How The Beatles Nailed The Art Of The Publicity Stunt
The Beatles did everything first.
And even when they did things last, they did them first.
Fifty years ago today John, Paul, Ringo and George performed together for the very last time in public, and they memorably did it by playing at the roof of their Apple Studios in London.
As with everything they Beatles did, it brought everything around them to a standstill, this time, for the last time, in a literal sense.
They had not played live since a concert at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park in 1966 as the madness of Beatlemania took its last breaths.
The songs on that chilly afternoon’s short play-list would all end up on their final album Abbey Road.
Get Back, One After 909, Dig a Pony, I've Got a Feeling and finally, gloriously, Don't Let Me Down were all given an airing before John Lennon uttered the most poignant of farewell messages.
“I would like to say thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves and I hope we’ve passed the audition.”
And just like that, the Beatles were gone. Forever.
Their influence, it hardly needs saying, lives on to this day, and the rooftop mini-concert would go on to inspire many similar publicity stunts over the years.
The most famous remains U2’s appearance on a Los Angeles rooftop for the filming of the “Where The Streets Have No Name video, from the legendary Joshua Tree album.
It did the trick. The video won a Grammy, but this was no leap of originality for Bono and co, who wore their ambitions to be the next Beatles very much on their sleeves.
Others followed. Guns in Roses, in 1991 and Limp Bizkit, in 2000, produced typically over the top performances on rooftops for the videos of Don’t Cry and Rollin’ respectively.
In February 2009, U2 were back on the rooftop, this time of BBC Broadcasting House, singing some old hits and new tunes ahead of the release of their album No Line on the Horizon.
"This is a great honour,” Bono told an excitable 5,000 crowd. “This is the first time we've played these songs to people, so we hope we don't screw it up."
The nod to Lennon was not exactly subtle.
The rooftop performance as an act of Rock 'N' Roll defiance had long jumped the shark but its credibility to took another blow when The 1975, perhaps Beatles comparison ringing in their ears, teamed up with Beats 1 to play on the roof of a Los Angeles building in Feb 2016. The station brought the band and over a hundred fans to downtown LA for a show that screened on Zane Lowe’s Beats 1 show.
What the Beatles had done off the cuff all those years ago was now the domain of the money men.
Still, in the age of YouTube and social media, the rooftop remains a favourite location for publicity stunts. As recently as December 2018, Hong Kong cryptocurrency promoter Wong Ching-Kit, also known as "Coin Young Master", chucked what was estimated to be $25,000 on passers-by from a rooftop in one of Hong Kong's rundown neighbourhoods, presumably in the hope that money can buy him love. It didn’t, but it did get him arrested.
Coin Young Master, however, has some way to go before he can plunge the depths of what is surely the dumbest, most self-defeating publicity stunt of all time.
On August 23, 1994, Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty of K Foundation (and formerly The KLF) inexplicably burned one million pounds sterling on the Scottish island of Jura as some sort of art performance. Almost all their worth literally went up in smoke.
For years they refused to discuss this act of utter insanity. Quite right too. Stupidity of this magnitude is not something to be shouted from the rooftops.