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Wednesday, August 17th, 1966, now a full 50 years ago, and the biggest day thus far in my 17 years of life.

On that date, the greatest pop band from not only the Top 40 Rock ’n Roll era – but ever – was playing a mere 65 miles away at the fabled home of Toronto’s storied National Hockey League franchise, Maple Leaf Gardens.

And I was going!

Having flown overnight from Philly to Toronto, The Beatles would be giving performances eight and nine at their 6th venue – and only Canadian stop – during their latest 14-city North American concert tour in the summer of 1966.

Beatles MLG Stub I say ‘latest,’ because unbeknownst to the entire pop music world at the time (save for the Fab Four themselves and likely their inner circle) this set of 18 live performances would be their very last – not only across this continent, but worldwide.

Never again!

The Toronto concerts, for which (still, to this day) great friends Tony Busbridge and Roger Ashby and myself had floor tickets for the second show in the evening, were one year to the day after their last Gardens double-dip, on Tuesday, August 17th, 1965 (The other was 1964’s initial twin performances in that city on Monday, September 7th).

 
 

Beatles:MLG:Aug17:1965 Beatles Fans Outside Maple Leaf Gardens Before The August 17th, 1965 Concerts
(Courtesy YorkSpace)

 

My own personal feelings, even during the 90-minute Greyhound ride from our hometown of Waterloo, Ontario to the bus terminal in downtown Toronto are still difficult to pinpoint.

However, ‘electric’ and ‘surreal’ always come to mind. After all, I was only a couple of hours away from being in the same venue as the Beatles!

Really?

If you were a teenager in the 1960’s, even now you likely understand the magnitude of this monumental event as it pertained to me, because you also lived the most unforgettable music phenomenon of our generation.

 

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Our bus arrived in T.O. in plenty of time – even a couple of hours early to allow us to engage in our top-of-the-list pre-concert treat, taking in the famed record stores along the city’s main drag, Yonge St., namely Sam The Record Man and its virtually adjacent competitor, A&A Records.

It was our youth-oriented version of an adult’s shopping trip to New York City’s Fifth Avenue or along Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills.

But despite enjoying picking up the latest 45 RPM hit singles not yet available at the shops back home, that pleasure, to me, was somewhat diminished by an obvious distraction – the moment to begin the approximately one-half mile northerly trek up Yonge St. to that mid-town hockey shrine at the corner of Church and Carlton for the 8:30 PM show.

📝 Transcript of the Beatles 1966 Toronto Press Conference

Once inside that iconic edifice and confronted with its myriad of superstar photos and hockey artifacts, adrenaline kicked into high gear.

Fortunately, we’d already been to a MLG concert together – by the original, blues-based Rolling Stones in April, 1965. So the sense of “been there, done that” helped to not detract from the high level excitement upon entering the Fab Four’s one-day realm.

 

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I’m sure you’ve attended music concerts where opening acts have been part of the deal – so you know that feeling of having to patiently sit through them and, as arduous as it might be, offering polite applause after each song.

But prior to the appearance of our quintessential musical idols, the waiting and anticipation was like nothing I’ve experienced, either before or since.

Tony Busbridge, whom I’ve known since 6th grade, offers his remembrance of the pre-concert. “The wait for the Beatles was almost agonizing and it was as hot as Hell. We all read later that [Maple Leaf Gardens cantankerous owner Harold] Ballard had turned up the heat to increase cold beverage sales at the concession stands.”

That there were no less than four pre-Beatles acts only magnified the impatience; an obscure Boston pop band called the Remains, U.S. soul singer Bobby Hebb (Sunny), an American group also managed by the Beatles’ head man Brian Epstein named the Cyrkle (Red Rubber Ball) and from Phil Spector’s wall-of-sound stable of superstars, the Ronettes.

So, there I was, watching this legendary ’60s American girl group led by one of the greatest female pop vocalists of all time, Ronnie Spector. But I didn’t care!

Bring on the Beatles!

📝 Full Set Lists

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I also remember the opening acts – in particular, the Ronettes” offers Busbridge, now retired from the banking industry. “Specifically, I can still hear in my mind ‘and for every kiss you give me, I’ll give you one, two, three’ (a deviation from the original lyrics [to ‘Be My Baby’] as you know).”

Long-time friend Roger Ashby offers this unique recollection during the pre-Beatles wait that evening. “For some reason, I remember hearing the [summer of ’66 hit] song ‘Bus Stop’ by the Hollies.” [Note] Probably played over ‘the Gardens’ PA system during the intermission

Beatles:N:ATourBook:1966 After what seemed like an eternity, the stage, prepped with their usual Marshall guitar amplifiers, was ready and it was showtime!

