Seriously: Are the Beatles More Popular Than Jesus?
Saturday marks the 46th anniversary of one of the more surreal press conferences in the Beatles' career. One the eve of the band's '66 American tour, John, Paul, George and Ringo met with a group of reporters who only wanted to ask one question: Where the Beatles really more popular than Jesus?
It was a serious question born of strange circumstances. Five months previously, Maureen Cleave, a friend of the band, had interviewed each member individually for a series of weekly articles for the London Evening Standard titled "How Does a Beatle Live?" When she interviewed John Lennon at his home in England, he mused on a variety of topics for a British audience, including the band's hysterical treatment from fans as well as the impermanence of all things:
"Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn't argue about that; I'm right and I'll be proved right. We're more popular than Jesus now; I don't know which will go first -- rock and roll or Christianity."
It was a deep statement buried in a detailed profile piece, just one part of a larger series of stories. In the U.K., nobody batted an eye. But when the American teenybopper rag Datebook highlighted the "more popular than Jesus" bit on its cover in August, some Southern Christians went apeshit, banning Beatles music from the radio, burning records and demonstrating at concerts. It was a terrific opportunity for pulpit moralizers and Klan kooks to denounce rock and roll as the devil's work, and they were all too willing to put on a show of their own.
That's why the Beatles had to show up at that press conference in Chicago -- so Lennon could apologize for offending Christians and quell the controversy. He wasn't exactly enthusiastic about it, either:
" I never meant it to be a lousy anti-religious thing. I apologize if that will make you happy. I still don't know quite what I've done. I've tried to tell you what I did do but if you want me to apologize, if that will make you happy, then OK, I'm sorry."
Sorry or not, Lennon didn't quite retract his statement. Why? Because he thought he was right. And at the height of Beatlemania, the four of them must have truly felt like gods. But were they more popular than Jesus? Are they more popular now? Has history proven Lennon correct?
To find out, let's examine both Jesus and the Beatles in popular media. After all, you ain't popular if nobody's talking about you. In the information age, who really reigns supreme in the hearts of the world: the Son of Man or the Eggman?