One of the Biggest Reasons The Beatles Stopped Touring

Paul McCartney said, “We couldn’t hear ourselves when we were live, as there was so much screaming going on.” That may sound crazy given the enormous stadiums that are acoustically engineered to account for raucous crowds, but this was more than 50 years ago. There are many unexpected problems that come with international success that most people will never understand or encounter. For The Beatles during their rise to stardom, the times and situations could not be planned for.

Back in the 60’s the main venue for live performances were lounges and clubs. The idea of renting an entire stadium – and finding one that would allow a concert – was completely new. The sound was a secondary thought because it was natural for the performers to believe that the fans actually wanted to hear their music. But the musical question is why do singers need to hear themselves sing?

The explanation is both technical and simple. The simple part is singers need to hear themselves sing to make sure they are heard by the crowd. The more technical part is that a signer needs to think of the next note before they sing it. For those like myself who sing like Kermit the Frog, this thought process is virtually non-existent. To a singer, it is essential. If you can’t think the next note you have no idea what the audience is hearing.

Modern technology is used to help the singer only hear their voice by using earpieces that filter out the crowd noise. For those who attend concerts in more intimate settings, this is a good thing to know if you want to really hear how good your favorite singer is live. But The Beatles did not have this technology available, so everything during their concerts was literally played by ear.

The problem for them is obvious. Consider the lyrics from their classic Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Bank album.

“With A Little Help From My Friends”

What would you think if I sang out of tune

Would you stand up and walk out on me?

Lend me your ears and I’ll sing you a song

And I’ll try not to sing out of key

Was this a request for help from their fans or did these lyrics just happen to come together? Based on McCartney’s statement, either the fans didn’t get it or they ignored their lyrical request. Maybe if their fans actually knew more about music they would have toned it down and kept the door open for the group to continue on their international tours.

One interesting aspect of this problem is that The Beatles really cared about their singing and performances. They probably could have sung out of key and nobody would have cared. Or maybe only a few people in the audience would notice because of all the screaming. Just being there, being a part of the experience, may have been all that mattered.

There were other reasons The Beatles decided to put the brakes on the tour. If you guessed that they were just worn out, you guessed right. The third major reason was something everyone who attends a concert today thinks about – security. In this case it was their own personal safety that was at risk.

Other than the technology, has anything about performing at a concert really changed?


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