The Beatles in 1966
|History of the Beatles|
The Beatles released the Rubber Soul album at the end of 1965, then recorded their follow up album Revolver and embarked on a world tour. In making these two albums, the group recorded music that had become increasingly difficult to reproduce on stage. But that problem only scratched the surface of the issues that the band faced in 1966, which included risking their lives in Manila at the hands of the Marcos family.
The Asian leg of the tour began with controversy as right-wing Japanese nationalists protested the staging of the concerts at the Nippon Budokan in Tokyo, as the facility was built for staging martial arts rather than musical performances, saying the Beatles represented the decadence of western society.
The performances went ahead, but there was heavy security to protect the group from both fans and protesters, meaning that the group were forced to stay in their suite at the Tokyo Hilton, although Lennon escaped for a short time. NEMS staff photographer Robert Whitaker remembered: "He [Lennon] snuck out using my name, on the basis, I think, that all white people probably looked the same to the Japanese. He got away with it for a while, but then somebody recognised him and he was dragged back to the hotel." Other foreign artists who have played the Budokan in later years (with no protests against their appearances) include the Monkees, Led Zeppelin, Queen, Kiss, Bob Dylan, and Cheap Trick.
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In early July, the Beatles played two concerts in Manila where they unintentionally snubbed the nation's first lady Imelda Marcos, who had expected the group to attend a breakfast reception at the Presidential Palace. When presented with the invitation, Brian Epstein politely declined on behalf of the group, as it had never been the group's policy to accept such "official" invitations, but the group soon found out that the Marcos regime was unaccustomed to accepting "no" for an answer. Imelda Marcos was infuriated when finding out that one of her frequent grand parties of 200 guests did not include the Beatles.
The snub was broadcast on Philippine television and radio, and all of the Beatles' police protection disappeared. Epstein tried to make an apology on Channel 5 in the Manila Hotel, but the state-controlled channel blacked out when it reached his interview. The group and their entourage had to make their way to the Manila International Airport on their own. The hotel was being attacked and everyone had to make way to the airport. The halls of the hotel were dark and lined with staff who shouted at them in Spanish and English.
As the Beatles moved through the terminal, little bands of demonstrators appeared, grabbing at them and trying to hit them. They checked in for their flight as quickly as possible, then were herded into a lounge "where an abusive crowd and police with guns had also gathered." At the airport, road manager Mal Evans was beaten and kicked, and the band members were pushed and jostled about by a hostile crowd. Ringo Starr stated, "they started spitting at us, spitting on us." The Beatles hid among a group of nuns and monks huddled by an alcove. Other members of their entourage, though, were kicked and beaten. They could not even differentiate between the angry mob and the police carrying guns trying to maul them. Lennon described hearing people yell "you're treated like ordinary passengers!" as they pushed them around. He later quipped that "ordinary passengers" were not treated as badly.
Paul McCartney said, "When we got on the plane, we were all kissing the seats. It was feeling as if we’d found sanctuary. We had definitely been in a foreign country where all the rules had changed and they carried guns. So we weren’t too gung-ho about it at all." Ringo remembered being afraid of going to jail. Once the group boarded the plane, Epstein and Evans were ordered off, and Evans feared that he would be imprisoned or executed. He said, "Tell [my wife] that I love her." Epstein was forced to give the tax authorities £6,800 worth of Philippine peso notes from the Manila shows, and had to sign the tax bond verifying the exchange before being allowed back on the plane.
Upon leaving the country, band members publicly expressed resentment at their treatment, with John Lennon saying, "If we go back, it will be with an H-bomb. I won't even fly over the place." This also caused the band to end their Asia tour in India.
On the eve of their impending US tour, George Harrison remarked 'We're going to have a couple of weeks to recuperate before we go and get beaten up by the Americans'. This comment was to prove prophetic as the band became embroiled in the 'Bigger than Jesus' controversy (see next section) shortly after their arrival.
Almost as soon as they returned from the Philippines, an earlier comment by Lennon made in March that year launched a backlash against the Beatles from religious and social conservatives in the United States. Lennon had expressed his opinion in an interview with British reporter Maureen Cleave published in the Evening Standard on 4 March, saying that Christianity was dying and that the Beatles were "more popular than Jesus now". The British public were used to Lennon's often caustic comments and it did not create a stir in Britain. Lennon's quote was featured in a 3 July article in The New York Times Magazine and provoked no reaction. The controversy began when the interview was reprinted in the American teenage fan magazine DATEbook with a front cover story. Afterwards, radio station WAQY in Birmingham, Alabama announced that it was banning Beatles music and would hold a bonfire to burn Beatles records. Dozens of other radio stations followed suit and several stations also held bonfires. Harrison attempted to make light of the incident, saying: "They've got to buy them before they can burn them."
