How the Beatles Said Goodbye With Their Final Official Concert
At the time, it must have seemed like an otherwise nondescript show. Instead, history was made on Aug. 29, 1966 as the Beatles played the nearly half-empty Candlestick Park to end a troubled, controversy-filled tour – then disappeared into the chilly San Francisco night.
"There was a sort of end-of-term spirit thing going on," Beatles press officer Tony Barrows said in John, Paul, George, Ringo & Me. "And there was also this kind of feeling amongst all of us around the Beatles, that this might just be the last concert that they will ever do."
The Beatles entered this period exhausted from the crushing rigors of nonstop touring and recording, only to be met by a series of controversies sparked by mishaps and misunderstandings. (Protesters gathered outside Candlestick were still angry over John Lennon's recently publicized comments on Jesus and the popularity of the Beatles.) At the same time, the music they were creating in the studio was becoming too intricate to properly convey among a sports stadium full of screaming fans.
After enduring a grueling schedule of 19 concerts over just 17 days in 14 different cities, they'd simply had enough of the road. "You see, there's something else I'm going to do – only I don't know what it is," a malaise-ridden Lennon memorably told journalist Maureen Cleave that year. "All I know is this isn't it for me."
After San Francisco, the Beatles became a studio-exclusive band, save for their tossed-together rooftop concert in 1969. Unfortunately, they didn't end things with a flourish. About only 25,000 of the 42,500 available seats were filled at Candlestick Park; promoter Tempo Productions actually lost money.
The show began at 8PM, with a quartet of opening acts: the Remains, Bobby Hebb, the Cyrkle and the Ronettes. DJ Gene Nelson, known as "Emperor Gene" on local KYA 1260 AM, served as emcee. Joan Baez was reportedly among those who huddled in the backstage area before the Beatles assembled onstage at approximately 9:27PM.
They performed from an isolated five-foot stage, set up on this blustery evening just behind second base at the onetime home of baseball's San Francisco Giants, and surrounded by a six-foot wire fence. "As any Giants fans will know," Nelson said in The Beatles Off the Record, "Candlestick Park in August, at night, was cold, foggy and windy."
Paul McCartney went so far as to apologize for the weather during his introduction to "Long Tall Sally." That Little Richard cover – an appropriate finale, since it was the most consistently played song in the Beatles' live set – put the finishing touches on a slightly longer set of songs that principally focused on their more recent releases.
Six of the 11 songs at Candlestick were from the past two years – including a pair from 1965's Rubber Soul ("If I Needed Someone" and "Nowhere Man") and non-album singles like 1965's "I Feel Fine," "Day Tripper" and "Yesterday"; and 1966's "Paperback Writer." The Beatles rounded out the night with four songs from 1964: "Rock and Roll Music" and "Baby's in Black" from Beatles for Sale; and the non-LP songs "She's a Woman" and "Long Tall Sally." The oldest track was "I Wanna Be Your Man," a perennial Ringo Starr showcase from 1963's With the Beatles.
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Starr admitted that he went in with some questions about whether this was, in fact, their last tour. "At that San Francisco gig, it seemed that this could possibly be the last time – but I never felt 100 percent certain 'til we got back to London," he said in Anthology. "John wanted to give up more than the others. He said that he'd had enough."
In truth, there were several visual cues that this was a night like no other. For instance, McCartney asked Barrow to record the Candlestick performance. He could later be found in front of the stage holding up the mic from a hand-held recorder. Barrow's tape captured everything except the final moments of the Beatles' last song.
Barrow made a copy for himself, and passed the original cassette to McCartney after they returned to London. "Paul was clearly chuffed to have such a unique souvenir of what would prove to be an historic evening – the farewell stage show from the Fab Four," Barrows said in John, Paul, George, Ringo & Me. Bootlegs of this show later became widely available, though Barrows said the thief has never been identified.
Lennon and McCartney also brought along cameras in order to memorialize the San Francisco concert with photos of one another and of the fans. They even took arm-length selfies, then gathered for one final shot. "Before one of the last numbers, we actually set up this camera; I think it had a fish-eye, a wide-angle lens," George Harrison said in The Beatles Off the Record. "We set it up on the amplifier and Ringo came off the drums, and we stood with our backs to the audience and posed for a photograph, because we knew that was the last show."
They were looser onstage, more conversational – and in at least one instance, the gravity of the moment seemed to overtake McCartney. He'd typically introduce songs with a standard bit of stage patter: "We'd like to carry on with ... ," and then name the next tune. Only this time, McCartney stopped short.
"We'd like to carry on – I think. We're not really sure yet," he said, just before the Beatles launched into "Paperback Writer." "I'd like to carry on, certainly. Definitely. Well, shall we just watch this for a bit? Just watch it."
As they prepared to leave the Candlestick stage, Lennon appeared to be in a ruminative mood, as well. He teasingly played the opening bars from "In My Life," his nostalgic tune from 1965's Rubber Soul, before racing out of the stadium with the rest of the Beatles.
They were met by an armored car that transported the band to the airport. During the flight, Harrison offered a quip that gave deep insight into their collective uncertainty about what lay ahead. "That's it, then," he said. "I'm not a Beatle anymore."
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