Shea at last

The Beatles had started an European tour which had opened in Paris on June 20th. After that, the tour had taken the band to Lyon and Nice, France, and to Italy and Spain. The third Beatles’ US tour started on August 13rd when the band took off from Heathrow and landed at JFK. On that same day, the US version of Help! was released by Capitol. The US Tour would last until the end of the month and would lead the boys to New York, Atlanta, Houston, Chicago, Minneapolis, Portland, San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco. On the next day, August 14th, The Beatles went to the CBS studios for some rehearsals before taping performance for The Ed Sullivan Show in the evening.

The US tour really opened on August 15th with a concert organized by Sid Bernstein in New York at the Shea Stadium, home of the New York Mets baseball team. This was the first time in the history of music that a stadium was used for a rock concert ! Seen by 55,600 fans, it created a new world record for a pop concert in terms of attendance and gross revenue. The Beatles’ share of the $304,000 box-office takings was also a record – $160,000.

This concert had to be popularized through the media and no less than a dozen of cameramen staffs were ready to follow the Beatles’ travel from their hotel to the stadium. A planned spectacular entry into the stadium by helicopter, landing on the baseball playing area, was first decided by the authorities of New York.

Instead, the group travelled both by car and by helicopter to reach the stadium. The police feared that fans would jam the tunnels in and out of Manhattan so the group was first escorted by limousine to the Manhattan East River Heliport and from there they flew over New York City to the roof of the World’s Fair building in Queens. There they transferred from the helicopter to a Wells Fargo armoured van where they were each given a Wells Fargo agent badge.

As usual for those days, there was a full bill, and the 55,600 fans sat through the King Curtis Band, Cannibal and the Headhunters, Brenda Holloway, The Young Rascals and Sounds Incorporated before Ed Sullivan finally walked on stage to announce The Beatles:

“Now, ladies and gentlemen, honoured by their country, decorated by their Queen, loved here in America, here are The Beatles!”

Rushing out from the Wells Fargo van which had driven them into the stadium, The Beatles finally sprinted through a tunnel, out into a deafening wall of screams and onto the stage positioned at second base. The band did their standard 30-minute set of a dozen numbers and then, jumped straight back into the Wells Fargo van to escape the stadium. The set list was decided in the dressing room before the show and included twelve songs:

Twist And Shout

She’s A Woman

I Feel Fine

Dizzy Miss Lizzy

Ticket To Ride

Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby

Can’t Buy Me Love

Baby’s In Black

I Wanna Be Your Man

A Hard Day’s Night


I’m Down

What a show ! The intense excitement of this record-breaking concert, mixed with a high degree of fan hysteria, resulted in a fantastic and unbelievable atmosphere ! The two thousand policemen, in charge of the security in the stadium, were driven mad by the shouting and stirring crowd. Vox had made some new and big special amplifiers devoted to the Beatles’ tour. The usual power for such amplifiers was 30 W; now they were able to deliver a huge 100 W ! But that was still insufficient, the crowd screaming was stronger.

Fans were screaming all along the show and could hear almost nothing from the Beatles’ performance…and it didn’t matter, they wanted to see The Beatles, nothing more…

But this was a problem for the Fabulous Four who could neither hear what they played ! They had to look at each other to check whether they were still synchronised, unable to rely on Ringo’s beat or on anyone else playing.

This was particularly hard for Ringo who stood behind the three others and who couldn’t neither see them, nor hear them. When Paul started to perform I’m Down, John suddenly decided to react againt the crazy hysteria. He stopped playing seriously and went himself into a mad and funny performance, playing on the harmonium using his elbows – a la Jerry Lee Lewis. This funny sequence resulted in disturbing George who began to laugh and was soon unable to go on playing correctly, but who cared ?

In the audience that day were two girls who were desined to become future Beatle wives, Linda Eastman and Barbara Bach.

Together with the helicopter ride and backstage sequences, the show was filmed by Sullivan Productions (Ed Sullivan’s company) in association with NEMS Enterprises (Brian Epstein’s), and Subafilms Ltd (The Beatles’ film company), utilizing twelve cameras and edited together as a documentary film called The Beatles At Shea Stadium. Its world premiere occured on Tuesday 1 March 1966 (BBC1) and was first broadcast in the United States on ABC on January 10, 1967. Not all of the Beatles’ Shea set is in the film – She’s A Woman and Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby are both omitted – and what is included was subjected to audio sweetening back in London. Additionally, throughout the film, the Beatles are heard via voice-overs, recorded by the US broadcaster Larry Kane.

