The film captures not only the concert, the attendance of which was 55,600, the largest Beatles concert up to that time, but also the events leading up to the concert, including the Beatles' helicopter ride from Manhattan to Flushing Meadows, their preparation in the dressing room (i.e. the visiting baseball team's locker) at Shea Stadium, and clips from the show's other acts, including Motown singer Brenda Holloway ("I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)"), King Curtis ("Soul Twist"), Sounds Incorporated ("Fingertips"), and Killer Joe Piro and The Discothèque Dancers ("It's Not Unusual", "Downtown", "Can't Buy Me Love"), managed by Jerry Weintraub. Murray the K, Neil Aspinall, Nat Weiss, with his step-son Shaun Weiss, Mal Evans, Brian Epstein, and announcer Cousin Brucie Morrow are also featured. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were also in attendance. Marvin Gaye was introduced but did not perform. The Young Rascals and Cannibal & the Headhunters also performed but were not featured in the documentary. The concert had been presented by promoter Sid Bernstein. Television host Ed Sullivan introduced the band when they took the stage: "Now, ladies and gentlemen, honored by their country, decorated by their Queen, and loved here in America, here are The Beatles!"
The film is not a completely accurate representation of the actual concert performance. The songs "She's a Woman" and "Everybody's Trying to Be My Baby" are omitted from the film due to time and likely camera reel change issues (audio of the latter song was released on The Beatles Anthology Volume 2 CD). The audio for the songs that remained went through a heavy post-production process as well. Some songs were treated with overdubs, or even re-recorded entirely, by the Beatles at London's CTS Studios on 5 January 1966, to cover audio problems throughout the concert recording. In addition, the audio for "Twist and Shout" comes from a show at the Hollywood Bowl later on the same tour, and the audio for "Act Naturally" was simply replaced by the studio version of the song (released on the Help! LP in Britain and on the B-side of "Yesterday" in the US), sped up slightly and poorly edited to sync up to the film.
The Beatles at Shea Stadium was also shown in cinemas in the United States. The band's friend from their years in Hamburg, Klaus Voormann, designed the advertisements used to promote the film.
Although the film has not been officially available on DVD or VHS (except via a 1978 release by Media Home Entertainment that was successfully sued by Northern Songs), it has been widely available on the bootleg circuit for decades, including in a "raw audio" form that restores the original Shea Stadium audio track. A thirty-minute reissue of the footage of the concert was remastered and issued simultaneously with the release of the Ron Howard film The Beatles: Eight Days a Week on 15 September 2016.
All songs written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, except where noted.
- "Twist and Shout" (Phil Medley, Bert Russell)
- "She's a Woman" (not included in film. audio added to the end credits of 2016 release.)
- "I Feel Fine"
- "Dizzy Miss Lizzy" (Larry Williams)
- "Ticket to Ride"
- "Everybody's Trying to Be My Baby" (Carl Perkins) (not included in film)
- "Can't Buy Me Love"
- "Baby's in Black"
- "Act Naturally" (Voni Morrison, Johnny Russell)
- "A Hard Day's Night"
- "I'm Down"
The concert itself was a milestone in popular musical history as the first major stadium concert. The documentary was a highlight of the 1995 Beatles Anthology series, which featured extensive clips from the film.
Ringo Starr described the concert in The Beatles Anthology: "What I remember most about the concert was that we were so far away from the audience. ... And screaming had become the thing to do. ... Everybody screamed. If you look at the footage, you can see how we reacted to the place. It was very big and very strange."
In 1970, John Lennon recalled the show as a career highlight: "At Shea Stadium, I saw the top of the mountain."
In 2008, Paul McCartney played the last concert at Shea Stadium with Billy Joel before the stadium was closed. The concert was documented in the film The Last Play at Shea.