The Fab Four – 44 Years Ago Today.
Well, I was just 10, not even a teen,
And you know what I mean
The way they looked was way beyond compare
So how could I dance with another?
When I was stuck there with my brother?
And over 34,000 other screaming, sweating and swooning Beatles fans. Yes, we saw them standing there 44 years ago today, although they did not play “I Saw Her Standing There.” Instead, they led with “Twist and Shout,” immediately followed by “She’s a Woman.” Oh, how I wanted to believe they were singing to me, (she’s a woman who understands) but I knew, well, I was ten and the only big things on my body were my ears. All the better to hear the Beatles with… “I Feel Fine” was next on the set list. Now they were singing my tune (I’m so glad that she’s my “little girl”).
My brother and sister and I came by our Beatles tickets in a curious manner that made our Dad a hero to us and a pseudo-life saver to girls who would not breathe without Paul. Dad was employed at the American Red Cross, and while that typically meant he was gone with the most recent hurricane wind, he was in town when Red Cross employees were offered a Daddy Deal: work one of the six first-aid stations at the stadium and your kids get tickets. Kind of a quid pro GO. His recollections of ministering to the fanatical were not altogether sympathetic, compared to, say, post-Hurricane Betsy, where he found himself a few weeks later, but nonetheless, he did his volunteer job. (In his later, more lascivious years, I wondered if he really had minded mouth-to-mouth with teenage girls bent on excessive attention.)
The tickets to the 1965 Beatles at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium show were steep: $5.50 for field level and $4.50 for upper level, just 25-cents less than the highest-priced ticket at Shea Stadium, where they opened their second North American tour only three days earlier. (They played Toronto Maple Leaf Gardens in between Shea and Atlanta-Fulton County.) Shea Stadium was not their first time on American soil; they had toured in the U.S the year before and had played select Southern cities: Dallas, New Orleans and Jacksonville. By the time they played Atlanta, they had already appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show before a record-breaking audience of 73-million viewers.
Scott Shepard, now the speechwriter for Senator John Kerry, was among the millions of viewers of the 1964 Ed Sullivan Show, and among the thousands at Atlanta Stadium for the Beatles show. The morning after the Ed Sullivan Show, Scott’s band, “The Shapes of Being,” butch-waxed their crew cuts into Beatle bangs. The Shapes of Being were an old school garage band, born of Beatles influence featuring Scott, as lead singer; his brother, Mike, Eddie Grace, Mike Cunningham and Mike Dempsey. (Author’s note: The Shapes of Being shaped my teen being when they played Beatles’ covers at after-game dances in the high school cafeteria during my eighth grade year.)
Scott has a richer and more vivid memory of the Beatles show than I do. My recollection is an electrified blur, mostly about the whole vibe, the screams, the hair, and the tears. Scott, on the other hand, was a cool 16 at the time. In fact, unlike me, his parents did not drive him to the show. “My brother, Mike, who had just turned 14, and I went with Eddie Grace in his convertible, ’64 Chevy Impala – the Red Cherry Bomb,” he said wistfully as if the memories were as shiny and new as the Impala.
Like me, Scott came by his tickets through a circuitous, yet more glamorous route — Ray Stevens. “My mother worked at the CDC with one of Ray Stevens’ relatives who overhead her talking to me on the phone about it. She said ‘she knew someone who might be able to help.’ We paid for the tickets, but she arranged for great seats. We were behind first base. The stage was at second base,” Scott said. “But we could see them before they came out. They were hanging out in the third base dugout just watching the other acts and kind of groovin’. I do remember that one of them was smoking,” he added.
“The sound was great. We could hear them, even with the screaming. I could feel the bass on my heart. When McCartney skipped across the stage up to the microphone for ‘She’s a Woman,’ everybody went nuts. They just looked like they were having so much fun.”
Scott has held on to his Atlanta Beatles ticket, a prized possession, framed and hanging in his D.C. kitchen. A career journalist before the current Kerry gig, and a lifelong musicphile, Scott has seen The Rolling Stones, Springsteen and all the biggest shows, but said the Beatles show “surpassed” all others and, for him, even transcended historical moments. “I’ve covered every presidential election since 1988; I was at Tiananmen Square and nothing has impacted me like that concert.”
If this sounds hyperbolic, one might appreciate the Beatles’ influence in Scott’s coming of age and the subsequent nostalgia. “I distinctly remember the moment when I first heard “I Want to Hold Your Hand” on the radio. It was 1964 and I was going to a party. It was before the Beatles had been on TV. It just stopped me. I’d never heard anything like it before. Then the DJ — I think it was Tony the Tiger at Quixie in Dixie — came on and said ‘it was a new group from England called the Beatles’. Just talking about it takes me right back to the moment.”
Unlike Sir Paul’s recent and generous two and half hour show at Piedmont Park, the Beatles Atlanta Stadium show lasted approximately 34 minutes and included 12 songs.
- Twist and Shout
- She’s A Woman
- I Feel Fine
- Dizzy Miss Lizzie
- Ticket To Ride
- Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby
- Can’t Buy Me Love
- Baby’s In Black
- I Wanna Be Your Man
- A Hard Day’s Night
- I’m Down
And no encore. Still, the overall concert lasted a couple of anticipation-fueled hours with several openers and a Regenstein’s Fashion Show of Mod 60’s styles. Openers included The King Curtis Band, The Discotheque Dancers, Brenda Holloway, Sounds Incorporated and Cannibal and the Headhunters. I confess I only recall Cannibal and the Headhunters, likely because of their (uh hum) unique name, and subsequent mild fame.
The Beatles held a press conference in advance of the show with over 150 reporters in attendance, including high school newspaper cubs. (Imagine an aspiring teen journalist getting such a gig today with, say, Bono, Springsteen, or Britney Spears, and then dream on.) The carefully orchestrated conference allowed for a Q and A session. Most of the band’s answers read now like script excerpts from “A Hard Days Night.” Clever and witty, the Fab Four supplied short, farcical answers to the assembled media. Having recently read the transcript, my favorite answer came from John in response to the question, “Where do John and Paul get their ideas for writing songs?” John’s answer? “Out of John and Paul’s heads.” It’s easy to imagine the look that must have been in his eyes as he spoke those words. Surely there was a twinkle, at once teasing, but with a glint of benevolent ridicule.
It’s been a Hard Days Night since then. We’ve all needed Help on occasion. We’ve been Down. We’ve felt Fine. Some might have even tried to Buy Love. We’ve definitely Twisted and Shouted along the rock and roll road, but I missed Sir Paul this time around. Instead, I chose a Ticket to Ride to Asheville. On that hot August night back in 1965, it never occurred to me that I might choose a visit with our new granddaughter, Sophia, over another blissful evening with Paul McCartney. I’m sure glad I saw them standing there when I did, and I also saw them leave – straight from the stage into the waiting limos on the field. As Scott recalls, “off they went in a cloud of dust.”