The Beatles had many peaks in their career, but their August 15, 1965 concert at Shea Stadium may be the high point. It was certainly their ultimate live performance and the pinnacle of Beatlemania. On this episode, I’m joined by author Laurie Jacobson; her new book, “Top Of The Mountain“, tells the story of that record-breaking concert. It’s a behind-the-scenes look at the events leading up to the performance, including the tale of the man who made it all happen, Sid Bernstein.
More on Laurie’s book here:
And check out our other Beatles episodes:
The Beatles – “Rain”
Special Edition: The Beatles “Get Back” Documentary
The Beatles – “Hey Jude” (with special guest James Campion)
Welcome, welcome. Glad to have you here. This is the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast on the Pantheon Podcast network, and I’m your host, Brad Page.
Back in February 1964– 59 years ago– the Beatles made their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show and literally changed everything about rock music overnight. That’s when the Beatles conquered America, where it all started here. But if you want to look at where Beatlemania peaked, at least in terms of their first phase, it would have to be 18 months later, on August 15, 1965, when the Beatles played before a sellout crowd at Shea Stadium in New York at the time. The largest concert in history, and still one of the most important chapters in the story of rock.
Laurie Jacobson is an author, and her new book tells the behind-the-scenes story of The Beatles at Shea Stadium. The book is called “Top of the Mountain”. And it’s not only a detailed look at the concert itself, it’s the incredible story of how the concert came to be in the first place, as well as the story of the people who put the show together and the fans who were there. And it’s also full of some terrific photographs taken at the show; many of them have never been seen before.
You guys know that I’m a big Beatles fan, so I asked Laurie to come on the podcast and talk about the night the Beatles took over Shea Stadium and her new book, “Top of the Mountain”.
BRAD: Laurie Jacobson, welcome to the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast. Usually on this show, we focus on one song, but today we’re going to do something a little different. Because I read your book, and it is such a great story, I really wanted to talk to you about it.0
So your book is called “Top of the Mountain”, and it tells the story of the Beatles legendary concert at Shea Stadium in August 1965. So, first, let’s get some facts and figures out of the way. This was the Beatles second US tour. It was actually the opening night of the show, the first show of that tour on August 15 at Shea Stadium in New York. And they played in front of 55,000 people. Is that right?
BRAD: 56,000 — which was not only the Beatles biggest concert, but it was the biggest concert audience ever at that time. It was a record they held until 1973, when Led Zeppelin broke the record with a 56 plus thousand attendance at a show in Tampa, FL. But this is a really significant event. I believe no band had ever played at a stadium before this show, is that true?
LAURIE: Not a stadium of this size. And even The Beatles had played couple of smaller stadiums, but not a huge baseball stadium like this.
BRAD: Right. Nothing approaching 56,000 seats. No one had ever done that before.
LAURIE: No one. Not Elvis. Not Sinatra. Nobody had ever played in front of this many people. Nobody had ever received the paycheck The Beatles received for that night. And 56,000 rock and roll fans had never laid eyes on one another before in such large numbers.
BRAD: Yeah. So let’s introduce the cast of characters. Of course, we all know who the four Beatles are, but there was also Brian Epstein, the Beatles manager, right? Talk about Brian Epstein.
LAURIE: Brian Epstein was, you know, a very cultured, refined young man. His parents were in the furniture business in… my dad was in the furniture business also, and they, of course, had a stereo department, and they began selling records. And Brian did the exact same thing. It’s just a natural for your stereo department. And one day, somebody came in and asked for a record by The Beatles, and Brian had never heard of them before, but he decided to check them out because they were playing just down the street at The Cavern. So he was really… and here is Brian, in his suit & tie and very buttoned up. And The Cavern is this basement former fruit cellar with no windows, and hot, sweaty kids on lunch break coming to hear The Beatles. And he was really impressed. And he had the foresight to recognize that these guys could go places with a little help from him.
