The Beatles were coming to the end of what was to be their last tour. The date was August 29th, 1966. And if any date ever earned the title "the end of an era," this truly was it.
At 5:27 pm, the Beatles plane arrived in San Francisco. The Fab Four had a clear destination and a mission to fulfill.
After playing over 1,400 gigs together, John, Paul, George, and Ringo all knew that they were going to play their final concert that night. (Note of clarification: John, Paul and George had played over 1,400 gigs together, since 1958. Ringo, not having joined the group until 1962, played fewer.)
The 1966 tour hadn't been easy on the boys. They'd been physically assaulted in the Philippines by mobs of angry citizens after their unintentional "snubbing" of presidential spouse Imelda Marcos, faced outrage in Tokyo by playing rock 'n' roll music at the consecrated Budokan, and there were still harsh reverberations stemming from John Lennon's "We're more popular than Jesus" comment, which had shook up and infuriated much of the western world.
Another by-product of the Beatles concerts was the sad fact that the boys were worsening as musicians. The screaming fans' deafening shouts had all but completely obscured any actual music being either heard or played. John would often deliberately change a song's lyrics, just for sport ("I want to hold your gland," etc.). Poor Ringo Starr couldn't hear what was being played and had to watch his bandmates rear ends swinging back and forth to get the beat of the song.
Incredibly, as we look back from the perspective of 2017, the Beatles concerts weren't even necessarily selling out anymore. Indeed, earlier that week, the boys' concert at Shea Stadium had 10,000 empty seats. And the stress was really getting to the world-weary quartet by now.
Another planned concert, a few days previous, in Cincinnati, had to be canceled because of downpouring rain. The angry 35,000 fans who showed up desperately wanted the Beatles to go on, not at all concerned about the safety issues of the band performing in an open air stadium in the midst of a teeming flood. "We want the Beatles!" came the chants.
But the weather was the final victor that night and the concert had to be postponed. "The only gig we ever missed," recalled a proud George Harrison of the Cincy date. The pressure won out too, even over the normally calm and cool Paul McCartney, who threw up backstage from the anxiety. The concert was rescheduled the next day.
The boys' penultimate gig was at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on August 28th.
After deplaning in Frisco on the 29th, the Beatles and their supporting acts took the bus directly to Candlestick Park, only to find the gates bolted shut. Everyone on the bus laughed hysterically at their predicament. Being tailed by cars of Beatlemaniacs, the bus sped off into the residential sections of San Francisco to dodge their pursuers, almost getting lost in the process.
The Beatle bus later returned to Candlestick and the Fab Four dutifully donned their identical stage outfits for the evening- dark green Edwardian suits with silk floral shirts.
The opening acts appeared, one after the other, facing the inevitable chants of "bring on the Beatles" and similar, which every Beatles supporting act had been forced to confront for the past four years. Each act dutifully did their bit- first, the Remains, then Bobby Hebb (singing his current hit record "Sunny"), the Cyrkle (singing "Red Rubber Ball") and last, the Ronettes.
Finally, at 9:27 pm, the Beatles trotted out. Singer Joan Baez was in attendance that night, recalled, "It was as if the clouds had burst." But something new had been added. The Beatles, knowing this was all she wrote, all carried cameras, and each Beatle walked to the stage snapping photos of the crowd and each other.
The Beatles' makeshift "stage" had been created over Candlestick's second base. They stood on a five foot high platform, surrounded by an iron cage-like barrier six feet tall. A 200-man police guard accompanied the lads, and an armored truck drove out with the group, in case of an unplanned, early-but-necessary exit.
The historic playlist that night consisted of 11 songs:
1) "Rock 'n' Roll Music"
2) "She's a Woman"
3) "If I Needed Someone"
4) "Day Tripper"
5) "Baby's in Black"
6) "I Feel Fine"
8) "I Wanna Be Your Man"
9) "Nowhere Man"
10) "Paperback Writer".
11) "Long Tall Sally"
In 35 minutes, it was all over.
At one point during the concert, the Beatles all stopped and turned their backs to the crowd, and Ringo came down off his drums. A camera was perched on one of the amps, the timer was set, and the Beatles smiled for the camera, recording that moment of history.
Incredibly, in a stadium that sat 42,500, the crowd was just 25,000. Tickets ranged between $4.50 and $6.50. The Beatles fee that night was around $90,000 (65% of the gross). The city of San Francisco collected another 15%. The show's promoter was a local San Francisco business group, who lost money, owing to the facts of the less than expected attendance and unexpected expenses.
Before the concert, Paul had asked Beatles press officer Tony Barrow to tape the concert for posterity. The tape was made, but it cut off before the Beatles had completed their set (the primitive cassette recorders of the time only recorded 30 minutes per side).
After the concert was over, as John walked offstage, he reputedly wistfully played a few notes from the Beatles song "In My Life." The Beatles entered the nearby armored car and were whisked away.
Although no one in the crowd knew or even suspected this was to be the Beatles' final concert, the four cramped armored car passengers did. The Beatles boarded their plane at San Francisco airport, all weary but relieved. As the plane lifted off, George turned around in his seat and said, "Well, that's it. I guess i'm no longer a Beatle."