By Randal C. Hill
On the chilly, foggy Tuesday of Dec. 27, 1960, several hundred British teenagers sardined into the spacious Litherland Town Hall in north Liverpool. Promotional posters had promised a grand night of rock ‘n’ roll and dancing to three local outfits and included the “debut” of the Beatles (billed as being ‘Direct from Hamburg’).”
Concertgoers that night, who assumed the quartet came from Germany, would remark later how good the band’s English skills were when the musicians chatted with the audience between songs.
Actually, all four Beatles had grown up in Liverpool. For the previous several months, though, they had been honing their musical chops by playing long sets of American Top 40 hits in smoke-filled dives in Hamburg’s gritty Reeperbahm district. In doing so, they had morphed from a ragtag bunch of minimally talented music cats into a respectable “cover” band that drew increasingly larger crowds each week.
That night 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 he could utter the word “Beatles,” an adrenaline-fueled Paul McCartney burst through the curtain to begin shrieking his favorite Little Richard hit:
“I’m gonna tell Aunt Mary ‘bout Uncle John
“He said he had the mis’ry but he got a lot of fun.”
“Long Tall Sally” instantly stopped the dancing as the crowd rushed to the stage to revel in the Beatles’ half-hour set as the black-leather-jacket-clad young artists staked their claim to music history.
“Beatlemania” was ushered in that night.
Within two years, the Fab Four became UK stars. Their fame spread throughout Europe in 1963, and by 1964 they ruled the international world of pop music.
Flash to Aug. 29, 1966. The Beatles are scheduled to play a concert at San Francisco’s vast Candlestick Park stadium, the home of the San Francisco Giants baseball team. Fans at that performance don’t realize this will be the final live show of the quartet’s stellar career; the announcement will be kept secret until the band members return home to England.
Who could blame the Beatles for their decision? Worldwide fame had robbed them of everything enjoyable about performing before an audience. The quartet’s powerful Vox amplifiers had become all but ineffective against the screamfest that rolled over the band like a tsunamic tide during each show.
So pronounced was John Lennon’s malaise that he began calling the Beatles’ live act a “freak show.” Ringo Starr was equally negative. (“Nobody was listening at the shows.”) Even normally positive Paul McCartney confessed, “It wasn’t fun anymore.”
That night at Candlestick Park, the Beatles played on an elevated platform erected over second base and were surrounded by a chain-link fence. Essentially, the world’s leading rockers, amid chilly swirls of fog, performed their final concert in a cage.
Their show ran 32 minutes and included 11 tunes, the last featuring Paul McCartney doing “Long Tall Sally.”