LAURIE: And then he hoped and prayed that America would call. He tried and tried, with no success, little to no success, about getting them on the air in America. And suddenly one day, his prayers were answered when another cast member, Sid Bernstein, called Brian.
BRAD: Yeah. And probably the single most important person in this story is Sid Bernstein. So tell us, who was Sid Bernstein?
LAURIE: Sid Bernstein was a New York concert promoter. He booked pretty concerts with people like Judy Garland and Tony Bennett, people like that. And he believed in keeping himself sharp. So, he was taking a class, and the class assignment was to read newspapers from other countries. Well, Sid could only read English, so that limited him to the British newspapers. And of course, he goes right to the entertainment section, since that’s his field. And he keeps seeing these little blurbs about a group called The Beatles playing small cities in and around the UK. And the word “pandemonium” is always associated with their concerts. So of course, this immediately catches his eye. And then he follows them weekly. And this word “pandemonium”, who are these guys? He starts making some calls, he finds out that Brian represents them, and he, Sid, is like, “I got to have these guys here, I got to book them”. And he found Brian’s phone number and basically got Brian’s mom on the phone and said, can Brian come out to play? Brian was so thrilled that America was finally calling, and Sid had this great idea to book The Beatles at Carnegie Hall, where no rock and roll group had ever been booked. And I think the only reason Carnegie Hall said yes was because they didn’t know they were a rock and roll group, right?
So Sid set the concert several months out, and he said, “Believe me, by the time the concert rolls around, they’ll be on the air here, I can promise you that.”
So in the interim, Ed Sullivan is passing through Heathrow Airport with his wife, and comes in contact with thousands of girls screaming for the arrival of The Beatles. And of course, he says, “What’s going on?” Finds out, discovers that Sid has already booked them at Carnegie Hall and calls Sid Bernstein, who he knew very well, and asked if he could ride Sid’s coattails. Basically, “Can I have them on my show three or four days before they appear at Carnegie Hall?” Well, Sid thought this was great. That guarantees his show to be a sellout.
BRAD: And I think this is really important, because the familiar narrative is, like you said, Ed Sullivan just happens to see all of the pandemonium, like you said, around The Beatles, and books them for his show. But Sid was there first. Sid had booked them for Carnegie Hall long before they were ever booked on The Ed Sullivan Show, long before they ever got any radio play in the States. I mean, he was really the first guy in the States to really see the potential at the time when Capitol Records in the States couldn’t care less about The Beatles, they were actively ignoring The Beatles. But here’s Sid, who’s really the first guy to step up and to have the vision of what their success could be in the States, before Ed, before Capitol, before Murray the K, before any of that.
BRAD: So he books them at Carnegie Hall for February 12, 1964. He books it 11 months before the show again, before the Beatles were making any waves anywhere in the States, but the show ends up selling out in 40 minutes. Because, of course, by the time we get towards The Ed Sullivan Show, they’ve had a few hits in the States and of course they are massive on The Ed Sullivan Show. But then through the rest of 1964, Sid kind of has a rough time, right?
LAURIE: Well, yes and no. On the one hand, because of this success, he becomes the conduit for the British Invasion. He’s the number everyone has now. The Stones, the Animals. Jerry and the Pacemakers, The Dave Clark Five, Herman’s Hermits. Everybody is calling Sid to come to America, and he actually starts booking the television show “Hullabaloo”, and he is bringing all these groups over to America, and he’s doing really great, but he made a big mistake: He booked The Animals for a five-night run in New York, thinking they would be as popular as The Beatles. And, hey, nobody was as popular as The Beatles. So the first two nights were a big success, and the last three nights of that five-night run, he lost his shirt and now he’s in some financial hot water.
BRAD: He needs a big score.
LAURIE: Yeah, he’s just had a baby. His wife is kind of upset with this turn of events, and, yeah, he needs the big score. So he thinks to himself, “who’s the most popular group in the world? The Beatles. And hey, I have a great relationship with Brian Epstein, so what’s the biggest venue I could possibly book them in?”
