On March 4, 1966, in an interview for the London Evening Standard with Maureen Cleave, John Lennon made the following statement:
"Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn't argue with that; I'm right and I will be proved right. We're more popular than Jesus now; I don't know which will go first? rock 'n' roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It's them twisting it that ruins it for me."
The statement was part of a two page interview and went virtually unnoticed in Britain. In July of that year, Lennon's words were reprinted in the United States fan magazine Datebook, leading to a backlash by conservative religious groups mainly in the rural South and Midwestern states. Radio stations banned the group's recordings, and their albums and other products were burned and destroyed. Spain and the Vatican denounced Lennon's words and South Africa banned Beatles music from the radio. On August 11, 1966 Lennon held a press conference in Chicago in order to address the growing furor. He told reporters:
"I suppose if I had said television was more popular than Jesus, I would have gotten away with it. I'm sorry I opened my mouth. I'm not anti-God, anti-Christ, or anti-religion. I was not knocking it. I was not saying we are greater or better."
On June 5, 1966, The Beatles returned to The Ed Sullivan Show, this time with a taped appearance, where they introduced their two new music videos, "Rain" and "Paperback Writer". In later years, The Beatles would appear on the show to introduce more music videos for the songs "Hello Goodbye", "Penny Lane", "Strawberry Fields Forever", "Two Of Us", and "Let It Be".
On July 2, 1966, The Beatles became the first musical group to perform at the Nippon Budokan Hall in Tokyo. The performance ignited a lot of protest from local citizens who felt that it was inappropriate for a rock-and-roll band to play at Budokan.
By the end of July, the band headed to the Philippines for a series of shows. The Beatles, while relaxing in their hotel room, read in the newspaper that they would visit the Malacanang Palace of President Ferdinand Marcos. This came as news to the Beatles, who were tired from the tour and otherwise had a strict policy of keeping their rare days off to themselves so as to be consistent about their obligations. They spent a relaxing evening in the hotel, and awoke the next morning to death threats and newspaper headlines like "Imelda stood up!" and "The Beatles snub the First Lady!". Epstein attempted to make a televised apology for the incident, but none of the local stations would air it. The following day, armed guards attempted to keep the band from leaving the country until they paid a fee of some kind. The Beatles, who hadn't been paid for their shows in the country, paid out of their own pockets. The Beatles literally had to fight their way to the airplane. Decades later with the fall of the Marcos regime and the full exposure of its abuses, the members of the band took some pride that they stood up to the Marcos' in some small way.
Events like those in the Philippines, in addition to the fact that the fans screamed so loud at their concerts that they couldn't even hear themselves perform, led to the band deciding to quit touring altogether. The band performed their last concert (at least on a large scale) at San Francisco's Candlestick Park on August 29, 1966.
The studio years
With the distractions of touring behind them, The Beatles began recording Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band on November 24, 1966. The album took so much time to record (for a Beatles record anyway) that the press started to suggest that the Beatles had "lost it" and had run out of creativity. Three early tracks, "Strawberry Fields Forever", "Penny Lane", and "Only A Northern Song", were left out of Sgt. Pepper as it was not then customary to include singles releases on albums. Some were saved for later albums: the latter song becoming part of the "Yellow Submarine" film, but George Martin still refers to the omission of "Penny Lane" and "Strawberry Fields Forever" from Sgt. Pepper as the greatest regret of his career. Ironically, the "Penny Lane" / "Strawberry Fields Forever" double A side was the first Beatles single not to make UK number 1 since their first release. It was kept from the top spot by Engelbert Humperdinck's "Release Me".
Nonetheless, Sgt. Pepper's release on June 1, 1967, was a high point both for the band and for all of rock music, for it was the first-ever widely-popular concept album (built around a particular theme) and helped to launch what we know today as the "Classic Rock" format.
On June 25, 1967 The Beatles performed "All You Need Is Love" for the Our World television special. It was the first television special to air worldwide. Singing backup for the Beatles were a number of artists including Eric Clapton, and members of the Rolling Stones and The Who.
Manager Brian Epstein died of a drug overdose on August 27, 1967, while the Beatles were in Bangor, Wales, attending a weekend conference given by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. The death was officially ruled accidental, although it has often been speculated that it was a suicide. Epstein had managed every aspect of the Beatles' career, and his absence was immediately noticeable. The Beatles' business affairs began to unravel.
In January 1968, The Beatles launched Apple Corps, a disastrously mismanaged entertainment company that included a recording studio, a record label (Apple Records), a film division and clothing store. In addition to Beatles records, Apple released albums by James Taylor, Mary Hopkin, Billy Preston, Badfinger, Ravi Shankar and other artists.
Towards the end of the 1960s, members of the band began to pursue their own musical interests and were writing together less and less. This became more and more obvious on releases like 1968's The Beatles (a.k.a. "The White Album"), and Let It Be. The Beatles was largely written during the band's visit to India, where they stayed at the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's retreat. With the exception of Harrison, the Beatles eventually rejected the Maharishi, particularly after he was publicly disgraced. Lennon, disillusioned, wrote the song "Sexy Sadie" (originally titled "Maharishi") about their former teacher. A number of unreleased songs from the Let It Be sessions also make reference to the Maharishi. The Beatles went on to become their biggest selling LP in the United States and one of the US top ten selling albums of all time. The double album has often been criticised for its varying quality and including too many tracks on what should have been a single LP release. The Beatles released two albums in order to be free of their EMI contract which stipulated a total number of recorded songs. However, in the words of McCartney: "It sold, it was the bloody Beatles' White Album, shut up!"
It was during sessions for The Beatles that the band recorded "Hey Jude", a seven-minute magnum opus which turned out to be the biggest-selling single of the group's entire career.
In January of 1969, The Beatles began rehearsals for a new album project (at the time entitled Get Back). The rehearsals at Twickenham Film Studios made it the first album the group had made away from Abbey Road and without the guidance of George Martin. The recording sessions at Apple Studios were filmed for what would eventually become the Let It Be movie. Many ideas had been thrown around for the Get Back album, including the idea of recording it live during a surprise concert performance on top of a submarine, in an amphitheatre, or in a dance hall. None of these happened, but they did end the project with a live performance on top of the Apple Corps building in Savile Row, London, which was cut short when a local bank manager called the police to complain about the noise. This impromptu concert, held on January 30, 1969, was to be the Beatles' last public performance. An edited version of the performance can be seen in the documentary film "Let It Be". Eventually the band gave up on the project. After the release of "Abbey Road", Lennon turned the Get Back sessions over to producer Phil Spector, with controversial results. Spector's signature "Wall of Sound" production was in direct opposition to the original intent of the record, which had been to bring the band full circle, and record a stripped-down live studio performance just as their first album had been. McCartney in particular was critical of the results, particularly on tracks like "The Long and Winding Road".