Written by Patrick McNamara
Growing up, my dad (who recently retired after 32 years on the police force) always mentioned that he saw The Beatles play in concert in Chicago and for whatever reason I never really pressed him for details. So I set up a phoner to try and expunge his hazy recollections about the show and preserve them for the sake of history.
Thanks for taking the time out of your busy retirement schedule to talk to me, Dad. I’m recording this call, alright. So don’t send me to jail or anything for not telling you.
What year did you see the Beatles?
How did that happen? Do you remember?
We knew they were coming to town and my sister Sue’s best friend’s older sister had a contact to get tickets.
A contact? Just, like, someone on the inside?
She knew someone who had a way of getting tickets. I don’t remember how.
And you were how old?
I was 15.
Was this your first concert?
My first major concert. They used to have concerts at my high school with fairly big names like Chad Mitchell from the Chad Mitchell Trio, The New Christy Minstrels, a couple of local rock bands, and I had gone to those but nothing that was big enough to go downtown for.
15 was the same age I was when I went to my first real concert.
Really? Where did you go?
I saw Smashing Pumpkins at Aragon Ballroom in Chicago.
You mean Aragon Brawl Room?
So who did you go to the show with?
Sue, Claudia, and Claudia’s older sister Paulette.
You and 3 teenage girls, huh.
(laughs) It was my sister and my sister’s friends. They all had cooties.
How did you get there?
The sisters’ older brother volunteered to drive us down there.
He didn’t have a ticket?
He didn’t want to go.
He didn’t want to go???
Don’t forget, in those days, the Beatles were considered somewhat wild men as far as groups go.
This was the same year John Lennon said they were bigger than Jesus.
How much was the ticket?
$5.75 [roughly $42 today adjusted for inflation]
Wow. Was it General Admission?
We had seats. But everybody stood on them. So it kind of defeated the purpose.
I’m sure it was sold out, right?
When we got there there was a line of people completely surrounding the Amphitheater. It was this huge old barn type of place.
They used to have boxing matches there, and way back in the day they had those six day bicycle races.
Remember the Chicago Cougars?
The hockey team? The World Hockey Association?
They played there. The rival of the NHL. Bobby Hull was the big star after he left the Blackhawks. He played for Winnipeg.
But back to The Beatles.
They played two shows that day. We went to the afternoon show because we heard it would be safer to go to the afternoon show.
What do you mean safer?
The International Amphitheater was in a somewhat sketchy neighborhood and it wasn’t the greatest area at night.
Where was it?
Do you remember where the old Stockyards were?
Not really. [The Stockyards closed before I was born]
Remember The Jungle?
Yeah. I read the Cliffs Notes to that in high school.
The Amphitheater was close to there. 42nd street. They had all kinds of events there. I competed in a lot of karate tournaments there too.
[that's my dad kicking some guy in the neck]
So, The Beatles.
I remember lining up for the show outside, they had this regular door, not the big double doors you go into, it was just a side door, which might have been an indoor exit, and every now and then somebody affiliated with the stadium would open the door and look outside and all the girls would just start screaming thinking it was one of The Beatles.
That’s great. What was the make-up of the crowd like?
My memory was the girls outnumbered the guys like 10 to 1.
I didn't see anybody that wasn’t a teenager.
Were there opening bands?
Bobby Hebb played. His big hit was “Sunny.”
The Ronettes played. Their big hit was “Be My Baby.”
And The Cyrkle. They were from Chicago and their hit was “Red Rubber Ball.”
I remember at one point, I can’t remember who was playing, but the crowd started chanting “We want The Beatles...we want The Beatles.”
That’s the double-edged sword of opening for a band like The Beatles. It’s great exposure but you’re kind of in the way.
You remember when Jimi Hendrix opened for The Monkees and got booed off the stage?
I know that story, yeah. So then The Beatles came out.
Yeah. This was before all this big stage stuff with the lasers and smoke and everything else. I remember right before they came out, the announcer said “Ladies and Gentleman, The B….” and that’s all anybody heard for the rest of the concert. Everybody was screaming from that point on. You could hear maybe two or three bars out of every song.
There’s a funny picture I found that shows a cop with his fingers in his ears.
So then…. whoa…. hold on... there’s an echo in my phone. Hold on. Whoa. Why is it doing this? It’s playing back my own voice back to me.
That’s usually a bad connection.
So... oh my god I keep hearing myself. Hold on. Whoa. This is intense.
Call me back.
[I call him back]
OK. So The Beatles come out.
They walked out carrying their guitars and I can’t really remember what songs they played.
Well, since I’m a really good music journalist I found the set list they most likely played that day.
Was “Love Me Do” on there?
Not according to this.
I know they didn’t sing their early ones like “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” and “She Loves You.” The little bit I remember was the songs that had a little louder beat or whatever you want to call it because if they were singing ballads nobody could hear that.
It’s funny you go to a show where you literally can’t hear the music.
That’s why I always say I saw The Beatles. I never heard them. I saw them.
I also found out that 4 days before this show they released “Revolver.”
That’s your favorite Beatles album right?
That or “Rubber Soul.”
Do you remember anything else about the show itself?
I remember they hustled us out of there very quickly because they had another concert that night. I don’t remember any souvenir stands. I don’t remember anything where you could buy merchandise or anything like that. I think I would have remembered that.
Did they sell merch like they do now back then?
I don’t think so. I think the guys who started that were country western guys because that’s been going on there forever.
That will be our next interview. So was seeing The Beatles the best show you’ve ever been to?
No. It wasn’t the best show I’ve ever been to. It was the most exciting event I ever went to. Because it was an event. It just wasn’t a concert. It was “The Beatles,” you know? I remember when we went back to school, we were so cool. The kids said, “You saw The Beatles? You saw The Beatles?” And then as I got older it was “Oh, really? You saw The Beatles before they broke up? That’s kind of neat.” And now when I talk to people my age they say, “Wow. You actually saw The Beatles?”
The myth grew. Why do you think they’re generally considered the best band of all time?
They had great marketing. They had great PR guys. They had a lot of great music. And they always adapted. Their music was constantly changing. Did you get my email by the way? [referencing gift ideas for my son’s birthday]
Yeah. I got it. So if this wasn’t the best concert you’ve ever been to, what was?
Garth Brooks. He was flying around the crowd on wires. It was fantastic.
The Beatles didn’t have any of those high tech tricks.
They just walked out on the stage carrying their guitars and played. Not only that. They shared microphones.
It would never happen like that today.
Final question, Dad.
What ever happened to all your Beatles records?
You know I had to get that one in there.
Yes, you did.
PostScript: when my brother was around 9 he was told in church that The Beatles were Satanic so he went home and smashed my dad’s entire original Beatles vinyl collection on the post of my sister's bed while he was at work. It has never been forgotten.