He thinks Madison Square Garden… No, not big enough. And he settles on Shea Stadium, which was only a year… Brian was really fussy, and Shea was brand spanking new, still had the sparkle on it, and he thought, yes, he’ll approve of this. So he calls Brian with the idea, and Brian immediately says, No. 56,000 seats. Are you crazy? We will never be able to sell that.
BRAD: No one ever had, no band, no pop artist ever had.
LAURIE: Right, correct. And at this point, there were still a lot of naysayers about The Beatles. It’s a fad, it will never last. It’ll be over by the end of the year.
LAURIE: So he didn’t want to lay The Beatles open to a stadium that was only half filled, where all these people could say, you see, just as we said.
BRAD: And I think wisely, he was just trying to protect his boys. Right. He didn’t want to book them into a half full arena for the embarrassment and the bad press. It’s not an irrational thing for Brian to be hesitant to do it. But then Sid offers them an incredible deal.
LAURIE: Yeah. And Brian’s formula had been to play smaller places and have a line outside the door.
LAURIE: That’s the look he was going for. So, yes, when tickets ranged from like $4.50 to $6.50, Sid says to Brian, I will pay you $10 for every empty seat in the stadium.
BRAD: Right? He not only guarantees them $100,000, which is a huge paycheck at the time, but he also says, for every empty seat, I’ll give you $10. I can’t think of another deal like that at the time, Sid was really taking a big risk there.
LAURIE: Yes, but Sid believed, and he was the only one who believed. Not even Brian believed that this could happen.
LAURIE: So Brian says, that’s a deal I can’t turn down, but here’s my stipulation: I want 50% of the $100,000 in three months. And until I get that, you cannot advertise the concert.
BRAD: Right? No advertising, no publicity. But somehow, I want you to sell half the tickets to this show.
LAURIE: Sid is like, uh, how can I possibly raise $50 grand without advertising, right? And Brian says, well, I didn’t say you couldn’t talk about it.
BRADE: So this is really a fascinating part of the story, of how Sid begins to sell these tickets. Walk us through that, because it’s just so great.
LAURIE: And, Brad, this is actually my favorite part of the story.
BRAD: I believe it. It’s so good.
LAURIE: I just love this. So… Sid’s really depressed, right? He’s like…
BRAD: And his wife is none too happy.
LAURIE: She’s ready to go home to mom. “Are you crazy? What have you done Sid?” And Sid, by the way, he was a very large man, very heavy, and he knew the best entertainment and the best restaurants in New York. So I just see him walking down the street, eating a slice of pizza here, a hot pretzel there, thinking, “Woe is me. What’s going to happen?” And he takes his son in his stroller to Washington Square Park. And, you know, Sid was known by this time amongst all the kids for bringing all the great British groups over. He was pretty much the Pied Piper of Rock And Roll. So, wherever he went and kids saw him, they ran up to him to find out the latest news. And when they asked, “What’s going on, Mr. Bernstein?” He said, “Well, I’m bringing the Beatles to Shea Stadium in August.” Well, I mean, the girls begin screaming. One of them faints. They’re throwing money at him. And he realizes, “Okay, maybe this could be something.” He runs to the post office, he rents a PO Box, he runs back to the park. He tells the girls how much the tickets are and the PO Box address. And every day, he goes to the park, and he tells teenagers this story and gives them the address. And after three weeks, he finally works up enough courage to go to the PO Box. He forgets his key! He’s so nervous, because this is it, if there’s nothing in that PO Box, he’s a dead man.
LAURIE: They open the box for him and when the post office workers find out who’s there, they all come running out of the back to see who is the man behind this box. And he’s like, “What’s going on?” They drag out bags and bags of mail. He had to get his car to bring it all home.
