Image from Beatles in London
On the night of December 27, 1960—a chilly Tuesday evening—1,500 music fans jammed into the spacious Litherland Town Hall in Liverpool, England. Promotional posters promised fans a grand night of dancing and rock ‘n’ roll, thanks to the debut of “The Sensational Beatles (Direct from Hamburg).” Attendees that night, who logically assumed that the band came from Germany, would remark later how good the quartet’s English skills were whenever the group members chatted with the audience.
Actually, all four Beatles had grown up in Liverpool. For the previous five months, though, they had been playing long sets of American Top 40 hits in bars and dance clubs in the gritty Reeperbahn district of Hamburg. In doing so, they had morphed from a ragtag bunch of minimally talented musicians into a respectable “cover” band that had become popular as headliners.
Back at Litherland, as the Beatles waited behind a curtain drawn across the dance-hall stage, the emcee snapped the crowd to attention with, “And now, everybody, the band you’ve been waiting for! Direct from Hamburg—” But before the word “Beatles” could be uttered, a nervous Paul McCartney burst through the curtain, screaming his best high-octane Little Richard imitation:
I’m gonna tell Aunt Mary ‘bout Uncle John
He said he had the mis’ry but he got a lot of fun
According to numerous rock historians, “Beatlemania” was ushered in that night. Within two years, the Fab Four became UK stars, and by 1964 they ruled the international pop-music world.
How The Beatles Came to an End
Flash forward to August 29, 1966. The Beatles are scheduled to play a concert at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park. Fans headed to that performance don’t realize that this will be the final live show of the quartet’s career. (The foursome will keep the announcement to themselves until they return to England.)
Who could blame the band for their decision? Worldwide fame, it seemed, had robbed the musicians of everything enjoyable about performing before an audience. The group’s powerful Vox amps had become all but useless against the nightly scream-fest that rolled over the band like an oceanic tide. So pronounced was John Lennon’s malaise that he had begun calling the Beatles’ live act a “freak show.” Ringo Starr offered no argument. (“Nobody was listening at the shows.”) Even normally positive Paul McCartney confessed, “It wasn’t fun anymore.”
That night at Candlestick Park, the home of the San Francisco Giants baseball team, the Beatles performed on an elevated platform erected over second base and surrounded by a chain-link fence for their last live gig. The world’s leading rockers, amid chilly swirls of fog, performed their final concert in a cage.
Their show, as usual, ran half an hour, and the last song sung was “Long Tall Sally.”
For those who could hear him, it was said that Paul McCartney had never sounded better.