Steel Pier, Convention Hall, August 30, 1964. It has been said that summer nights are magical, and this one was no exception to the rule. Characters wandering the boardwalk weaved in and out of foggy shadows clouded in sea mist and sprinkled with fairy dust. Perhaps, even, Merlin moved among us,conjuring up enchanting spells, disguised as a hot dog vendor or ticket scalper. The air was electrified and the sound of waves pounding the nearby surf echoed the roar in my prepubescent brain. We were here. We were actually here. After six months of unbearable anticipation, we (my best friend, her older brother and his girlfriend), had finally reached our unreachable star(s).
They skipped up a few stairs and ran — actually RAN onto the stage. No affected Jagger-like gavotte or laconic Keith Richards swagger. These babies were the real deal; excited to be there and so ALIVE. Their infectious energy filled the arena and crackled like frozen air particles on an Arctic night. Had it only been a week before that LBJ accepted his party’s nomination on this same stage? Could there be a more perfect dichotomy? Then one of the “boys” struck a chord; the crowd exploded and the joint started rocking.
Of course our seats were in the nose-bleed section. In fact, they were just ordinary metal fold-up chairs that appeared to have been added at the last minute. But that was inconsequential. There was no mistaking the familiar line-up. Ringo on his well-deserved pedestal, John on my right standing firm with feet spread apart, George in the middle; dark and ethereal. And Paul, the effervescent left-handed bass guitarist, standing next to George. We couldn’t see their faces or even hear their introductory remarks over the roar, but we were there. There in the hall of the gods. And gods they were.
I balanced my 95-pound frame on the very edge of the chair back and peered through dime store binoculars, which only magnified the blond hair strands on the girl in front of me. I screamed my head off and wildly waved a Beatles head scarf. In the same way that eyes adjust to darkness; my vestibulocochlear nerve eventually adjusted to the din and I faintly heard their first song, “Twist and Shout.” Obviously they were singing it to me.
All in all they sang 12 songs, ending with “Long Tall Sally.” They left the stage the same way they entered, on Hermes’ wings.
On the way out, my friend’s brother gently grabbed my hand because I was apparently too dazed to walk a straight line. I purchased a souvenir book for one dollar that has multiplied in value exponentially.
The Beatles toured for five years, but this was the only concert they ever performed in New Jersey thanks to impresario George Hamid Jr., who scored a coup by bringing them to Atlantic City. They received $25,000 for their performance, which was a record payout for a band. (Keep in mind, the price of gas in 1964 was about 27 cents a gallon and the minimum wage was $1.25 an hour.) Hamid, a Princeton graduate, had passed on booking Elvis almost a decade before but fortunately did not make the same mistake twice.
It is documented that Paul McCartney wrote “Every Little Thing” while staying at the Marquis de Lafayette Hotel in Cape May. It is rumored that the song “Yellow Submarine” was inspired by the six-foot sandwich that the Beatles ordered in the now legendary White House Sub Shop in Atlantic City.
— Grace Walter
Grace Walter is a medical biller and mother of one. She is an avid Beatles fan as evidenced by her frequent contributions to U.S. 1’s Summer Fiction issue, several of which have been based on Beatles songs. Her 2009 piece, “Dear Prudence,” was a letter consisting exclusively of 69 Beatles song titles. Her 2011 piece, “I’ve Just Heard a Song,” was based on the Beatles’ “I’ve Just Seen a Face,” which appears on the album Help!