Friday, October 28, 2011

As Bad As The Monkees

Being ensconced in EMI Studios throughout the first three months of 1967, the Beatles made few public appearances and gave few media interviews, apart from Paul's appearance in a Granada TV documentary.

An early clue to the new direction surfaced February 13th (in the US; February 17th in the UK) with the release of the single "Strawberry Fields Forever"/"Penny Lane". The recordings, together with the picture sleeve photo and psychedelic promotional films, represented a radical new sound and look for the Beatles.

Kenny Everett played an advance copy of the single on Radio London on February 4th, and fell instantly in love with "Strawberry Fields Forever". US teenagers were less convinced when viewing the promo clips on American Bandstand March 11th.

Capitol's promotional copies of the single sent to disc jockeys in the US and Canada used an early mix of "Penny Lane", highlighted by a seven-note piccolo trumpet coda. This version was commonly heard on the radio well after the single's release, as this March 26th aircheck on WFOM in Marietta, Georgia proves. During a trip to New York City in March, Brian Epstein explained to Murray the "K" that it was Paul's perfectionism which caused the last-minute switch.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The End Of Beatlemania?

The "studio years" phase of the Beatles' career began when they reassembled at EMI Abbey Road on November 24th, 1966. With no tour or film commitments booked, they were able to record at their leisure, utilising seven sessions over the next five weeks to perfect a single song, John's "Strawberry Fields Forever".

On November 25th at Dick James's London studio, they recorded their annual Christmas message for Beatles Fan Club members, this one more creative (and bizarre) than any previous:

Two pirate radio stations were also sent slightly saner Christmas greetings for 1966.

By December 20th, ITV News decided to send reporter John Edwards to Abbey Road to see just what the Beatles were up to. His interviews with each Beatle as they entered the studio were broadcast December 29th as part of Reporting '66: End of Beatlemania, a title which indicates his line of questioning to the now fuzzy-faced Fabs.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Misunderstanding All You See

Road-weary and shell-shocked after a harrowing summer of worldwide touring and controversy, the Beatles retreated to individual pursuits from September through November, 1966.

John Lennon flew to West Germany on September 5th, had his moptop cropped, and began filming How I Won The War under Richard Lester's familiar direction. John returned to London September 14th, the same day George and Pattie Harrison left for Bombay. They would spend the next five weeks in India, where George would receive sitar tutelage from Ravi Shankar.

On September 18th, John flew to Almeria, Spain, for a more extended location shoot for How I Won The War. While there, he composed "Strawberry Fields Forever", welcomed a visit from Ringo and Maureen Starkey, and gave a lengthy interview to Fred Robbins.

Paul McCartney busied himself composing music for the film The Family Way, arranging and recording the score with George Martin's assistance. He then took a sightseeing trip with Mal Evans to France and Spain, arriving a few days too late to meet up with John, whose part had wrapped on November 6th. Paul and Mal then spent a week on safari in Kenya, finally returning to London November 19th.

All of these separate activities caused rampant speculation in the press that the Beatles were on the verge of breaking up. Brian Epstein denied these rumors at every occasion - to Dieter Broer in September, during a German press conference for John's film, and again to Reuters on November 8th. But privately, Brian was terrified that the Beatles no longer needed him; after overdosing on pills, he checked himself into a clinic on September 27th to recuperate.

Meanwhile, John Lennon's life was about to take a sharp left turn, after his meeting with avant-garde artist Yoko Ono at the Indica Gallery on November 9th. His performance as a doorman on the Dudley Moore/Peter Cook TV sketch show Not Only... But Also, filmed November 27th, was the last public appearance of "Beatle John".

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

I'm Not A Beatle Anymore

The Beatles' concert career came shrieking to a halt in San Francisco just before 10pm on August 29th, 1966, as the group roared through "Long Tall Sally" one final time.

KYA radio plugged the performance, with no hint that it was anything other than "the last show of their biggest American tour". Nor did fans at Candlestick Park sense anything historic about the occasion. John, George, and Ringo gave no clues when speaking to WTRY's Lee Darling backstage.

But when they boarded a flight back to London on August 30th, George Harrison declared to nobody in particular, "Well, that's it. I'm no longer a Beatle". When they landed on the 31st, their only declaration was that it was time to rest, but the Beatles would never set off on tour again.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Ho Ho Ho

The Beatles flew to Seattle on August 25th, 1966, for two concerts at the Seattle Coliseum. Vancouver's CFUN radio kept fans abreast of the ticket sales and a rumor that Paul would be marrying Jane Asher that very day. A local TV reporter grabbed a few words from Ringo as he deplaned at Sea-Tac Airport.

