It was 54 years ago Saturday night (August 29th, 1966), that the Beatles performed their last official concert in San Francisco at Candlestick Park. The tour, which had already hit Germany, Japan and the Philippines, was dogged by controversy — protests greeted the group in Tokyo prior to their performance at the Budokan Arena, which until then had been reserved strictly for the martial arts. And in the Philippines, the group fled the country after being accused of snubbing the infamous President and First Lady Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos, after they politely declined to attend an official state luncheon.
By the time the group landed in the U.S. to kick off the tour on August 12th, a furor was brewing over John Lennon's remarks about religion made months before in a British interview, which had been reprinted out of context in a teen magazine, saying: “Christianity will go, it will vanish and shrink. . . Jesus was alright, but his disciples were thick and ordinary. . . We're more popular than Jesus now.” Lennon's statements, which were ignored in Britain, ignited protests, including record burnings all over the “bible belt” and southern U.S. states.
The Beatles held a press conference on August 11th in Chicago, the night before they were due to perform, with Lennon trying to explain exactly what he meant in the interview. In lieu of an actual apology this quelled the Beatle bonfires, but the controversy cast a shadow over the tour, which proved to be lackluster — both in the Beatles' performances and ticket sales.
Beatlefan magazine's executive editor Al Sussman says that it was clear that by the summer of '66 that “Beatlemania” was on the wane: “There were rumors at the time that the tour might be canceled. And indeed a number of the shows including Shea Stadium were not sellouts, and that upper deck was pretty empty.”
George Harrison recalled the early buzz the group got before Beatlemania became dark and all consuming: “By the time we first came to America, it was just a novelty. Just to be natural, and cute, and everybody seemed to like us, y'know? It was easy. All we did was be four cheeky lads and they loved it. And at that time, it was fun. Y'know, traveling, everybody giving us attention and the records all selling — it was wonderful. But then it just became too much.”
On August 29th, 1966 at 8 p.m. the Beatles took the stage on the second base line at Candlestick Park, and ran through their 33-minute show, performing 11 songs: Chuck Berry's “Rock And Roll Music,” “She's A Woman,” “If I Needed Someone,” “Day Tripper,” “Baby's In Black,” “I Feel Fine,” “Yesterday,” “I Wanna Be Your Man,” “Nowhere Man,” “Paperback Writer,” and Little Richard's “Long Tall Sally.”
Al Sussman explained that despite the fact that the Beatles had released their latest album Revolver just in time for the tour — as unthinkable as it may seem by today's standards — the group didn't feature even one of the songs in the tour's setlist: “Y'know, the fact that in '66 they toured, what — the tour began the week after Revolver came out, and it wasn't as if they were touring behind the album, because they didn't do anything from it. Y'know, because they basically really couldn't.”
Paul McCartney, knowing that the show was to be the Beatles' last, captured the 33-minute show on a portable tape recorder, the tape from which has eventually made the rounds of bootleg collectors. Rather than end with “I'm Down,” which was their usual set-closer for the tour, McCartney surprised the rest of the group by launching into their original set closer, “Long Tall Sally,” as a nod to the music that originally inspired them.
Afterward, George Harrison broke into a few notes of “In My Life” from the group's 1965 Rubber Soul album. The group then turned their backs on the 25,000 screaming fans and posed for a camera set on an automatic timer, to symbolically cap off their performing career. They were then whisked out of the stadium by armored van.
Both Beatles scholars and casual fans are raving about the massive two volume deluxe compendium, titled, Some Fun Tonight!: The Backstage Story Of How The Beatles Rocked America: The Historic Tours Of 1964 – 1966, Volumes One & Two by Chuck Gunderson.
Although the Beatles' '66 tour has been perceived as the group's least successful due to the backlash against Lennon's “Bigger Than Jesus” statement and some patchy attendance at various venues, Gunderson explains that had the public known that it was the Beatles last go 'round as a performing band — the stadiums would've been packed as in the prior two tours: “Barry Tashian, who, y’know, was one of the support acts — the lead singer of the Remains — made an interesting point and that was, he said, ‘Y’know, a lot of people they’d seen the Beatles’ — especially these major cities where they’d come every year, y’know, L.A., New York, Chicago, Toronto’ — he said, ‘Y’know, people saw ‘em in ’64 and ’65 and here they are coming back in ’66,’ well, a lot of people he heard say: ‘Y’know, here they are again — we can’t catch ‘em this time, we’ll catch them next year' — y'know in ’67. Well, ’67 never happened. It was over.”
Al Sussman says that in hindsight it was obvious that the tour would be their last: “They knew. That's why they recorded the last show. Because it had gotten so awful. . . They were really looking toward it as the last tour anyway, but especially after the Christ thing they said, 'We're done.'”
