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The Night The Beatles Rocked Shea Stadium

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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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Big Questions
What's the Difference Between an Opera and a Musical?
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They both have narrative arcs set to song, so how are musicals different from operas?

For non-theater types, the word “musical” conjures up images of stylized Broadway performances—replete with high-kicks and punchy songs interspersed with dialogue—while operas are viewed as a musical's more melodramatic, highbrow cousin. That said, The New York Times chief classical music critic Anthony Tommasini argues that these loose categorizations don't get to the heart of the matter. For example, for every Kinky Boots, there’s a work like Les Misérables—a somber, sung-through show that elicits more audience tears than laughs. Meanwhile, operas can contain dancing and/or conversation, too, and they range in quality from lowbrow to highbrow to straight-up middlebrow.

According to Tommasini, the real distinguishing detail between a musical and an opera is that “in opera, music is the driving force; in musical theater, words come first.” While listening to an opera, it typically doesn’t matter what language it’s sung in, so long as you know the basic plot—but in musical theater, the nuance comes from the lyrics.

When it comes down to it, Tommasini’s explanation clarifies why opera stars often sing in a different style than Broadway performers do, why operas and musicals tend to have their trademark subject matters, and why musical composition and orchestration differ between the two disciplines.

That said, we live in a hybrid-crazy world in which we can order Chinese-Indian food, purchase combination jeans/leggings, and, yes, watch a Broadway musical—like 2010's Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark—that’s billed as “rock opera.” At the end of the day, the lack of hard, fast lines between opera and musical theater can lead composers from both camps to borrow from the other, thus blurring the line even further.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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History
Lost Gustav Holst Music Found in a New Zealand Symphony Archive
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English composer Gustav Holst became famous for his epic seven-piece suite "The Planets," but not all of his works were larger-than-life. Take "Folk Songs from Somerset," a collection of folk tunes composed by Holst in 1906 and largely forgotten in the decades since. Now, more than a century later, the music is finally attracting attention. As Atlas Obscura reports, manuscripts of the songs were rediscovered among a lost collection of sheet music handwritten by the musician.

The Holst originals were uncovered from the archives of a New Zealand symphony during a routine cleaning a few years ago. While throwing away old photocopies and other junk, the music director and the librarian of the Bay of Plenty (BOP) Symphonia came across two pieces of music by Holst. The scores were penned in the composer’s handwriting and labeled with his former address. Realizing the potential importance of their discovery, they stored the documents in a safe place, but it wasn't until recently that they were able to verify that the manuscripts were authentic.

For more than a century, the Holst works were thought to be lost for good. "These manuscripts are a remarkable find, particularly the ‘Folk Songs from Somerset’ which don’t exist elsewhere in this form," Colin Matthews of London's Holst Foundation said in a statement from the symphony.

How, exactly, the documents ended up in New Zealand remains a mystery. The BOP Symphonia suspects that the sheets were brought there by Stanley Farnsworth, a flutist who performed with an early version of the symphony in the 1960s. “We have clues that suggest the scores were used by Farnsworth,” orchestra member Bronya Dean said, “but we have no idea how Farnsworth came to have them, or what his connection was with Holst.”

The symphony plans to mark the discovery with a live show, including what will likely be the first performance of "Folk Songs from Somerset" in 100 years. Beyond that, BOP is considering finding a place for the artifacts in Holst’s home in England.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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