Between concerts, Dusty Adams interviewed all four Fabs backstage, and a press conference (most likely the final ever held by the group on tour) occurred just prior to the second show. Rather than staying in Seattle, The Beatles flew back to Los Angeles immediately after the last concert.

Friday, October 21, 2011

When The Bubble Bursts

Kenny Everett switched on his tape recorder as the Beatles' flight from New York approached the Los Angeles airport in the pre-dawn hours of August 24th, 1966.

Rather than play in Los Angeles right away, the city (a rented private home in Beverly Hills) was used as a base for the final week of West Coast concerts. Their only task on the evening of the 24th was a press conference at the Capitol Records Tower, with more humorous moments than any previous 1966 conference. At the end, a reporter representing Dick Clark's ABC-TV show Where The Action Is tried to film exclusive interviews with George and Paul, but as you can hear, the result was unusable.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Nothing To Shea But It's OK

The Beatles' final concert in New York would be at Shea Stadium, but compared to the previous year's record-setting sellout, the 1966 performance was only about 80% full.

The group arrived at LaGuardia Airport on August 22nd, flying direct from St. Louis and landing around 3:50 in the morning. As they slept into the afternoon at the Warwick Hotel, an Associated Press reporter interviewed a devoted fan outside.

The Beatles eventually emerged for an early evening press conference, followed by a special "junior" press conference, with contest-winning fans asking the questions, which were both more interesting and more inane than those posed by the "real" journalists. They also spoke with "Cousin" Bruce Morrow live on WABC radio following the two conferences. That night, Brian Epstein appeared on NBC's Tonight Show, with guest host Hugh Downs filling in for Johnny Carson.

On the 23rd, George chatted with Kenny Everett prior to the concert at Shea. Covering the concert were a somewhat cynical Leonard Harris from WCBS-TV and an enterprising reporter for the Audio Journal company, who released an audio-verite souvenir LP called Beatles at Shea Stadium Described by Erupting Fans.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


Heavy downpours and a lack of protection over the stage cancelled The Beatles' scheduled concert in Cincinnati on August 20th, 1966, forcing them to "play" a doubleheader in two cities the following day.

They began in the afternoon with the rain check show at Crosley Field in Cincinnati, then flew to St. Louis for another rainy show (this time under a canopy) at Busch Stadium. Bess Coleman kept the fans up to date with on-the-spot reports from both Cincinnati and St. Louis.

St. Louis was disc jockey Ken Douglas's final stop on the tour; here are some of his undated Beatle interviews and a quick chat with Brian Epstein. The Beatles' next stop would be New York City, where WMCA-AM had been cranking up the hype machine as usual all week long.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Doped With Religion

From the time John Lennon's "more popular than Jesus" remarks made headlines, the backlash was largely concentrated in America's southern "bible belt".

England's ITV News sent reporter Richard Lindley to the US to assemble a package for the news program Reporting '66. He began in Birmingham, Alabama, interviewing local teenagers as well as disc jockey Tommy Charles. On August 19th, Lindley was present in Memphis to cover the Beatles' concerts at Mid-South Coliseum, where a cherry bomb tossed during the second house was the only real disruption.

Eventually, Tommy Charles decided WAQY had milked all the publicity it could from the tempest and decided to accept John's apology.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Cornflakes, Mini Minor, Blue, Blonde...

The Beatles' August 18th, 1966 concert at Suffolk Downs in Boston was highlighted by a fan jumping onstage during "Long Tall Sally", a moment captured by Kenny Everett.

Elsewhere, Jim Stagg got a few words from George as he deplaned at Logan Airport, and talked with Paul and George at the Somerset Hotel. Bess Coleman had lengthy chats with each Beatle at the hotel, and filed another brief tour report describing the previous day's Toronto concerts.

Friday, October 14, 2011

We're Not Allowed To Have Opinions

The Beatles' final performances in Canada were at Toronto's Maple Leaf Gardens on August 17th, 1966. The between-shows press conference here was one of the better not only of the '66 tour, but of their career, and fortunately a complete and excellent-quality recording exists.

To balance that out, here are two horrendous-sounding Toronto interviews conducted by Jim Stagg and Bess Coleman, along with another of Bess's tour updates.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

How To Crash

August 16th, 1966 saw the Beatles playing a single concert at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia. Prior to the show, in lieu of a press conference, the band members granted individual interviews to journalists.

