Monday, 20 July 2015

What If The Beatles Hadn't Stopped Touring?

The Beatles on tour in 1966.

It's a question that's hotly discussed. What if the Beatles had decided to keep on touring the globe? What if Candlestick Park hadn't been their last hurrah for touring?

My personal opinion is that the Beatles were right to stop touring and they also picked the perfect time to do it. In 1966 the world was changing, the so called "Summer of Love" was a year away and after that a horrible hangover for touring bands.

In December 1969, the Rolling Stones and other bands put on a free concert at the Altamont Speedway in Northern California. This was their answer to fans saying their ticket prices for their tour were too high and also it was something that people on the west coast could enjoy what the east coasters had with the critically acclaimed Woodstock Festival four months earlier.

The Stones' management team decided to hire the Hells Angels to provide  some semblance of security at the concert. They were paid in beer and that's when you know things are going to go downhill. When Mick Jagger stepped out of the helicopter when the band arrived at Altamont, he was punched in the face by someone in the crowd. Fights broke out between the festival goers and the Hells Angels and it all came to a head during the Stones' set when during 'Under My Thumb' 18 year old Meredith Hunter was stabbed to death by one of the Angels when he pulled a revolver. This kid was high as a kite and had already been beaten up by the Hells Angels for attempting to climb on stage. Footage of the incident was captured in the Rolling Stones documentary film 'Gimme Shelter', which had been produced by Albert and David Maysles, the same team who had captured the Beatles historic first visit to the United States in 1964.

The two films contrast greatly and if the Beatles ever saw 'Gimme Shelter' they probably realised they had made the right decision to stop touring when they did (By the time of the Altamont concert, the Beatles had ceased to function as a group anyway).

It is to be noted that the Hells Angels were not totally responsible for the mayhem that ensued at Altamont, many of the audience were drunk, high and aggressive too.

In short, a free concert + high people + aggressive biker gang = Bloody Disaster.

This was the underlying mood of the time too. George Harrison and his then wife Pattie Boyd visited Haight-Ashbury, the so called epi-centre of the Hippie counter-culture, in San Francisco in 1967.

"I went there expecting it to be a brilliant place, with groovy gypsy people making works of art and paintings and carvings in little workshops. But it was full of horrible spotty drop-out kids on drugs, and it turned me right off the whole scene. I could only describe it as being like the Bowery: a lot of bums and drop-outs; many of them very young kids who'd dropped acid and come from all over America to this mecca of LSD.

We walked down the street, and I was being treated like the Messiah. The Beatles were pretty big, and for one of them to be there was a big event. I became really afraid, because the concoction that the DJ had given me was having an effect. I could see all the spotty youths, but I was seeing them from a twisted angle. It was like the manifestation of a scene from an Hieronymus Bosch painting, getting bigger and bigger, fish with heads, faces like vacuum cleaners coming out of shop doorways... They were handing me things - like a big Indian pipe with feathers on it, and books and incense - and trying to give me drugs. I remember saying to one guy: 'No thanks, I don't want it.' And then I heard his whining voice saying, 'Hey, man - you put me down.' It was terrible. We walked quicker and quicker through the park and in the end we jumped in the limo, said, 'Let's get out of here,' and drove back to the airport." 

- George Harrison on visiting Haight-Ashbury.

Although I'm sure lots of people had a great experience dropping acid and sleeping with strangers in the late 60s, it just wasn't the way forward and if the Beatles had kept on touring, it would have probably seen them play places like Altamont and things like this happen. They'd experienced hostility in the Philippines and the southern states of the USA but nothing tragic had happened at their concerts and with them giving up touring, nothing was likely to either.

1 comment:

  1. Great post. I completely agree. Everything that happened with the Beatles was exactly as it was supposed to, in order to protect their legacy. Although, I guess you could say since the Stones were the "anti Beatles," that this death only added to their "infamy."


Your comments are always appreciated!