And inside those envelopes, he had rubles, he had yen, he had money from behind the Iron Curtain. So, at a time when there was only long-distance phone calls and letter writing, these kids in Washington Square Park spread the news about the concert around the world.
BRAD: It’s amazing. It’s like a scene from a movie, that you probably wouldn’t believe it if it was in a movie, but you can picture Sid and his wife at their kitchen table just opening these, letter after letter, pulling out money for tickets.
LAURIE: I mean, coins fell.
BRAD: Yeah. And then they came up with a way to go through all these bags and bags of mail. He actually hires some local neighborhood girls or something to help him process all of these letters, right?
LAURIE: Yes. They had a babysitter who was in nursing school, and he asked her if she had six or seven friends who might want to work for them every night until they went through all of these envelopes. And over a three-week period of time, they managed to go through more than 50,000 envelopes.
BRAD: I think you said in the book that it takes them three months to process it, and they end up with over 3000 envelopes that they don’t even open, because by that time, they’ve sold all the tickets, the show sells out and he ends up with $304,000. Is that right?
LAURIE: Yes. So when he meets Brian in January of ‘65, Brian is expecting $50,000 and he is able to give him the full $100,000.
BRAD: Right? Yeah. Brian’s looking, probably questioning whether he’s even going to get his $50,000. And Sid ends up handing him the complete $100,000 check. What a great story.
LAURIE: Really. It’s a wonderful story, and it’s so wonderfully innocent and so speaks to the time. So, now Sid has the hottest show in town that nobody knows, right?
BRAD: Yeah. Because he still can’t talk about. So he’s they start to prep for the show and then his expenses start to rack up for the staging and all of that kind of stuff. And then I believe the mayor of New York tells him he has to cancel the show. What was that all about?
LAURIE: You know, he had to jump through a lot of hoops with the city, I bet, to make this happen. He had rented the stadium on his name alone. That’s how well known he was in New York. He picked the date and the stadium said, we’ll hold it for you until the money comes in. But the mayor wasn’t so sure. They were very fearful, first of all, of security. What were they going to do if 10,000 fans decided to rush the stage?
LAURIE: How were we going to get the Beatles in and out of the stadium without them being injured? What’s going to happen to traffic that day in New York? I mean, they had a million questions.
BRAD: And again, nothing like this had ever been done before, a rock show on this scale. But New York was pretty well aware of what Beatlemania looked like, because, of course, they had already been through the chaos around the Ed Sullivan performance. So they had a taste of it. They could see what could potentially happen. So you can understand the concern.
LAURIE: Oh, sure. And they had seen the thousands of kids around the Plaza in ‘64 when The Beatles stayed there and had done their ‘64 tour. So they knew that it could be absolute chaos out there.
BRAD: So in the days before the show, just kind of, as we lead up to the events of the show, The Beatles fly from Heathrow Airport to New York City; they stay at the Warwick Hotel. That must have been another chaotic scene.
LAURIE: Oh, yes. I mean, thousands, I can’t even imagine, but thousands of kids on the street, mostly girls. The hotel was full of girls that somehow sneaked in or had their parents rent a room there, or they disguised themselves as maids. And there were kids on top of the elevator, where they could have been crushed.
BRAD: The day before the show, the Beatles played on Ed Sullivan. They played, I think, like a six-song set. And then the day of the show, it’s a hot and humid day, right, like an 87-degree humid day in New York?
LAURIE: Yes. Sweltering summer day. And The Beatles had been partying pretty good, too. Bob Dylan was in town, and some of their other friends, The Ronettes, were coming by to see them, and there was a lot of smoking pot and playing records, and they couldn’t go out unless it was in secret.
BRAD: Right. So they were making the best of their quarantine.
LAURIE: And this was their life then, on the road. I mean, literally wasn’t safe for them to leave the room. Not much of an, you know, at a time when people’s security now is massive. They basically had three guys and Brian watching out for them. So the day of the concert comes around, and they’ve already decided that they are going to have to fly The Beatles in a helicopter over to Shea Stadium. And George was really not fond of flying.