Ken Douglas chatted with Paul about Paul's new home in London; Jerry Leighton and Bess Coleman talked to Ringo about the chaotic Cleveland concert; and Jim Stagg spoke with George about the perils of flying.

Bess Coleman also filed a report about the trip from Washington to Philadelphia.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

That's Why It's Terrible

The August 1966 tour carried on with concerts in Detroit on the 13th, Cleveland on the 14th, and Washington, DC on the 15th. In the latter city, George was interviewed by Kenny Everett about the gradual deterioration of the Beatles' live performances.

At some point during this first week of the tour, Ringo and Paul recorded spots for WMCA-AM in New York to promote an upcoming "junior press conference", exclusively for fans to ask questions of their heroes.

Elsewhere, Ken Douglas interviewed fellow disc jockey/tourmate Jim Stagg about his experiences on the last two US tours, and promoter Ira Sidelle about the logistics of a Beatles tour. And while I'm at it, here is a Larry Kane interview with Sidelle from the 1965 tour which I neglected to post earlier.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Weird Effects

The Beatles' final tour kicked off with a pair of concerts at the Chicago International Amphitheater on August 12th, 1966. Media coverage was understandably high at this show, with John's "apology" fresh in the news.

Local station WCFL broadcast live coverage from the venue, and WCFL disc jockey Jim Stagg teamed up with Bess Coleman to interview the Beatles between shows. Coleman was the band's American press officer, and would file reports for radio syndication as well as Teen Life magazine throughout the tour. Also chatting with the group between concerts was Ken Douglas, a British DJ working in Louisville, Kentucky.

Standing beside Douglas as he interviewed Paul was Kenny Everett, another British DJ who was covering the tour for the pirate station Radio London. Kenny spoke with fans in the audience, and filed this report on the first day's events. Not to be outdone, rival pirate station Radio Caroline had Jerry "Super" Leighton following the tour, and his secondhand reporting was used to compile a news bulletin on the Chicago date.

Friday, October 7, 2011

All This

August 11th, 1966 was John Lennon's day of reckoning. Even before the Beatles boarded their flight to America, a BBC-TV reporter at London Airport tried to gauge John's state of mind about what might lie ahead. As soon as John stepped off the plane at Chicago's O'Hare Airport, American journalists tried to get a scoop by shouting questions across the tarmac.

Upon arrival at the Astor Towers Hotel, John had only an hour or two to gather his thoughts (and shed some stressful tears) before his moment of reckoning. Tony Barrow had arranged to ease the group into the limelight by scheduling two press conferences; the first was for local newspapers and various DJs and reporters covering the whole tour, with no national media or moving picture cameras present. The full 17-minute audio recording captures John's repeated attempts to clarify or explain his remark, culminating in a halfhearted apology to Tommy Charles.

The second press conference was held in front of cameras from the major TV networks as well as newsreel film crews from around the globe. The more well-known soundbites originate from this conference, which doesn't seem to exist in a continuous state. Here is a 5-minute composite from several sources.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

They're Gonna Crucify Me

"Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn't argue about that; I'm right and I will be proved right. We're more popular than Jesus now. I don't know which will go first, rock 'n' roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It's them twisting it that ruins it for me."

This John Lennon quote, lying dormant in Maureen Cleave's March 4th, 1966 Evening Standard profile, sprang back to life in the first week of August, just in time to potentially derail the Beatles' North American tour.

The backlash was largely fomented by one radio station, WAQY in Birmingham, Alabama. WAQY's morning men, Tommy Charles and Doug Layton, leapt upon the opportunity to promote their show and station by boycotting Beatles music and organizing a bonfire in which teenagers could "burn their Beatle paraphernalia".

As the story took hold, particularly in the southeastern US, Maureen Cleave and others weighed in to defend John, but it was clear that some official response from the Beatles' camp would be needed. Brian Epstein flew to New York and held a press conference on the 6th, reading a prepared statement vetted by John.

Still, the American press were eager to hear an explanation, if not an outright apology, from Lennon himself. On August 10th, ITV News got a word or two out of Paul on a London street, but the world would have to wait until the following day, when the group flew to Chicago, to hear John face the music.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

When The Rain Comes

During their month off in July 1966, the Beatles tried to put the horrors of Manila behind them and recoup their energy for another American tour. George continued to practice the sitar, and visited his new in-laws. Paul appeared on BBC Radio with David Frost, and he and John sat down with Keith Fordyce to explore their songwriting partnership.

