By Matt Dolloff (@mattdolloff)
Beatlemania first graced the City of Boston in September 1964, when The Beatles were riding their rise as a worldwide pop phenomenon. Two years later at Suffolk Downs, the situation was much different – but as an attraction, the Fab Four weren’t any less massive.
The Beatles played one of the most unusual live shows in their history on August 18, 1966, when they performed on a custom stage in the middle of Boston’s famed racetrack originally built for horses. The band had established themselves as cultural icons by that day, and had just begun to prove themselves as great artists with the release of Revolver just two weeks prior.
The show also came amid one of the band’s great controversies, John Lennon’s infamous “We’re bigger than Jesus” comments. The Beatles had their share of haters at the time in both the media and the general public, but the screams of their fans drowned out the noise.
The Suffolk Downs show was a relatively brief performance, but will always stand as one of the most distinctive venues that ever played host to the Fab Four. Here are 10 interesting things to know about this must-know performance for any Beatles fan.
The band wore matching green suits
Pop group The Beatles, waving to screaming fans en route to Boston airport, America, from left to right, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, John Lennon and Paul McCartney, on August 12, 1966. (Photo by Daily Express/Archive Photos/Getty Images)
The abundance of black-and-white photos of the Beatles in the ’60s doesn’t tell the whole story of the band’s distinctive look. You’d assume they always treated concerts like a black-tie affair from the photographic evidence, but they actually liked to have fun with their matching suits.
According to a reflective essay on the show at the Music Museum of New England, the band wore “matching iridescent green suits (with black velvet collars)” to the performance, adding a bit of visual flair to the sounds of classic songs and screaming fans. But the visuals didn’t really matter a lot at the show, because…
The stage was set 100 yards away from the fans
1966: Fans in New York waiting for the arrival of British pop group The Beatles. (Photo by Keystone Features/Getty Images)
Presumably unwilling to mess up the dirt on the actual racetrack at Suffolk Downs, organizers had the Beatles’ stage set up in the center of the racing area, which made it almost the length of a football field between the band and the fans.
The idea might have also been to prevent or discourage fans from charging the stage and trying to physically touch the band. That also ultimately didn’t matter, because…
One female fan managed to get through security to the stage
The Beatles had the fans hanging from the rafters for their appearance at Suffolk Downs in Boston Thursday night, August 19, 1966. Fans line a cross-beam to watch the British imports (top center). (AP Photo)
The one lucky fan who was able to (literally) grab a hold of George Harrison while the Beatles performed was just one person out of many who rushed the stage from the bleachers 100 yards away. She was the one fan security couldn’t intercept.
The Music Museum of New England’s essay tells the story beautifully:
“…halfway through the show a girl appeared behind the row of Vox “SuperBeatle” amplifiers at the back of the stage, and, making a bee-line for George Harrison, she wrapped her arms around him from behind and held onto the startled Beatle for dear life! Meanwhile, John, Paul and Ringo were laughing and cracking jokes (while the audience cheered and hooted) as members of the road crew had to pry this ecstatic fan from poor George. It was a wonderful moment.”
It’s unclear if the fainting girl in the above photo is the same one who jumped on the stage, but you can safely assume it is.
The most expensive ticket cost $5.75
Easily the best five bucks everyone in the crowd ever spent. Granted, $5 was a lot more money back in 1966 than it is now, but when looking at concerts in past decades it’s still one of the easiest details to laugh at – and one of the easiest things for people to regret if back in the day they said, “Nope – too expensive.”
The band got escorted to the stage via limousine
Members of the Beatles, from left, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, are seen in the back seat of a car after their arrival in Boston, Ma., Aug. 18, 1966. The British group will appear at Suffolk Downs horse track. John Lennon is hidden behind unidentified man in foreground. (AP Photo)
The fans got amped and danced about during the opening acts, but the deafening roars of the crowd didn’t happen until the Beatles took the stage. And in typical superstar fashion, they didn’t just walk up to the stage, they drove up – in a limousine, according to the Christian Science Monitor. As if nobody was going to know who was in there.
About 25,000 fans attended the show
1966: Police keep an eye on a crowd of Beatles fans gathered in the street opposite the hotel in New York where the group are staying, in the hope of a glimpse of their idols. (Photo by Three Lions/Getty Images)
The attendance number was almost twice the amount of fans who attended the band’s 1964 concert at the Boston Garden. It stands as one of the most-attended Beatles shows in their history. The non-traditional nature of the venue certainly helped the attendance figures, like Shea Stadium did in 1965.
Paul’s bass amp almost broke during the show
Paul McCartney, bassist and songwriter with The Beatles, performing against a lit backdrop. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
According to the book Beatles Gear, Paul McCartney had been performing with a bass without a pick guard for some time prior to the show, and then during the opening acts his bass amp almost broke.
Vern Miller, bassist for opening act The Remains, said: “We all ended up using the same equipment for that tour, and I think it was at Suffolk Downs where I blew an amp head. They had a Vox rep on the whole tour, and he managed to fix the amp in time for when the Beatles came on.”
Imagine that: the biggest band in the world, not only using faulty gear but sharing it! Can you picture an established band doing that today?
The set barely lasted half an hour
Reports on the duration of the Beatles’ set range from 20 to nearly 40 minutes, but they tend to agree that the 11-song set fell within the range of half an hour. They worked in the original hits like “Day Tripper”, “Paperback Writer” and “Yesterday”, but their set is also worth noting because…
They opened and closed the show with two cover songs – and played zero Revolver tracks
The Beatles – “Revolver” (Courtesy Apple Records)
This wasn’t the first (nor last) time the Beatles performed their covers of Chuck Berry’s “Rock and Roll Music” or Little Richard’s “Long Tall Sally”, but in the case of this show the two covers bookended the setlist.
But perhaps most notably, the Beatles didn’t play a single track from Revolver, which had been released earlier that month. Much of the set came from the band’s previous two releases, Yesterday and Today and Rubber Soul.
Opening acts included Motown legends The Ronettes
American pop trio The Ronettes, comprising Veronica Bennett (later Ronnie Spector), Nedra Talley and Estelle Bennett, UK, 21st October 1964. (Photo by Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
You’ll never hear the Ronettes on ZLX, because they were a pop trio that originated when rock & roll barely had an identity of its own. But they were a notable supporting act for the Beatles in the mid-’60s, because they were established stars and ended up being the only girl group to ever tour with the band.
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