BRAD: Yeah. George was a notorious bad flyer.
LAURIE: Yes. And the helicopter made him virtually weep with fear. The pilot of the helicopter said, “Well, you guys have been trapped in your room, you haven’t even been able to see any of New York. Let me show you the Empire State Building. Let me show you the Chrysler Building.” And he’s zooming through, up above, and George is literally white knuckling, crying, “get me down out of here, please.” All of this was filmed for the documentary. They had, um, a cameraman on the helicopter with them. So all of this was caught on film.
And of course, they could not land in the stadium, because they were afraid that kids would rush the helicopter and there could be terrible damage there. So they landed across the street, really across the way, where the New York World’s Fair was held. As well thought out as this was, they suddenly realized, if we drive The Beatles over in a limo, that limo is going to be mobbed. Kids will jump on it and God knows what will happen. So now, how are we going to get them into the stadium? And one security guy is looking around, and he sees a Wells Fargo armored truck; no windows, sitting unused, and won’t be needed for the next couple of hours. So he talks to the driver and commandeers this armored truck, finds four Wells Fargo badges in the front seat. He gives one to each of The Beetles, and he loads them up in the back of the truck. Poor George also is claustrophobic. George, now, who is green from the helicopter, is now being forced into the back of this truck, and they are safely driven into Shea Stadium.
BRAD: Now, before we talk about the show, I think one of the interesting side stories is that Sid was also, I believe, he was managing the Rascals, right? The band The Rascals. The Rascals didn’t play at the show, but he had a bunch of promotion for them going on, right? He was really trying to get their name in front of the audience.
LAURIE: Oh, Sid was really the ultimate old school promoter, actually. The Beatles did a press conference in a ballroom at the Warwick, and Sid had plants in the audience asking The Beatles, “Have you heard the Rascals yet? What do you think of them?” They never heard of them. But Sid just was getting that name out there. So, when kids coming into the stadium were looking into the dugout where they knew The Beatles would make their entrance, they saw some guys with long hair and they mistook them for The Beatles, and went running down there. Well, it was The Rascals. And yes, Sid had buttons and photos and all kinds of stuff that they were signing and handing out. And he also took the opportunity to flash “The Rascals are coming, The Rascals are coming” on a small welcoming screen in the stadium.
BRAD: Which I think Brian wasn’t too crazy about.
LAURIE: Yes. Brian quashed that immediately. I interviewed Felix Cavallari of The Rascals on his experience there that day. And he said Brian just very quietly said, “If that is not removed in the next 10 seconds, Sid, we shall be leaving.” And so Sid immediately had that taken down. “No one rides on the coattails of The Beatles” is what Brian said. He was always watching out for his boys.
BRAD: Right. That’s just a great story, though. And, typical for the shows of the day, this was kind of like a review show, where The Beatles weren’t the only ones that performed. There was a handful of opening acts. Why don’t you talk a little bit about some of the folks who opened the show for The Beatles? And could you imagine– 56,000 people are there, and not one of them is wanting to see you.
LAURIE: That’s exactly right. The first group was the fantastic sax player King Curtis. And um, he played behind a group called Discotheque Dancers, who demonstrated the hot dances of the day. And actually, one of the ladies, I found three of the five ladies from that group.
BRAD: Yeah. You actually interview them in your book.
LAURIE: Oh, yeah. And one of them said, “Well, my dad went with me that night, and he took 80 color slides that evening and we looked at them once and they’ve been in a drawer ever since. Would you like to have them?” Um, yeah!
BRAD: So you’ve got some great photographs in the book, and I imagine a lot of this stuff has never been really publicly seen before. You have those photographs. You also spoke to a number of, at the time, young folks who attended the show, and you’ve got some photographs from some of those people. Tell us a little bit about some of the other people in the book who contributed some of these great photographs.