I’m deliberately keeping the description of the concert itself short – both to give an actual sense of its brevity and because that’s how it was! It seemed it was over in the blink of an eye.

(Right) The Official Beatles 1966 Tour Program

Let me just say that everything you’ve likely seen or heard about mid-’60s ‘Beatlemania’ is totally accurate. It truly was complete and utter bedlam!

After being introduced by local iconic radio personality “Jungle” Jay Nelson from 1050 CHUM, Tony states, “The lads bounded on stage as everyone stood on their seats, us on the floor, until the end of a less than 30 minute concert.”

Despite being in (on) floor seats – row LLL, do the math – I could see the show by navigating my head above or to the sides of the ones directly in front of me; and they were doing the same.

In fact, we all could have given boxing great Muhammad Ali a run for his money with his famed ‘bob and weave’ technique.

But, as for the sound, plainly very little could be heard by yours truly. Only occasional waves of audio drifting past my ears would help me identify each of the tunes from their 11-song set.

About his aural experience, Tony remarks, “The screaming was the loudest sound that I had ever heard of to that point in my life and it continued for the whole show. I recall hearing wafts of sound of each song through the din with the only clearly sustained song being the first few words and notes of ‘Yesterday.’

I remember standing on floor seats” says Ashby, who has anchored Toronto’s top-rated morning radio show on CHUM-FM for more than three decades. “Also the deafening screaming, and by today’s standards, a short set.”

About the Fab Four’s all-too-brief appearance, Tony concurs, “In no time at all, the house lights came on and it was all over.”

 

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Beatles:Concert:MLG:1966 -1 Maple Leaf Gardens, August 17th, 1966

But, as seen on my actual concert ticket stub previously pictured above, $5.50 for 30 minutes of pure pandemonium was a pretty good deal!

Beatles:Concert:MLG:1966 -2 Maple Leaf Gardens, August 17th, 1966

For that (now) unbelievable pittance, I had just witnessed (more like experienced) the ninth last live Beatles concert ever! Their final appearance as a group was just 12 days (and 9 performances) away at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park on August 29th.

I distinctively remember going over that set list on the bus ride home that night” Tony also recalls.

[Note] In fact, with no paper readily available for taking notes, we used one of the Sam The Record Man bags containing some of the 45’s we’d bought earlier to jot down the exact order of the song titles they’d performed before we forgot. That bag is still packed away somewhere in one of my stored boxes of music memorabilia.

Another lasting – and personal – memory from Roger. “That was my mother’s 49th birthday.” And he adds, “I still have my ticket stub.”

John, Paul, George and Ringo would be gone the next morning – off to Boston for concert tour show number 10.

But, unlike 1964 and 1965, the Beatles would never again return.

PeaceSignMASTER

 

Beatles:RooftopConcert-1

[Note] Some Beatles fans consider the impromptu Apple Records rooftop concert in mid-town London on January 30, 1969 (above) to be their true, final live performance.

 

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Related:

📝 The Beatles Played Their Final Concert 50 Years Ago

📝 Remembering Beatles’ Final Concert

📝 The Untold Story of the Beatles Last Concert

📝 The Beatles Never Intended To Quit Touring For Good

🎬 Toronto Remembers the ’66 Beatles Concerts with a New Exhibit

📝 Rare Beatles In Toronto Poster on Display

📝 Toronto’s Last Brush With Beatlemania

📝 Toronto Commemorates the August 17, 1966 Beatles Visit with a Special Concert

📷 Seven Rare Vintage Photos of the Beatles in Toronto

🔊 The Beatles Are Live And Sounding Better Than Ever

🎬

Producer Ron’s Howard‘s forthcoming documentary THE BEATLES: Eight Days A Week – The Touring Years debuts in select theaters on September 16th, with exclusive streaming on Hulu beginning one day later.

Here’s the trailer.

By Rick Murray Hunter / HouseoftheHits.com

Special Thanks to Roger Ashby and Tony Busbridge

Thanks to TheStar.com / TorontoSun.com / NME.com / TorontoLife.com / BeatlesInterviews.org / Last.fm / Deadline.com / NPR.org

Some photos courtesy of the Boris Spremo / Toronto Star

Ticket Stub and Tour Program: The Collection of Rick Murray Hunter

RMH PRIMARYBIO