Just as it would be naive to believe that the sound on live-concert rock music albums is ever truly live and undoctored, so the same is true for live-concert films. In the case of the Beatles’ momentous 15 August 1965 Shea Stadium concert, the audio tapes specifically revealed not only musical flaws on the Beatles’ part but also technical imperfections caused by the sheer size of the venue, the high-decibel screaming and the less than state-of-the-art mobile recording equipment around in 1965. To have screened unaltered such a high-profile film on peak-time television would have done the group a disservice.

So it was that, amid some secrecy, the Beatles came to CTS Studios in central London on 5 January 1966, to “sweeten” the soundtrack, by whatever means necessary, of their in-production television film The Beatles At Shea Stadium.

The session began with Paul only, overdubbing new bass tracks onto Dizzy Miss Lizzy, Can’t Buy Me Love, Baby’s In Black and I’m Down. Onto this latter song John also overdubbed a new organ track. More drastic repair work was then effected by the group as a whole, with entirely new recordings completed for two songs: I Feel Fine (done at George Martin’s specific request) and Help! The Beatles strove to re-create a live-concert sound with these recordings rather than their more typical EMI studio feel, and they also had to match carefully their singing and playing with the on-screen images, hence the use of CTS, the premier audio-to-film dubbing studio in London. (CTS is an abbreviation for Cine Tele Sound.)

To fix Act Naturally the Beatles did nothing: the film’s post-production team merely replaced the Shea recording with the Beatles’ disc version (recorded 17 June 1965), syncing it to the picture by means of audience cutaways and even, in places, cuts in the music. (Intentionally or otherwise, one moment – where Ringo’s vocal is evident but his mouth is closed – was left in the film uncorrected.)

Documentation also suggests that John wished to record a new version of Ticket To Ride, and that it was done during this CTS session, but close study of the film indicates that the original Shea version was used (although perhaps a little instrumental overdubbing was effected).

Additionally, George Martin desired a new recording of Twist And Shout, but there wasn’t time to do this. Instead, the post-production team used the unreleased 30 August 1965 Hollywood Bowl concert recording to bolster the sound, causing – in one place – John’s live vocal to be double – tracked. In fact, the Bowl recording was used extensively during the film’s post-production processes for recordings of the screaming audience, especially on the two all-new London recordings.

No doctoring appears to have been done to either She’s A Woman or Everybody’s Trying To Be Baby, suggesting that, by this time, they had already been excluded from the film. They were, however, included in an early print which Epstein received from Sullivan Productions around 5 November 1965, which then ran to 54 minutes. By January, as it would be for the transmission, the film’s duration had been cut to just under 48 minutes.

After it’s premiere on the BBC1 in UK in 1966, it was shown a second and last time at Christmas 1979. That screening, along with screenings on other TV stations in other countries made it to the underground bootleg market and was widespread on video cassettes among Beatles video collectors in the 1980’s.

When DVD’s appeared, the earlier VHS and Betamax cassette versions started appearing on DVD records. In 2007, a 1967 ABC Master made it’s debut on a DVD from Darthdisc, making it the best DVD version available at that time. Still, the heavily edited clips from The official Beatles Anthology DVD’s and the clip of Dizzy Miss Lizzie shown on VH-1 to promote the Capitol Albums CD box showed that Apple has an even better transfer of the original film.

In 2006, a recording of the entire show sourced from the actual inline stadium public address system surfaced, and was sold via an internet auction by It’s Only Rock’n’Roll. The recording offers a fascinating minute by minute document of the complete concert, including opening sets from King Curtis, Cannibal and the Headhunters, Brenda Holloway and Sounds Incorporated. More importantly for fans, it offers the actual Beatles performance unaltered by overdubs and sweetening. By 2007, the recording was made available by bootleggers. Once the original sound was out among fans, people started making their own version of the Shea Stadium film, by replacing the original doctored sound with the actual sound of the concert. Several new DVD’s appeared on the market, allowing fans to see and hear what the concert was actually like. Currently, a DVD produced by the anonymous company “MC” can be found in overground DVD shops as well as on legitimate DVD shops on the internet. And Apple Corps is again losing out on what would have been a lucrative product.

Thanks to “Maccafan” for most of the text on this piece, and to Mark Lewisohn for the quotes about the “doctoring” of the sound.

Maccafan’s Shea Stadium site

The remastered Dizzy Miss Lizzie

A portion of Help! from the auctioned raw recording has muffled sound in the middle of the song, as evidenced here.

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