Monday, August 29, 2011

The Beatles' Last Dance

It probably goes without saying that 1966 was a hectic year for the Beatles.

There was a controversy that summer when a compilation album of Beatles songs that was prepared for the American market had a disturbing cover — with the Beatles dressed in butchers' smocks and surrounded by raw meat and dismembered dolls.

The album cover was quickly replaced by a new one that had all the same tracks but wasn't nearly as graphic.

Another controversy had been something of a ticking time bomb. John Lennon had given an interview in the spring in which he remarked that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus.

The remark didn't make much of a stir in England, but it sparked a firestorm in the United States — literally. When the statement was published in a fan magazine called Datebook, religious groups held Beatles record burnings in protest.

The quote was published around the time the group released its "Revolver" album, which is still recognized as one of the greatest albums of all time, but, in those days, promoters were anxious about such negative publicity, and Lennon held a press conference to apologize for the comment.

The Beatles also encountered some controversy that summer in the Philippines. They didn't mean to do it, but they insulted first lady Imelda Marcos by not attending a breakfast reception, creating an incident that led to some rioting.

Understandably, I guess, by the time they got to San Francisco on this date, they were all burned out on the concert thing.

So the show they gave in Candlestick Park on this night 45 years ago was their last public appearance together — with the noteworthy exception, I suppose, of their rooftop concert in London that was forever captured in their farewell movie "Let It Be."

I guess you could distinguish between the two in many ways, but the most obvious would be that the Candlestick Park show was in front of a paying audience while the one on the roof of Apple Studios was free.

Liberated from the sense of obligation that compelled them to engage in promotional tours, the Beatles explored sounds and styles in the studio that they couldn't re–create in concert. But it resulted in their most groundbreaking recorded achievements — "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," "Abbey Road," "Magical Mystery Tour," "The White Album" and "Let It Be."

It seems likely that, if they had continued touring in 1967, 1968 and 1969, they might not have been as creative as they were. It is even possible they would not have remained together as long as they did.

Thus, the concert that took place 45 years ago tonight can be viewed as not so much an ending as a beginning, a transition — a bridge, if you will — to the final and most abundant phase of the cultural phenomenon that was Beatlemania.