LAURIE: You know, it sounds like I’m making it up to say at this late date, I have hundreds of photos that people have never seen, but I actually do. One guy, Mark Weinstein, was 17 years old, and he was bound and determined to get on the field. He sneaked into the bowels of Shea Stadium. He began trying every door he came to; they were all locked. And finally, one doorknob turns in his hands, he opens it, and the room is full of cops. And he thought “Oy vey”. He said to me, “I thought, Oy vey, if I run, I’m done.” So, he just thought really fast, walked in, faked a British accent, told them he was a friend of George Harrison’s and he was supposed to take photos that night, but had gotten separated from the group, and they led him right out onto the field. He took 60 photos from the edge of the stage, all of which are in the book, and one of which is the cover of the book.
BRAD: And that is a great shot of George and John.
LAURIE: I love that shot too. It was the last shot of the night, and there was another gentleman, who had to be coerced to even go to the concert, and he didn’t even know who The Beatles were. He decided he was also going to try and get into the stadium. And the door that was unlocked and opened to him led right into their dressing room. I mean, he opened the door, and there they were.
BRAD: It’s incredible.
LAURIE: With just like ten other people. So he walked in and just started taking photos. And he also got onto the field and took more photos. So, I have several photos that George Orsino took and, let’s see… Carly Simon’s brother Peter was there, and he was, I believe, 18. And he took some wonderful photos of the fans. So yeah, just, they covered it. Like, Marvin Gaye was there. He was introduced to the audience. He didn’t perform, but my friend dawn from the Discotheque Dancers, she had danced, backing up Marvin Gaye. So when her father saw Marvin Gaye, he took his picture. That’s the only picture that exists of Marvin Gaye at Shea Stadium.
BRAD: It’s great.
LAURIE: And he’s holding his own little movie. Oh, I wonder what happened to that.
BRAD: The photographs in the book are just, I mean, they’re great. Between the photographs of the crowd and the band, it really does a great job of just capturing the energy and the excitement of that night.
LAURIE: Oh, the girls running across the field, and The Beatles pointing to the runners and encouraging them, and the police running after them. Just kids, scaling the walls to get in, and what kills me is the security that Sid had to arrange, and that Brian insisted on. And here are these people literally just walking in, walking into their dressing room, walking out onto the know again today. It could have been a terrible situation.
LAURIE: But there was nothing but love and joy out there.
BRAD: Yeah. Sid does get Ed Sullivan to agree to introduce them at the show. And Sullivan makes kind of a side agreement with Brian Epstein to film the show, and Sid gets cut out of that whole thing, which is a shame.
LAURIE: Yes. And you know, Sid could have chosen to introduce The Beatles. Sid could have taken that moment for himself, but that’s not who Sid was. And he realized that the country’s association with Ed and The Beatles was where it was at, and so he graciously invited Sullivan to introduce them. Sullivan couldn’t say yes fast enough.
BRAD: So, after all the buildup, The Beatles play a short 30-minute set, which was standard for the day. They play twelve songs:
Twist and Shout
She’s A Woman
I Feel Fine
Dizzy Miss Lizzy
Ticket To Ride
Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby – which is Georgia’s showcase
Can’t Buy Me Love
Baby’s In Black, which I think is a really interesting choice
Act Naturally – that’s Ringo’s moment
A Hard Day’s Night
But, I mean, that’s a tight little set there. This was before the two-hour concerts, the marathon Bruce Springsteen concerts that we get these days. You got 30 minutes of The Beatles, and they were out of there. I believe that’s the same set they played all on the rest of the tour.
What are some of your favorite moments of that set? I’m sure you’re pretty familiar with the film by now, having written the book and everything. What jumps out to you when you think about that set?
LAURIE: Well, I love “Twist and Shout”, and that’s a great opener, especially after the crowd had been waiting so long. There were several other opening acts I didn’t mention and lots of radio personalities in between. I mean, it just was, you know, the crowds got there at six, I think the stadium opened at six, and the show started at seven, and The Beatles didn’t go on ‘till nine. So “Twist And Shout” is a great opener.
