Data shared exclusively with Newsweek suggests that the band’s infamous 1965 gig at Shea Stadium, featured in Oscar-winning filmmaker Ron Howard’s new documentary The Beatles: Eight Days a Week—The Touring Years, released Thursday, was louder than the average modern-day rock concert and, more impressively, a jumbo jet.
It is well documented that Paul, Ringo, John and George inspired a cult-like following at the height of Beatlemania in the mid-1960s with throngs of screaming girls flocking to see them at their gigs across the globe. The four-piece from Liverpool, England, became worldwide sensations after cracking the U.S. music market following their debut North American performance on The Ed Sullivan Show in February 1964, which was watched by an estimated 73 million viewers.
A year later, in August 1965, with Beatlemania now at fever pitch, the band played an iconic concert at New York City’s Shea Stadium to a then-record crowd of 55,600. That gig was the first major stadium concert of note by a pop act.
John hailed the Shea Stadium concert as one of his career highlights, telling the band’s concert promoter Sid Bernstein: “Sid, at Shea Stadium, I saw the top of the mountain.” The Fab Four became so synonymous with the venue that when it was knocked down in 2008, Paul returned to play the final concert held there.
The Beatles, in years to come, would remark that the music and roars of the crowd at the Shea Stadium show were so loud that they could barely hear themselves. “I could not hear anything. I’d be watching John’s arse, Paul’s arse, his foot tapping his head nodding, to see where we were in the song,” says Ringo Starr in Eight Days a Week.
Just how loud was the concert? Research conducted by James Dyble from Global Sound Group, which provides audio mixing and mastering services, and shared with Newsweek finds that at 131.35 decibels, the sound within the stadium would have been 28 decibels louder than a jumbo jet flying at 100 feet and 11 decibels louder than a crash of thunder.
Dyble, who reviewed footage of the Shea concert, said: “It is difficult to calculate an exact sound level of the crowd; however, I can calculate an approximate decibel level. After viewing video footage of the concert and using official dimensions of an American baseball field, I have calculated that decibel level would have been around 131.35dB. Compare that to the current average rock concert sound level of 115dB and you can see how loud it would have been.”
For comparative purposes, Dyble says the concert would be louder than a jet flying at 100 feet, which would register at 103 decibels, while the sound of thunder registers at 120 decibels.
The foursome and 55,000-strong crowd would have also been 10 decibels louder than an ambulance siren (121 decibels) and far louder than a normal conversation (60 decibels).
Since 1965, with advancements in music amplification, there have been a great many claims to the title of “world’s loudest band.” British rock band The Who made the Guinness Book of World Records in 1976 with a recorded noise level of 126 decibels at The Valley stadium in London.
The New York-based heavy metal band Manowar claimed to have hit 129.5 decibels at a gig in Hanover, Germany, in 1994, although Guinness World Records had stopped recording the loudest concerts by this time. The band reportedly broke that record in 2008 during a soundcheck for their performance at Magic Circle Festival in Bad Arolsen, Germany, hitting 139 decibels.
More recently, veteran band Kiss achieved 136 decibels at a concert in Ottawa, Canada, in 2009. Gene Simmons and company were allegedly forced to turn the noise down due to noise complaints.
If any bands today are hoping to top that, they may want to take heed of research released by the World Health Organization in 2015. The WHO said that listening to more than 28 seconds of a loud rock concert, which has an average sound level of 115 decibels, could increase chances of hearing damage. Although not an exact science, 28 seconds might buy you a chorus at a Foo Fighters concert.
The Beatles: Eight Days a Week—The Touring Years chronicles the early part of the band’s career and the rise of Beatlemania, particularly focusing on their concerts. The documentary features new interviews with Ringo and Paul, as well as 30 minutes of digitally remastered footage from the Shea Stadium concert.