Meanwhile in the States, radio stations were ramping up the hype machine yet again for the impending tour. WTRY in Albany held a contest to send fans to Shea Stadium, and KBTR in Denver sponsored a trip to the St. Louis concert.

On July 29th, a John Lennon quote on the cover of Datebook magazine set off a series of events that had the potential to make Manila look like a polite misunderstanding.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Thrilla In Manila

On July 4th, 1966, The Beatles played to their largest-ever single day crowds (80,000 total) in two performances at Manila's Rizal Memorial Football Stadium. The accomplishment was quickly spoiled by events at the Presidential Palace:

"On July 3rd, the day prior to the show, The Manila Sunday Times reported that the Beatles were invited to join the President and Mrs. Marcos (with their 3 children) to their MalacaƱang Palace at 11am. The Beatles knew nothing of this appointment, hearing only of a request for a short "pop-in" at the palace at 4pm which they respectfully declined due to the fact that their first show started at 4pm! The Beatles claimed they never received the earlier 11am invitation.

Much to the Beatles' surprise, the palatial tyrants were extremely angered at the Beatles neglect and the morning after the concert, The Manila Times ran the headline "Imelda Stood Up!!". The ramifications were to become serious. Philippine promoter Ramon Ramos refused to pay the Beatles for their performance! Bomb and death threats were telephoned to the deluged British Embassy and to the boys hotel suite. Brian Epstein was so distressed with the situation he arranged for a press conference from the hotel to apologize for the misunderstanding. BUT... as fate would have it, some unforeseen static blipped out his interview from most all TV screens in the country! (more than a few thought it was probably more shenanigans by the Marcos clan).

Pulling more strings the next day when the Beatles were scheduled to depart the country, Misael Vera, Philippine Tax Authority, insisted the group could not leave the country until every penny of the taxes owed them was paid! Of course, they never got paid anything but Brian hurriedly forked over a bond out his own funds for P.74,450 (around $18,000) to settle the matter.

To make matters worse, all security detail assigned to the boys were withdrawn leaving them extremely vulnerable. They were literally kicked and jostled as they left their hotel and totally harassed all the way to the airport. Things were no better there where the airport manager has also removed all security for the Beatles. They went so far as to shut down the power to stop the escalators, forcing the boys to scale several flights of stairs with their own luggage, only to face an angry mob of 200 Filipinos brutally manhandling them! Ringo was literally floored by an uppercut and kicked on the ground. He suffered a sprained ankle as well and had to be helped to the customs area. Mal Evans and Brian Epstein were injured as well. Alf Bicknell suffered a cracked rib and a spinal injury.

When they finally approached the plane, a large booing crowd jeered and mocked them chanting "Beatles Alis Dayan!" (Go Home Beatles!) Once in the plane, some scraping government officials "decided" the Beatles were NOT authorized to leave the country due to inaccurate "check in" procedures days earlier... This led to another 40 minute wait on the tarmac while Mal & Tony Barrow went back to the terminal to clean up the necessary paperwork. Only minutes after the Beatles angrily departed, did the press run a statement by President Marcos stating "There was no intention on the part of the Beatles to slight the first lady or the government of the Republic Of The Philippines". Obviously a bit too late to do the Beatles any good."

Bewildered and extremely embittered, the Beatles cooled their jets in New Delhi for a couple of days before finally returning to London Airport early on July 8th. There, they explained their side of the imbroglio to ITV News reporter John Edwards and an interviewer for Reuters.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Nowhere Men

As noted in a previous blog post, the Beatles' June 26th, 1966 Hamburg press conference was a contentious affair, although the concerts and reunions with old friends went off well.

But the tour was fated to go from bad to worse to nightmare. Flying out of Hamburg on the afternoon of the 27th , the band were due to fly via London to Tokyo for a couple days of rest before their Budokan concerts. Mother Nature had other ideas, and a typhoon rerouted their flight to Anchorage, Alaska for an unscheduled overnight stay.

They finally arrived in Tokyo around 3:30 am on the 30th. Their plane-weary and jet lagged bodies grabbed some sleep in their Hilton Hotel suite before emerging for a TV interview mid-afternoon. This was followed by a press conference which dragged on for twice as long as usual due to the lengthy translation (and re-translation) process.

The Beatles' three-night stand at the Budokan had drawn protests from traditionalists offended at the use of a martial arts arena for a Western rock spectacle. The first two shows were videotaped for Japanese TV, preserving for eternity the dreadful state of their sloppy and unenthusiastic performing efforts:

All things considered, the Beatles were probably glad to put Japan behind them and head to Manila, the last stop on the tour... Whoops!