Last Sunday night would have marked the anniversary of the last appearance that The Beatles made on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” While I can remember almost every detail of their first visit, I can’t remember very much about the last one.
Historically, The Beatles put together an unprecedented number of “firsts.” Many of which may never be duplicated again: The first appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” the activity on the record charts in April 1964, the audience for the first performance of “All You Need Is Love,” and so on.
In August 1965, Beatlemania still hadn’t run out of steam, particularly in New York City. In an unprecedented arrangement, promoter Sid Bernstein along with Beatles manager Brian Epstein put together a deal to play the large arena, Shea Stadium, that was primarily used for sporting events. Both the baseball Mets and the football Jets callrf the stadium their home. Although state of the art for sports, it was lacking in sound quality for a musical mega event. That would turn out to be the major problem in producing a post concert product worth watching.
Everyone knew the Shea appearance would be an epoch event for the band and ir was treated as such. A film crew followed The Beatles for several days before and after the show to document the whole experience. The film used for recording was 35mm which from a sound engineering perspective let alone the visual quality was preferred by audiophiles particularly among classical artists. The film was wider than audio tape and therefore would produce a sharper sound since more of it would be magnetized.
Although there was plenty of apprehension in The Beatles camp, especially whether they would be able to fill the stadium with paying customers, both Bernstein and Epstein had taken risks the previous year when they put group at Carnegie Hall, a primarily classical venue. When that became a non issue once tickets moved rapidly, all that remained was how big of an impact the concert would have.
The were several bands to warm up the crowd including The Young Rascals and King Curtis. The Beatles ran out to their midfield stage wearing identical brown suits with star badges, (Yeah, whatever.) and played a 12 song set that lasted 37 minutes. But once the concert was over, the effect for post marketing lasted for a couple of years.
Even with all of the preparation for the event, the sound quality produced on the tapes was atrocious. George Harrison’s vocals were missing. Paul McCartney’s bass parts disappeared. John Lennon went “crazy” on the organ for “I’m Down.” So The Beatles tried to salvage the historical record by going clandestinely into CTS Studios in London in January of 1966 to rerecord parts of songs and sometimes redoing whole songs. This, by the way, is something that happens on most “live” recordings up to the present.
Live sound is a compromise. It is more important to have the sound better for the listening audience at the event versus making a recording to be used later. The Beatles also had in reserve, pretty good sound quality tapes of their Hollywood Bowl performances. Some of these were substituted for the bad quality versions of the Shea stadium performance. So basically, the finished product for the show had only a small percentage of actual source material.
The show was turned down by CBS even though Ed Sullivan, one of their stars, introduced them at Shea. Rumor is, they wanted to show it raw minu the overdubs. NBC also passed. ABC, the lowest rated of the three networks at the time landed the special, but didn’t show it until January 1967.
The question that always comes up is whether The Shea Stadium concert will be released for public consumption. Since some of the material is from The Hollywood Bowl performances, the idea is that it’s not a true depiction of the show.
Don’t care! Don’t care! Don’t care!
Last I checked, there aren’t any Hollywood Bowl DVDs so let’s get off this point. There’s supposed to be mono and stereo mixes of the show, just like much of The Beatles’ catalogue, that sound completely different. That’s fine. Put it all together including the raw version and release it all as a set!
Somebody has to be first and just like much of their history, The Beatles were their to raise the bar. Yes, other bands have had concerts that have had more attendees than the 55, 600 at Shea Stadium. But at the time, it was unsure that enough people would go to a show that huge. Just watch the mayhem and screaming at the show, let alone the music. This show needs to be released and it’s just as important now as it was “Fifty Years Ago