For a lot of our grannies, the greatest day of their lives wasn't their wedding day, or watching the moon landing, or holding any of their newborn children or grandchildren. If they were completely honest, it was the day they attended a Beatles concert, squinted at John Lennon, and screamed their lungs out. And while those of us too young for Beatlemania, there's consolation about never getting to hear the greatest band in the world perform live: neither could anyone at their concerts.
You might wonder, watching the above video of The Beatles' concert at Shea Stadium, what's up with that annoying high-pitched hiss on the old tape. That's not some technical hiccup; what you're hearing is the sound of Beatlemania. From the moment they arrived on stage to the moment they were rushed off to their armored car to their survival bunker-like dressing rooms, The Beatles would be met with the piercing screams from their hordes of teenaged female fans. For these "teenyboppers," losing their minds whenever Paul McCartney flicked his hair wasn't optional. "There was this cult-like element to it," remembers novelist and self-described Beatles fanatic Linda Grant, with girls feeling their body being taken over by some sort of communal spirit -- a bit like Invasion of the Body Snatchers if that movie was just 115 minutes of Donald Sutherland pointing and screaming.
For decades, scholars have argued about the effects of Beatlemania, but there was one indisputable effect of a thousand girls screaming during a Beatles concert: nobody could hear a bloody thing. Fans recalled just being trapped inside this wall of noise which no "she loves me" or "yeah yeah yeah" could penetrate. These sonic tsunamis of screeches didn't just make hearing The Beatles live a moot point; it turned the halls into oppressive aural hellscapes. Fans would routinely faint from the pressure of the screams (and their own emptied lungs), while the British bobbies manning the barriers would fail to catch fans rushing the stage as they used their hands to prevent their ears from bleeding.
Not that most of the concert attendees minded. As one young Beatles fan put it: "We came to see the Beatles. We can hear them on records," adding: "Anyway, we might be disappointed if we heard them in real life." And in a strange self-fulfilling prophesy kind of way, she was right. Because when I said that no one could hear The Beatles perform, that included The Beatles. Watch any concert footage of the Liverpool lads performing, and you'll see the utter confusion on their faces as they can't hear their music over the sound of people loving their music.
This resulted in The Beatles giving up on caring about their performances. They'd stop properly tuning their instruments and even slip in swear words and gobbledygook, sure in the knowledge that not a single person could hear them. They only realized how far they had sunk as performers when, during one concert in Japan, the fans were so well-behaved the band not only realized they could hear themselves play but that they sucked so hard George Harrisson actually tried to cause a sonic boom of Beatlemania to make up for the fact that they kept screwing up.
Filled with both shame and irritation, The Beatles stopped touring altogether soon after and remained a studio band for the rest of their careers, the only piercing shrieks they'd hear being the horrific tinnitus they got from five years of Beatlemania.
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Top Image: Public Record of Northern Ireland/Flickr