minutes of condensed music ended in a flash, and the Fab Four tromped off the field, exhausted.

The concert pulled in a then-record gross of $304,000, of which the Beatles would receive half. It was noted, at the time, as the biggest grossing event "in the history of show business." (Tickets sold for the ridiculous prices of $4.50, $5.00, and $5.75.)

Many years later, John Lennon ran into Sid Bernstein, the producer of the Shea Stadium concert. As they happily reminisced about the Shea concert, John looked at Sid with a twinkle in his eye and said, "We reached the top of the mountain, Sid."


Eddie Deezen has appeared in over 30 motion pictures, including Grease, WarGames, 1941, and The Polar Express. He's also been featured in several TV shows, including Magnum PI, The Facts of Life, and The Gong Show. And he's done thousands of voice-overs for radio and cartoons, such as Dexter's Laboratory and Family Guy.

Read all Eddie's mental_floss stories.

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The 'David Bowie Is' Exhibition Is Coming to Your Smartphone
 Ralph Gatti, AFP/Getty Images
Ralph Gatti, AFP/Getty Images

"David Bowie is," an exhibition dedicated to the life, work, and legacy of the pop icon, concluded its six-year world tour on July 15. If you didn't get a chance to see it in person at its final stop at New York City's Brooklyn Museum, you can still experience the exhibit at home. As engadget reports, the artifacts displayed in the collection will be recreated in virtual and augmented reality.

The Victoria and Albert Museum, the curator of the exhibit, and the David Bowie Archive are collaborating with Sony Music Entertainment and the sound and media studio Planeta on the new project, "David Bowie is Virtual." Like the physical exhibition, the digital experience will integrate visual scenes with the music of David Bowie: 3D scans will bring the musician's costumes and personal items into the virtual sphere, allowing viewers to examine them up close, and possibly in the case of the outfits, try them on.

"These new digital versions of ‘David Bowie is’ will add unprecedented depth and intimacy to the exhibition experience, allowing the viewer to engage with the work of one of the world’s most popular and influential artists as never before," the announcement of the project reads. "Both the visual richness of this show and the visionary nature of Bowie and his art makes this a particularly ideal candidate for a VR/AR adaptation."

"David Bowie is Virtual" will be released for smartphones and all major VR and AR platforms sometimes this fall. Like the museum exhibition, it will come with an admission price, with a portion of the proceeds going toward the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Brooklyn Museum.

[h/t engadget]

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iStock
Why Do Orchestras Tune to an A Note?
iStock
iStock

When orchestra members tune their instruments before a performance, it almost always sounds the same. That’s because across the world, most orchestras tune to the same A note, using a standard pitch of 440 hertz.

This is the result of international standards that have been in place since the 19th century, according to WQXR, a classical music radio station in New York City. Currently, standard tuning frequency is set by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), an international group that makes recommendations on everything from what safety labels should look like to how big the hole in a pen cap should be. A standard called ISO 16, first recommended in 1955 and confirmed in 1975, “specifies the frequency for the note A in the treble stave and shall be 440 hertz.”

The ISO didn’t pull that frequency out of thin air. During the Industrial Revolution, a rush toward standardization and universality led to multiple international meetings that aimed to bring orchestras all over the world to the same pitch. Standardizing pitch had important ramifications for the international music scene.

Historically, the pitch that orchestras tuned to could differ wildly depending on where the musicians were playing. “In the course of the last 400 years in Europe, the point that has been considered ideal for a reference pitch has fluctuated by some 5 or 6 semitones,” musicologist Bruce Haynes explained in his book, A History of Performing Pitch: The Story of ‘A.’ In the 17th century, a French performer might tune his or her instrument a whole tone lower than their German colleagues. The standards could even change from one town to the next, affecting how music written in one location might sound when played in another.

As a writer for London's The Spectator observed in 1859, “It is well known that when we are performing Handel's music (for example) from the very notes in which he wrote it, we are really performing it nearly a whole tone higher than he intended;—the sound associated in his ear with the note A, being nearly the same sound which, in our ear, is associated with the note G.”

In the 19th century, a commission established by the French government tried to analyze pitch across Europe by looking at the frequencies of the tuning forks musicians used as their reference while tuning their instruments. The commission gathered tuning forks from different cities, finding that most were pitched somewhere around 445 hertz. Over the years, due to bigger concert halls and more advanced instruments, pitch was rising across most orchestras, and instruments and voices were being strained as a result. So the commission recommended lowering the standard to what was known as “the compromise pitch.”

In 1859, the French commission legally established diapason normal, the standard pitch for the A above middle C, at 435 hertz. (The music world would still be debating whether or not pitch had risen too much more than a century later.) Later, 435 hertz became enshrined as a standard elsewhere, too. In 1885, government representatives from Italy, Austria, Hungary, Prussia, Russia, Saxony, Sweden, and Württemberg met to establish their own international standard, agreeing on 435 hertz. The agreement was eventually written into the Treaty of Versailles in 1919.

But not everyone was on board with 435 hertz. The Royal Philharmonic Society in London believed the French pitch standard was pegged to a specific temperature—59°F—and decided to adjust their pitch upward to compensate for their concert halls being warmer than that, settling on 439 hertz. Meanwhile, in 1917, the American Federation of Musicians declared 440 hertz to be the standard pitch in the U.S.

In 1939, the International Standardizing Organization met in London to agree on a standard for concert pitch to be used across the world. A Dutch study of European pitch that year had found that while pitch varied across orchestras and countries, the average of those varied pitches was around 440 hertz. So it made sense for the ISO to choose A 440. Furthermore, radio broadcasters and technicians like the BBC preferred A 440 to the English A 439 because 439 was a prime number and thus harder to reproduce in a laboratory.

World War II delayed the official launch of the 1939 ISO agreement, but the organization issued its A 440 decision in 1955, then again two decades later. A 440 was here to stay. That said, even now, pitch does vary a little depending on the musicians in question. The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra notably tunes to 443 hertz rather than the standard 440 hertz, for instance. While A 440 may be the official “concert pitch” across the world, in practice, there is still a little wiggle room.

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