McCartney remembered that it was after the band's August 21st, 1966 rain-drenched gig at St. Louis' Busch Memorial Stadium that he finally decided — like his bandmates — that he was done with the road: “We'd all use to run in the back of these vans they'd hired. And this was, like, a silver-lined van — chromium — nothing in it, like a furniture van with nothing in it, just chrome. And we were all piled into this after a really miserable gig and I said, 'Right. That's it!'”
Heart's Ann and Nancy Wilson caught the Beatles' third-to-last show on the tour on August 25th, 1966 at the Seattle Coliseum. Nancy Wilson set the scene for what went down at the concert: “Yeah, we got to (laughs) see them. We could actually hear them slightly above the screaming, and it was kinda cool — the parts we could hear. We were in a band at the time with uniforms that matched the Beatles' uniforms (laughs) that we wore to the Beatle show! We were slightly neurotic. And we weren't screaming; we were absorbing.”
John Lennon recalled that in light of the troubled tour, leaving the road behind was hardly a tough choice to make: “After the Beatles' last tour — the one where the Klu Klux Klan were burning Beatles records and I was held up as being a Satanist, or something; then we decided 'no more touring. That's enough of that.' I'm not going to put up with it.”
Lennon revealed years later that it was during the filming of How I Won The War that he first considered leaving the Beatles: “I was really too scared to walk away. I was thinking, 'Well, this is like the end, really.' There's no more touring. That means there's going to be a blank space in the future at some time, or another. That's when I really started considering life without the Beatles. 'What would it be?' And I spent that six weeks thinking about that. 'What am I gonna do? Am I gonna be doing Vegas?' — (which is what) I call it now, but cabaret? I mean, where do you go? So, that's when I started thinking about it. But I could not think what it could be, or how I could do it. I didn't consider forming my own group, or anything, because it didn't even enter my mind — just, 'What would I do when it stopped?'”
Apple Records staffer Chris O'Dell — who was immortalized in the 1973 George Harrison song “Miss O'Dell” — was asked about how she viewed the group's inter-personal relationships: “I don't think that I thought of them necessarily as bandmates. I thought of them as good friends who were very, very, strongly united. Y'know, I had long discussions with George, and he and I had long talks about what it was like in the early days. And though there were all those problems underneath — I mean, he said, 'No one will ever know but the other three what it was really like' — y'know, as he would describe the Hamburg days and everything. And in a way that bond was a tie that nobody could really ever get into.”
George Harrison talked about the final concert in The Beatles Anthology, saying, “We'd done about 1,400 live shows and I certainly felt that was it. I was thinking, 'This is going to be such a relief — not having to go through that madness anymore'. . . It was a unanimous decision.”
Although the Beatles performed in public one more time, with keyboardist Billy Preston on January 30th, 1969 on the London rooftop of their Apple headquarters, during the finale of their Let It Be movie, the group's Candlestick Park performance was their last officially advertised and ticketed concert.
Upon returning to London on August 31st, 1966, the Beatles all went their separate ways, with John Lennon heading to Spain to star in the film How I Won The War, and George Harrison going to India to study the sitar. McCartney and Ringo Starr stayed based in London for the first month or so, with McCartney composing the score for the movie The Family Way and Starr tending to his growing family.
During the Beatles' group hiatus, McCartney slicked his hair back and grew a mustache so that he could drive through Europe anonymously. He eventually met up with Lennon and manager Brian Epstein in Paris. He also realized a life-long dream by going on Safari in Africa. Starr traveled to Almeria, Spain for a long visit with Lennon on the set of How I Won The War.
On November 24th, 1966 all four Beatles regrouped at Abbey Road Studios to begin recording “Strawberry Fields Forever,” which was the first track recorded for the album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, even though it was removed from the project early on and released as a single.
On December 20th, 1966 Paul McCartney chatted with a reporter outside Abbey Road Studios on his way to a recording session for “When I'm Sixty-Four” and explained why the Beatles were staying off the road: (Interviewer): “If you never toured again, would it worry you? (Paul McCartney): “Uh, I don't know. No, I don't think so.” (Interviewer): “It wouldn't worry you.” (McCartney): “Because the only thing about that, you see, is that performance, for us. . . see, it's, it's gone downhill, performance. 'Cause we can't develop when no one can hear us, y'know what I mean? So, for us to perform is difficult. It gets difficult each time.” (Interviewer): “You mean, they don't listen to you, therefore you don't want to do that?” (McCartney): “Oh yeah, we wanna do it, but, uh, if we're not listened to and we can't even hear ourselves, then we can't improve on that. We can't get any better. So, we're trying to get better with things, like, recording.”
On August 14th, 2014 Paul McCartney returned to Candlestick Park to play the stadium's final concert before the structure was leveled. In commemoration of the “Fab Four's” final gig, he snuck in a cover of Little Richard's “Long Tall Sally” into the setlist, tipping his hat to the last song the Beatles played at the venue back in 1966.
The story of Beatles' 1966 tour and final Candlestick Park concert is featured in Ron Howard's 2016 award winning documentary, The Beatles: Eight Days A Week – The Touring Years.