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Which Band Headlined the First Stadium Rock Concert?
Outdoor stadium shows are still windfalls for their promoters and bands.
Credit: Maigi | Dreamstime

Stadium concerts are commonplace now in the music business.

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, U2, Bon Jovi, Green Day and Kenny Chesney are just some of the artists who regularly play outdoor gigs at 70,000-seat football stadiums. But 45 years ago, the music business was turned on its ear by four mop-topped kids from Liverpool who put on a concert for the ages.

On Aug. 15, 1965, The Beatles became the first rock band to perform at an American sports stadium with their show at Shea Stadium in Queens, New York. Before a crowd of 55,000 crazed and mostly female fans, The Fab Four made history by playing some of their most popular songs on the home turf of the Mets and Jets.

Too bad most of the audience couldnâ??t hear any of it. Hysteria ran so high that fans literally screamed throughout the band's 30-minute set.

The milestone in music history was captured in the documentary The Beatles at Shea Stadium, which was produced by Ed Sullivan's production company to document Beatlemania, which was then at its apex. A staple of the bootleg circuit for decades, the documentary showed the over-the-top fandom on display that day at Shea. Security guards are seen covering their ears, and the band canâ??t even hear itself play over the piercing shrieks.

The day after the concert, the New York Daily News featured what was perhaps one of its most matter-of-fact headlines ever, "55,000 Scream for Beatles."

The story said the fans in attendance "couldn't possibly have heard anything but their own screams" during the concert. "For that matter, they didn't seem to want to."

Part of the problem had to do with the layout for the concert.

Unlike modern stadium shows, fans at The Beatles' Shea concert weren't allowed on the field. The band was on a stage in the outfield, far from the crowd. The stadium's primitive public-address sound system was no match for the decibel power of all those fans.

The noise issue continued to haunt The Beatles through the rest of the tour, which featured a handful of other stadium dates, and even on their 1966 return engagement to Shea Stadium. That 1966 tour would mark the end of The Beatles' touring days. Afterward, the band stayed in the studio until their breakup in 1970.

The 1965 concert at Shea may have been musically mediocre, but financially it was a game changer. The gate take-in was $304,000, the largest in music history to that point. By giving birth to stadium rock, The Beatles had done what they did throughout their career: change the music business.

Outdoor stadium shows are still windfalls for their promoters and bands. And with modern sound and lighting systems, bands such as U2 and The Rolling Stones have created unforgettable concert experiences for the fans in attendance.

It can all be traced back to that night in Queens in 1965, when the crowd drowned out The Beatles.

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