BRAD: “Help!” had just opened a few weeks before. They had filmed in the interim between when Sid books the show and they actually perform the show, they film the movie “Help!” and, of course, record that track & the album during that time. So that was pretty current material for them.
LAURIE: And, you know, they reprised “Hard Day’s Night”, of course, because that was still so uppermost in fan’s minds.
BRAD: No “She Loves You”, No “I Want To Hold Your Hand”…
LAURIE: Yeah, they were moving away from that, trying to play their more current stuff, and as a matter of fact, “I’m Down”, this was the first time they had played that.
BRAD: That was just a B side.
LAURIE: It’s the only song John’s on the organ, which was, um, almost uncomfortable for him. He said, I didn’t know what to do without my guitar. There I am, standing behind this organ, which was something so new for him.
BRAD: Yeah. But probably every Beatles fan is fairly familiar with that footage, probably seen it. But it’s not only the final moment of the show– it really is, to me, that’s the greatest moment of the show. And John is just having a blast pounding away at that electric piano or whatever and it’s one of McCartney’s great vocals on that song. He really gets his best Little Richard voice out for that. But it’s such a great moment. The footage of them playing “I’m Down” at Shea Stadium is just so great.
LAURIE: You know, they were a little bit afraid to go out there. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were also there, and they were in the dressing room with the Beatles. And Mick had gotten a little beat up on his way into the dressing room, some tough guys from Brooklyn were like, “You think you’re so great,” bam, bam, and they’re hitting him. And The Beatles were like, uh oh, what’s exactly going to happen out there? And Cousin Brucey assured them that they were going to be met with nothing but love. And from the moment they step out there– that’s my favorite moment of the documentary, they start looking around, they just can’t even believe what they’re seeing, right? It’s stunning, this number of people. And by the time they’re through with their set and they’re into “I’m Down”, and they know nobody can hear them, John has started to introduce songs, just speaking gobbledygook.
He knows nobody can hear them and it doesn’t matter what they say. And now he’s on this electric piano, and he knows nobody can hear that either. And you’re right, he’s pounding it, he’s playing it with his elbow. Ringo looks over and thinks, well, he’s just lost it. And George is trying desperately to stay serious and finally, he just can’t. He just can’t stay serious anymore, John has completely cracked him up, and he makes his way over to John. And that is the shot that Mark Weinstein caught.
BRAD: The cover of the book, and the photo is in the book as well. It’s just a great shot of John and George grinning ear to ear. You know, it’s the last song of the set. They know they’ve pulled it off, what a release that must have been. But I can imagine the terror stepping on the stage the beginning of that set. And then everything they went through to get to that emotional moment at the end of it.
Speaker C: Truly, if The Beatles remember only one concert, this is the concert they remember. You know, there was just nothing like it ever. And yes, that release must have been just, I mean, they did it. They really did. That’s where the title of the book comes from. Several years later, John was out one evening with Sid Bernstein and they were reminiscing about that night, and he said to Sid, “I saw the top of the mountain on that glorious night.”
BRAD: That’s great. So, when all is said and done, concert’s over, everybody goes home. When Sid tallies it all up, he ends up making a total of $3,000 for the show.
LAURIE: Incredible. I know. I don’t know where it all went. And Felix Cavalieri said Sid was a wonderful, honest, kind, generous, savvy man, but not all managers have both the business sense and the financial sense. Sid knew what he was doing promotion-wise. He recognized great talent when he heard it, but he wasn’t that great with the money end of it.
BRAD: But as you said, this assured him a place in history. I remember in the 80’s, going to my first Beatle conventions, Sid was a frequent speaker at those. And this was 20 years after the show. And people still loved to come and hear him tell his story as of the show. And I imagine he did that right up until the day he passed.
