When The Beatles pulled into San Francisco for the final stop of their 1966 US tour, they were exhausted. The band had trekked through the states two times over the previous three years, and their latest string of dates found them plagued with ongoing controversy. Most prominently, John Lennon had made comments about the band being bigger than Jesus, which galvanised a large portion of their southern fanbase. The band were also not shy about their disapproval of the Vietnam War, at a time when protests against the war were not yet as widespread as they would become later in the decade.
Perhaps even more tiresome than the controversies were the day-to-day operations of being the world’s biggest band. From their days working as a club band in Hamburg starting in 1960 all the way up to 1966, The Beatles had been on a practically non-stop schedule. Between yearly touring commitments, promotional appearances, film shoots, and recordings sessions, the intense number of commitments began to wear the band members down. Without the freedom to go where they pleased, the band were cooped up and wanted to break free of the rigidity.
After a dicey trip to The Philippines immediately prior, the band decided that their summer US tour would be their last for the immediate future. Going with their tired and true package tour format, they embarked on a one-month jaunt across the US with The Ronettes, The Cyrkle, Bobby Hebb and The Remains as openers. Even though their most recent album, Revolver, had been released only a week before the tour began, the band determined that the songs were too technically complex to reproduce live. Their increasing studio sophistication also led to the decision to cease touring.
Because most of their career involved touring, the band had a setlist they could count on, made up of 30 minutes and largely consisting of rock numbers. McCartney performed ‘Yesterday’ in a full-band arrangement, while ‘Paperback Writer’ was the only song from 1966 included in the set. George Harrison’s designated number was ‘If I Needed Someone’, while Ringo Starr’s vocal turn was on ‘I Wanna Be Your Man’. The band opened with Chuck Berry’s ‘Rock and Roll Music’ and closed with Little Richard’s ‘Long Tall Sally’.
After hoping around sports stadiums throughout the country, the band finally pulled into San Francisco’s Candlestick Park on their last legs. The Beatles took the stage at about 9:30 and were set to play their half an hour set. Knowing that it was going to be their last, they asked their press officer Tony Barrow to make an audiotape from the stadium’s field of the concert.
Due to the poor quality audio equipment of the time, most of the sound from the show is muddled, obscured, or otherwise difficult to hear. The band’s amps were louder than their mics, and the piping in of sound into the stadium’s speakers made for a relatively poor listening experience. The poor quality of audio, plus the band’s inability to hear themselves over the screaming of fans, was another factor in their decision to quit the lie circuit.
Barrow dutifully taped the band’s performance, but he ran into a problem at the finale of ‘Long Tall Sally’. Anticipating the typical half-hour set, Barrow neglected to turn the tape over when it ran out, leading to the final parts of The Beatles’ live career having not been caught on tape. If there was a fan bootleg of the concert, it has not yet come to light, making the final notes of The Beatles’ live performance lost to history.
Listen to the majority of The Beatles’ final live concert down below.