Since the inception of the Mets Concert Series in 2012, concerts at Citi Field have become quite frequent. But Shea Stadium has had its fair share of big musical performances as well. In fact, the former home of the Mets has played host to some of the biggest acts in history. The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, and The Police have all graced the stage in Shea’s centerfield. But of all these performances, which one is the all-time greatest and most iconic? Let’s investigate.
I have taken the liberty of narrowing the field to what I believe are the three greatest performances in Shea history: The Beatles in 1965, The Clash in 1982, and Billy Joel in 2008. Apologies to fans of The Who and The Rolling Stones.
The three aforementioned shows will go head-to-head-to-head in seven categories: Relevance, Set-List, Performance, Guests, Mets Record That Year, a Wild Card category, and Historical Impact. Whichever performance wins the most categories will be declared the victor.
The Beatles began their United States tour on August 15th, 1965 at Shea Stadium, days after releasing Help!, and Beatlemania was still alive and well, as evidenced by the tens-of-thousands of weeping and screaming women completely losing their minds in the stands. This is only a year after the band’s first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show.
It is difficult to historically contextualize how beloved and prolific The Beatles were. They released 12 humongously popular studio albums in just eight years, which is absolutely unheard of now. If this is not the peak of Beatlemania, it’s damn close to it, and it’s a year prior to John Lennon proclaiming the band “more popular than Jesus.”
In 1982, “The Only Band That Matters” was one of, if not the, biggest punk act in the world. Punk rock was finally pushing its way into the mainstream, much to the dismay of the genre’s die-hards. Combat Rock, their most commercially successful album, had been released five months prior to their Shea concert, and “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” and “Rock the Casbah,” were receiving regular radio play. They had recently fired long-time drummer Topper Headon due to his drug addiction, and tensions were rising between Mick Jones and Joe Strummer, but The Clash were still very close to their peak in creativity and popularity.
Billy Joel is synonymous with New York, and more specifically, Long Island. Joel’s songs have touched multiple generations of New Yorkers, and his charming stage persona makes many of his fans feel personally attached to him. There was no better fit for the final performance at Shea. Though his best vocal days were well behind him, Joel performed two enormous sets and gave the stadium the send-off it deserved.
Edge: The Beatles are the frickin’ Beatles, and it was in the throes of Beatlemania. They actually may have been more popular than Jesus at the time.
For a band as prolific as The Beatles, their Shea set-list was surprisingly abbreviated and somewhat lacking in big hits. Noticeably absent are “I Saw Her Standing There” and “Eight Days a Week,” though I suppose it’s difficult to fault them for excluding some major hits over other major hits. The 12 song set still seems very short when considering how vast their catalog had already become.
The set-list touched on most of their major hits, plus some deeper cuts like “Spanish Bombs” and “Career Opportunities”. The Clash were well known for their ability to transition seamlessly between countless genres, and they move naturally from punk to reggae to rap here. Strummer, Jones, and bassist Paul Simonon all had a chance to shine as the lead vocalist, as well.
The set-lists from Joel’s two night residency at Shea are, in a word, massive. If we include the National Anthem and encores, night one topped 37 songs, while night two included 35. That takes incredible endurance for anyone, and at the time, Joel was 59-years-old. That said, a set-list that large all but guarantees the inclusion of a song that a chunk of the audience hates (looking at you, “Zanzibar”), and the set-list as a whole suffers just a little.
Edge: The Clash. If Joe Strummer were brought back to life to perform a reunion show specifically for me, this is about as close to an ideal set-list as I could ask for.
It’s difficult to tell what The Beatles sounded like over all the screaming. Look at this police officer’s reaction to The Beatles’ entrance.
This man is in his own personal hell.
The music is completely drowned out by the crowd’s wailing, and even after-the-fact dubs couldn’t save the recording. In fact, the audio from “Act Naturally” was entirely replaced with the studio recording when the concert video was released.
The audio recording of this album shows a band almost at the top of its game. The energy and intensity of a Clash live performance is unmatched, and the limited concert video shows Strummer and Jones pouring everything they had into it. However, the loss of Topper Headon earlier that year makes some of the songs seem just a little off. Whether it’s slightly altered fills or minor changes in tempo (especially in “Spanish Bombs”), Terry Chimes’ drumming is a slight downgrade from Headon’s.
This show’s production value is worlds better than the others, thanks to this magical thing called “decades worth of advancement in technology”. The stage is massive, the lighting and sound are world class, and Joel has the experience of having played countless shows in similarly-sized arenas. Though his age shows during particularly difficult piano and vocal parts, his numerous guests and back-up singers make up for his losses.
Edge: The Clash, but by the smallest of margins over Billy Joel. They were at their peak creatively and physically, and delivered a very good performance.
Ed Sullivan, the variety show host credited with ushering in Beatlemania, gave the band a short but sweet introduction, then bolted off stage to find reprieve from waves of screeching.
It depends on how highly you think of Kosmo Vinyl, who introduced the band. Beat-poet Allen Ginsberg had joined the band on stage a handful of times during the recording of Combat Rock in New York City, but he was conspicuously absent from from Shea that night.
It would be more appropriate to ask “Who wasn’t a guest during these shows?” Joel’s on-stage guests included Sir Paul McCartney, Tony Bennett, my editor’s man-crush John Mayer [Truth – BE], and a lot more. THERE WERE SO MANY GUESTS!
Edge: Billy Joel. It’s tough to compete with the army of mega-stars featured during those two nights.
The Mets were very new and very bad. 112 losses bad. Four years later, they won a World Series.
Ninety-seven losses, though they did draft Doc Gooden that year. Four years later, they won a World Series.
The Mets finished three games behind The Phillies in the NL East and one game out of the Wild Card. This was the second September collapse in two years. Four years later, they very much did not win the World Series.
Edge: Billy Joel. Though it likely stings more, the Mets finished with a record of 89-73, a great deal better than the other two seasons.
I’ll leave it up to you to decide why this bold young man has “Bob” written on his shirt, but in a sea of screaming females, I paused the video on Bob.
The recording of this performance was briefly lost to time until Strummer came across it as he was packing for a move. You might find some spare change or some old photos of your ex. Joe Strummer finds recordings of iconic concerts.
This is probably the appropriate time to mention that Joel is a Yankees fan. Also, on the Wikipedia page for the DVD, some jerk decided it was necessary to denote every song in which the key is different from the original, apparently to remind Billy Joel that he cannot escape the unending progression of time.
Edge: The Beatles, by way of Bob.
The Beatles at Shea Stadium was one of the first stadium concerts ever, and is a microcosm of what American culture was like in 1965. Despite its brevity and the inability to actually hear the performance, this concert is still discussed as one of the most historically significant concerts in human existence.
This tour marked the beginning of the long, drawn-out end for The Clash. Terry Chimes left the band shortly after this tour, and less than a year after the Shea performance, Jones left the band as well. Strummer and Simonon released the appropriately-titled Cut the Crap in 1985, but disbanded shortly after.
Joel’s two-day stint at Shea may not even be his most historically impactful concerts (see: MSG and Nassau Coliseum shows). The gathering of that many mega-stars into one performance is certainly memorable, but it loses grandiosity when lumped in with the countless other Piano Man performances.
Edge: The Beatles.
From Liverpool, England, the most iconic rock band of all-time, The Beatles.