Epstein held a press conference at the Sheraton Hotel in New York City on 6 August 1966, reading a statement by Lennon and then answering questions from the press. Epstein: “The quote which John Lennon made to a London columnist nearly three months ago has been quoted and misrepresented entirely out of context.... Lennon didn't mean to boast about the Beatles' fame. He meant to point out that The Beatles' effect appeared to be a more immediate one upon, certainly, the younger generation. John is deeply concerned and regrets that people with certain religious beliefs should have been offended.” Under further pressure from the American media, Lennon continued to explain his remarks at press conferences. His comments were more explanation than apology in Chicago on 11 August 1966, on the eve of the first performance of what turned out to be their final tour. Lennon was expressing his opinion that religion in England was losing its influence with young people, he said, and he was using the popularity of the Beatles as an example because the group's success was an analogy with which he could identify. He lamented that, if he had said "television was more popular than Jesus" rather than naming his group, there would not have been any controversy at all. The controversy was on everyone's mind when the tour went through the region. In Memphis, a member of the Ku Klux Klan promised a few "surprises" for the group for their upcoming concert. Indeed, there was minor panic when a firecracker was set off on stage at a concert at the Mid-South Coliseum in Memphis, Tennessee on 19 August. After the controversy and fallout surrounding Lennon's remarks, his cynicism with the media grew and he remained guarded in interviews the rest of his life. In subsequent interviews of Lennon before the break-up of the group, his responses to questions were often sardonic and cutting.
In November, 2008, the Vatican publicly announced that it had "forgiven" John Lennon for his remarks, saying that it was a "boast" by a young man grappling with sudden fame.
The Yesterday and Today cover
On 25 March 1966, the group took part in a photo session in a London studio (1 The Vale, Chelsea). The studio was owned by Oluf Nissen, but Whitaker took the photographs.
The publicity shots were used for the American Yesterday and Today album and a poster promoting the UK release of "Paperback Writer". The photograph created an uproar, as it featured the band dressed in butchers' overalls, draped in meat and mutilated plastic dolls. A popular, though apocryphal, rumour said that this was meant as a response to the way Capitol had "butchered" their albums. Capitol parent EMI chairman Sir Joseph Lockwood ordered the butcher cover withdrawn. Thousands of copies of the album had a new cover pasted over.
Whitaker later explained that he was trying to create a satirical commentary on their fame, and that the images of dismembered doll and mannequin parts had been inspired by the German surrealist Hans Bellmer. Uncensored copies of Yesterday and Today command a high price today, with one copy selling for $10,500 at a December 2005 auction and two copies selling for over $12,000 each on eBay in 2013. Unpeeled copies of the pasted over sleeve are also collectable.
1966 marked the last year that the Beatles were tied to their classic "Mop-Top" image (although their hair was noticeably longer by this time) and their all-together unified look. The individual members took a three-month hiatus between their final concert and work on their next album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. During this break, each member of the group coincidentally grew a moustache without consulting the others. Lennon began wearing his signature "granny" glasses during the filming of How I Won The War, cut his hair (he played the role of a soldier in that movie), and switched to wearing colourful paisley suits. They were never again filmed performing with a unified look, with the exception of a mocking scene in the promo for the 1967 song Hello Goodbye.
The Beatles played their last concert at Candlestick Park in San Francisco on 29 August 1966. Immediately after the tour, the band took a three-month break from one another to follow individual pursuits. Lennon accepted a supporting role in the film How I Won the War, and it was during filming that he wrote "Strawberry Fields Forever". McCartney wrote the score for the film The Family Way. Harrison and his wife Pattie, whom he had married in January, travelled to India, where he met Ravi Shankar and took sitar lessons from him, immersing himself in the local culture and religion. Starr mostly stayed at home with his family.
A visit by Lennon to the Indica Gallery in London on 9 November shaped the future of The Beatles, as it was there that Lennon met Yoko Ono for the first time. The group reconvened on 24 November to begin the sessions for what became Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
The group did not record a new album for the Christmas season as they did the previous three years, so Parlophone Records issued the group's first compilation album on 10 December titled A Collection of Beatles Oldies.
The Beatles recorded 19 songs during calendar year 1966, the fewest recordings in any year for the group between 1963-1969. Fourteen of the songs were released on the UK version of their album Revolver. They recorded "Paperback Writer" and "Rain", which were issued as the A and B sides respectively of a single record release. The songs "Strawberry Fields Forever", "When I'm Sixty-Four", and "Penny Lane" were recorded late in the year. All three were originally intended as the first sessions for the next album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. However, "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Penny Lane" were issued as a double A-side single that became the group's first single release of 1967. "When I'm Sixty-Four" was included on the Sgt. Pepper album, also released in 1967.
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