American editor Art Unger was looking for provocative quotes when he was putting together the August 1966 issue of teen magazine Datebook.
He was planning a ‘Shout-Out’ edition to showcase the voice of youth – and was delighted when the Beatles’ press office offered four articles recently printed in the London Evening Standard.
They were interviews with each member of the Beatles written by English journalist Maureen Cleave, who knew the group well. In his, John Lennon spoke freely about his philosophies and beliefs.
Buried in it was the statement: ‘We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first – rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity.’
Unger took the quote out of context – Lennon had used it in a wider discussion about church attendances – and plastered it over the magazine cover.
The reaction was explosive. The Beatles were touring the USA and Canada at the time and were bombarded with questions wherever they went.
Lennon’s remarks led the news on most radio and TV channels, their concerts were plagued with protests and the band even received death threats.
At one point, Beatles manager Brian Epstein even thought of cancelling the tour.
For a group that never liked touring anyway, the controversy was the last straw. The Beatles switched to studio work and record production from then on.
Problems with the ill-fated tour began before the Beatles even got off the ground at London’s Heathrow airport on August 11th.
Their plane was delayed so the band took a look round the airport’s new police control room to kill time. Ringo looks decidedly bored in our photo of the occasion.
Matters came to a head in the USA at the Mid-South Coliseum venue in Memphis on August 19th. The Ku Klux Klan had nailed a Beatles’ LP to a wooden cross and the band’s records had been burned in public.
When someone threw a lit firecracker on stage, the group were convinced someone was trying to shoot them.
The final concert of the tour took place at Candlestick Park in San Francisco on August 29th in front of an audience of 25,000. Around 7,000 tickets were left unsold.
The Beatles came on stage at 9.27pm and played 11 songs before being whisked off to the airport in an armoured car. They flew to Los Angeles at 12.50am.
During the flight, George Harrison made the remark: ‘That’s it, then. I’m not a Beatle anymore.’ He reckoned the band had reached the point where ‘enough was enough.’
Things had calmed down a little by the time the Beatles touched down at Heathrow on August 31st, relieved to back in the UK.
After a break, the band started work on the movie for their latest single Strawberry Fields Forever – a double A-side with Penny Lane.
Director Richard Lester, responsible for the Beatles’ movie A Hard Day’s Night, took the band off to Knole Park in Kent at the end of January 1967 to shoot the promotional clip.
It proved to be a trailblazer for music videos, featuring stop-motion animation, reverse effects and the superimposing of characters and scenes.
Lennon based the song on his memories of playing in the garden of Strawberry Field, a Salvation Army children’s home in Woolton. In response, Paul McCartney wrote Penny Lane on a similar nostalgic theme.
Record producer George Martin thought they were two of the best songs the Beatles ever recorded.
Lennon himself reckoned Strawberry Fields Forever was his highest achievement as a member of the Beatles.
Its dreamy melodies, played on the Mellotron keyboard and an Indian swarmandal or zither, certainly inspired the psychedelic music of the 70s.
As ground-breaking as it was, Strawberry Fields Forever only reached No. 2 in the UK charts.
It was held off the top by Engelbert Humperdinck’s ballad Release Me.