Shea Stadium, Queens, NY

The Beatles' record-breaking appearance at a multi-purpose sports arena in one of the most densly populated boroughs of New York was to kick-start a revolution known as stadium rock. Steve Sutherland brings you the tale of Shea Stadium in Queens

Overpaid, oversexed and over here' – that's the phrase we Brits coined to describe the American servicemen who were fortunate enough to be stationed in the British Isles during World War II.

Attractively affluent compared to us ration-starved natives, the Yanks made a fuss of the ladies and one of their lucky number, young New Yorker Sid Bernstein, is where our story begins. Not that we're here to recollect Sid's amorous escapades but rather to recognise the undervalued part he played in the history of rock 'n' roll.

Pop Sensation
Back in the Apple after Armistice, Sid began a career in show business, acting as manager to Puerto Rican mambo ace Esy Morales and booking agent for Dion and Chubby Checker. Sid also kept his options open, taking a Social Studies course on the side which urged him into regularly reading the English newspapers. And it was here that Sid, already an enthusiastic Anglophile, began to encounter frothy write-ups of this new pop sensation, The Beatles.

The more Sid read the rabid prose, the more he became convinced that the Fab Four would do the business Stateside so he grasped the nettle, picked up the phone and called Brian Epstein at his home in Liverpool. The Beatles' manager was not convinced his band would appeal across the Atlantic and was worried about ticket sales, but Sid dangled a date at the prestigious Carnegie Hall and when Epstein took the bait, set about borrowing the dosh to make the gig happen.

Sandwiched between the famous Ed Sullivan TV Show appearances in February 1964, Sid's gig sold out so rapidly that, when he overheard the box office manager joke that he should have booked 30 appearances instead of the measly two-in-one-night, he immediately tried to talk Epstein into booking the boys into Madison Square Garden. Eppy demurred. And this is really where Sid made his move into greatness. Undeterred by Epstein's caution, Sid made a counter-offer of outrageous and game-changing magnitude.

Sid proposed that he book the band into Shea Stadium, a multi-purpose sports arena in outlying Flushing Meadows with the capacity to entertain over 50,000 fans in one go. Shea – officially the William A Shea Stadium – had opened on the 17th of April 1964 as the home of the New York Mets baseball team, the arena named after the lawyer who, on seeing the Brooklyn Dodgers quit the city for Los Angeles and the Giants leave for San Francisco, formed the Continental League and had the venue built.

Brutal Winters
Home also to the New York Jets football team, Shea had taken 29 months and $28.5 million to construct and had actually opened two years behind schedule due to a couple of brutal winters and 17 different labour strikes interrupting the build, but by the time Sid had his epiphany, it was ready to rock.


Again Epstein stalled so Sid did his calculations, decided to price his tickets between $4.50 and $5.65 and offered the nervous manager $10 for every unsold seat. Epstein shook on it and within two weeks all 55,600 tickets had been shifted, grossing $304,000, up to that point the biggest box office in the history of show business.

The gig took place on Sunday the 15th of August 1965, the band being flown in by helicopter onto the adjacent rooftop Port Authority Heliport, then transferred to a Wells Fargo armoured truck to deliver them to the stadium crammed with hysterical screamagers.

A couple of thousand security guards did their utmost to keep the crowd in the stands and away from the tiny stage built on second base. Vox had especially designed a phalanx of 100W amps for the occasion, but they just weren't loud enough to transmit the sound around the stadium so it was decided to use the house PA instead.


Support acts Killer Joe Piro & The Discoteque Dancers, Cannibal & The Headhunters, Brenda Holloway, King Curtis and Sounds Incorporated did their utmost to keep the hysteria at bay until Ed Sullivan took the mic to introduce the headliners: 'Now ladies and gentlemen, honoured by their country, decorated by their queen, loved here in America, here are The Beatles!'

Cue pandemonium. The band couldn't hear themselves above the mass shrieking and played a pretty shoddy but extremely exciting half-hour set which kicked off with 'Twist & Shout' and climaxed 11 songs later with 'I'm Down', John Lennon playing organ on stage for the first time and hamming it up à la Jerry Lee Lewis.