Beatles Concert Tape on eBay

1966 performance catches band on final tour

January 31, 2003 12:00 AM ET

Another Beatles recording is about to surface -- this one even rarer than the just recovered "Get Back" sessions -- because it has never been heard in public before.

In August 1966, two Jackson, Mississippi, teens, Gloria Allen and Noreen Prouty, lugged a portable reel-to-reel tape recorder to the Beatles' Memphis show on what would prove to be the band's last tour ever. A few months before, John Lennon had made his infamous comment, "We're more popular than Jesus," prompting bonfires of Beatles records throughout America. In Memphis, the reaction was particularly bad. At the second of the Beatles' two shows that day, while George Harrison sang "If I Needed Someone," a fan threw fireworks onstage. "Each thought it was the other that had been shot," Lennon remembered. "That's when I knew: That was the last tour."

Now, Allen and Prouty's tapes of the shows will finally see the light of day, thanks to eBay. Allen rediscovered the tapes in 1996, gathering dust in her closet, and took them to a local recording studio. "I just wanted to see if they sounded like I remembered," she says. The engineer showed the grocery sack of reels to Chris Larkin, an aspiring songwriter who'd been a chef on the Jacksons' Victory Tour. Larkin called the London offices of EMI, the Beatles' label. Thirty-six hours later, Michael Heatley, general manager of EMI's International Catalogue Development, arrived in Nashville for a listen. Heatley's offer to buy the tapes was "insulting," according to Larkin. "It wasn't even six figures." Larkin contends that Heatley's only interest in the tapes was to put them in a vault and keep them out of the hands of bootleggers.

Rolling Stone listened to the tapes in Memphis. They offer a document of Beatlemania, but the fidelity is low, and the shrieking of teenage girls often drowns out the band. Those shrieks can be filtered out some with the help of Pro Tools, and Harrison's guitar cuts through clearly. When the explosion occurs, the audience reacts with intensified screaming, as if the boom was stage pyrotechnics.

The tapes will be up for auction beginning February 15th.

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