Shake it Up, Baby: When the Fab Four Hit AC

50 years ago, the Beatles hit Atlantic City. If you heard the songs, you probably weren’t there.

Love Me Do: Adoring fans screamed their approval when the Beatles took the stage August 30, 1964, at Atlantic City's Convention Hall.
Photo courtesy of AP Photo

It was the summer of 1964 and the Beatles were coming to town.

That February, the Beatles had changed my 13-year-old world with their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. Like all my friends, I was thrilled when I heard the Fab Four were going to play Convention Hall in Atlantic City. I scrounged up the $3.90 for a seat, and on August 30 took my place in the balcony waiting for the invaders from Liverpool.

Suddenly there they were, running onto the stage in their matching suits. A thousand flashbulbs lit up the night. Then the screaming began. I had never heard anything remotely as loud—or frightening.

The building was old even then. I couldn’t help but wonder if the massive stone structure, built in 1929, could withstand the passion of 18,000 hysterical fans. We were shaking the venerable building down to its very foundation.

The Beatles had arrived in town from New York City the previous day, going directly to the Lafayette Motor Inn on Pennsylvania Avenue. Throughout their stay, large crowds gathered outside the hotel hoping to catch a glimpse of the foursome. Food had to be delivered to the hotel; at the White House Sub Shop, you can still see photos of the Beatles enjoying an oversized sandwich that had been sent over by the famous eatery. Their appetites sated, John Lennon and Paul McCartney supposedly whiled away the hotel hours by writing a song, “Every Little Thing,” that would appear on the Beatles VI album the following spring.

At 2:15 the next afternoon, the Beatles were smuggled out of the hotel in the back of a fish truck. Out of sight of the crowd, they transferred to their tour bus for the short trip to Convention Hall.

Unlike today’s superstar outings, tours in 1964 featured multiple acts. The Bill Black Combo appeared first that August night, albeit without Bill, who was ill and died the following year. The Righteous Brothers were on next. It would be their last date on the tour. They had grown tired of their music being drowned out by screams for the Beatles. The Exciters and Jackie DeShannon followed. It was an unenviable task.

Finally, the Beatles took their customary stage positions: Paul and John flanking George Harrison at the front of the stage, and Ringo Starr seemingly floating above them on his drum riser. They played 12 songs, starting with “Twist and Shout” and ending with “Long Tall Sally.” It was over in about 30 minutes. There was no encore.

I don’t really know how the Beatles sounded that night. It was nearly impossible to hear. (Whether the Beatles could hear each other is beyond me.) Despite all this, no one who witnessed that summer night’s spectacle is likely to forget it.

Waiting for the jitney to take me home after the show, I noticed a laundry truck pass by but paid it no mind. If only I had known that the Beatles were in the truck, making their escape to Cape May where they would spend a few days at the Marquis de Lafayette Hotel. From there it was on to Philadelphia for their next show. The tour ended in New York City on September 20, and the Beatles flew back to England. They never returned as a group to Atlantic City.

Ken Shane is a freelance writer and former New Jersey resident who spent his childhood summers in Atlantic City.

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