LAURIE: Yes, he lived to be 95 years old and was so proud, so proud of this great achievement, as well he should be, because frankly, this concert changed the world.
BRAD: Yeah, well, let’s talk a little bit about how this show changed history– where it fits and the impact it had.
LAURIE: Well, clearly, this was the future. And technology woke up the next morning and said, we flunked. Nobody could see them. Nobody could hear them. And this is all we’re going to see from this day forward, so we better get on board. And four years later, there was Woodstock. So they got on board in a big strapping hurry.
BRAD: Yeah. People forget that at this time, what they were using for a PA system was basically the same setup that they used for the announcers of the ball games, which were nowhere near adequate in terms of just pure volume and sound quality. That stuff sounds atrocious. There wasn’t all the big PA systems and monitors and all that stuff you have now, none of that stuff existed back.
LAURIE: Right. And no diamond screen to see them. You know, we didn’t even mention also at this concert were teenagers like Meryl Streep and Joe Walsh and Steve Van Zant, and Whoopi Goldberg was nine, she was there. Two future Beatle wives. And Meryl Streep was way up in the nosebleed seats with her little “I Love Paul” sign. And she said, “I had a better view of New Jersey than I did of The Beatles”. Everybody was just so happy to share the space with these guys they loved so much. But clearly, later on, people want to see them.
LAURIE: Technology got the big wake-up call. Madison Avenue saw 56,000 young people together and realized, we’re only selling these kids acne medicine. There is potential here for a lot more money. So, boom. The boomers immediately get on the map. So everything raced to catch up with this new young generation that was changing the world.
BRAD: Just an amazing time for music. And music was driving the culture in a way that it never had before.
LAURIE: Yes. People literally went from maybe ten friends gathered around your parents’ hi-fi to crowds of this size. Many of the opening act people, as well as the fans in the audience that I interviewed, said how empowering it was to be in the presence of 56,000 people who felt the same way that you felt. That was a life changing event for many of the people there. It was really amazing to talk to them and the fans I spoke to that were there, and literally, from Meryl Streep on down to just your basic fan, they still had the amazing enthusiasm that they had that night. They never lost it. It was still the most incredible event that any of them had ever attended.
BRAD: That’s great. Well, the book is called “Top of the Mountain”. It’s Sid Bernstein’s story, which is a fascinating story; t’s the story of dozens of people who attended the show and played their little part in the show by taking photographs or just being witnesses to the event; and, of course, it’s The Beatles story of what was, at the time, the biggest concert in rock history, and still stands as, I think, one of the most significant concerts ever.
Laurie, I really love the book. It was just a great, fun read. Thank you for coming on and talking about it, because it’s been a blast talking to you about the book and the concert.
LAURIE: Thanks, Brad. I so appreciate that, I really do.
BRAD: Sure. What do you got coming up next? Anything on the agenda for you?
LAURIE: This was my 6th book, and I primarily am a Hollywood historian, and I have written lots and lots about the history of Hollywood scandals and mysteries and all kinds of aspects of Hollywood history. And I think that my next book is something I’ve been preparing for for a very long time, which is a history of the Sunset Strip.
BRAD: That should be great.
LAURIE: So there will be lots of music there.
BRAD: Yeah, a lot of stories to tell there, that’s for sure. Well, Laurie Jacobson, thank you so much for doing the show with me. I really appreciate it. Good luck with the book and the books in the future. And thanks for the conversation.
LAURIE: I had a ball. Thanks, Brad.
BRAD: Thank you, Laurie.
And as always, thanks to all of you for listening. Go pick up a copy of Laurie’s book. You’ll love it. I’ll be back in a couple weeks with a new episode. Until then, you can listen to all of our previous shows, including more episodes on the Beatles, on our website– Lovethatsongpodcast.com is the place you’ll find them.
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Thanks again for listening to this show and all of the other shows on the Pantheon Podcast Network. I’ll see you next time right here on the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast.