49 Years Ago This Week: BEATLE BOB REMEMBERS: The Beatles At BuschWritten by Beatle Bob
I grew up in a predominately Catholic working class neighborhood where everyone’s dad provided the family with the fruits of hard manual labor. In the case of myself and my younger sister, our mom worked a 40-hour plus shift to support our household. And my sister and I both shouted for glee when our mom said she was going to buy all three of us tickets to see The Beatles at Busch Stadium!!!
Tickets went for $4.50, $5.00 and $5.50 and, somewhat surprisingly, didn’t sell as quickly as anticipated. In fact, the promoter was forced to take out a print advertisement in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch daily newspaper, which stated in very bold print: SEATS AVAILABLE NOW. The ’66 tour’s lukewarm ticket sales weren’t limited to St. Louis. Most of the 14 dates on the tour had slower than expected ticket sales no doubt due to Jesus vs. The Beatles smackdown that exploded during the first week of August of that year.
On August 4, 1966, a United Press International wire story ran in the St. Louis Globe-Democrat with the headline: “Beatles Manager Rushes to U.S. To Quell Furor.” Indeed, Brian Epstein did cut short his European vacation to try and ramp down the press frenzy that was severely damaging the Beatles brand. The frenzy was triggered by an off-hand remark from John Lennon to a journalist. What Lennon said was, “The Beatles are more popular than Jesus.” He would later explain that what he meant was that in England, and certain parts of Europe, organized religion was waning. This was also true in America, it was true in St. Louis, and it was true in the life of some of my friends. And this would not be the first time that they had to choose between the Beatles and God.
Still, the controversy raged, especially in the Bible Belt where they staged massive bonfires fueled by Beatles records and memorabilia. St. Louis promoter KXOK DJ Nick Charles knew he had a potential catastrophe on his hand. When the Beatles played in Washington D.C., The Ku Klux Klan picketed the venue in their white robes and hoods. In Pennsylvania, four state senators introduced a measure in Harrisburg urging a boycott of the Philadelphia concert. A lot of the U.S.A. press only fanned the flame so often reminding their readers about the noise levels generated by the screaming fans when The Beatles during their first two tours of the States. However, many journalists suggested that on this visit, that most of the noise this time is by protesters of all ages who would like The Beatles not to be heard at all, even on the radio. Stories in the St. Louis media tried to placate the populace and assure them that St. Louis was prepared for any and all eventualities. One story was headlined: IT LOOKS LIKE A BATTLEFIELD: STADIUM BRACES FOR BEATLES.
Click on the link below to view St. Louis' KSD-TV Channel 5 (local NBC affilaite) newsman Chris Condon interviewing St. Louis Beatle fans inside Busch Stadium before the concert. Also a few second of clips of The Beatles departing their plane at Lambert – St. Louis International Airport and of The Fab Four arriving to screaming fans at Busch Stadium. The 3:33 segment ends with Condon interviewing teenage girls in downtown St. Louis about their opinions of John Lennon's controversial Jesus Christ comment.
The concert was billed as “An All Star Show” which it truly was. Opening the show was The Remains, those knights errant of Boston's Back Bay, a frenetic, wonderful garage punk that could really pound tunes out in a professional manner. Bobby Hebb was next. He was an R&B singer from Nashville, who had a huge hit single on the pop charts that summer called “Sunny.” The sound was wonderful and Bobby Hebb was a perfect choice to be on this tour.
Next up was The Cyrkle. They were an American band from nearby Easton, PA, who were managed by Brian Epstein. It was John Lennon who came up with their name. They also had a big hit single with “Red Rubber Ball,” written by Paul Simon of Simon & Garfunkel fame. The Ronettes took the stage last, because the drizzling rain was starting to come down a bit more frequently. Until the emergence of The Supremes, they were the biggest and best all-female pop group. Unfortunately,. Phil Spector became so enraged when the Ronettes' lead singer (and his wife) Ronnie Spector expressed a desire to accompany Estelle and Nedra on the tour that Ronnie was forced to remain in California with him while the girls' cousin Elaine, who had previously been in the group, filled her slot on the tour, while Nedra assumed the lead vocals on stage.They sang all of their Phil Specter-produced hits including “Walking in the Rain.” But their set was designed to build up to their performance of what was arguably the greatest single of the 1960s, “Be My Baby.”
The second gem of the night was “Nowhere Man,” one of my favorite Beatles singles of all time. Not only were the warm and layered harmonies spot on, but he highlight of the song (and for me, the entire show) was George Harrison’s guitar solo. “Paperback Writer” was the next to last song and truly great and then The Beatles closed the show with “I’m Down” which was the B-side to the “Help” single. McCartney was in great screaming mode, and Lennon was hilarious as he sat in front of an electric piano, playing with both his hands and his elbows which he ran up and down the keyboard. Ol’ Johnny was having a blast and it was delight to see him smiling non-stop considering the stress he was under in the wake of the mountainous ‘bigger than Jesus’ molehill.
The reviews in both of the St. Louis daily papers were pretty much a crowd story with both reviewers backhandedly giving the show a nod.
As history now informs us, The Beatles knew all along that these two weeks of shows in the States were going to be their last as a live act. The security issues created by their last visit to Japan and the Philippines, and the death threats they received in America — not to mention the night after night of being completely drowned out by the din of screeching teenage girls — conspired to bring that aspect of their musical lives to a close. Little did St. Louisians know that what we witnessed that evening in downtown St. Louis was one of the final live shows the greatest pop group of all time would ever play.
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