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March 5, 2020

“We’re More Popular Than Jesus!” – Fans Burn Beatles Records When John Lennon Compared the Beatles to Jesus in 1966

Early August 1966, Christian groups, primarily in the Southern United States took to the streets to burn the sin out of their beloved Beatles records in response to John Lennon’s remark that the Beatles were “more popular than Jesus.”

Collage of some of the newspaper headlines, Beatle protests, and “Beatle bonfires” that erupted in the U.S. following John Lennon’s “more popular than Jesus” remark, republished in ‘DateBook’ teen magazine.

It all began in March 1966, London’s Evening Standard ran a weekly series titled “How Does a Beatle Live?” that featured John Lennon, Ringo Starr, George Harrison and finally Paul McCartney. The articles were written by Maureen Cleave, who knew the group well and had interviewed them regularly since the start of Beatlemania in the United Kingdom. During the Lennon interview, and in the writing of her article – which appeared on page ten of London’s Evening Standard of March 4, 1966 – a paragraph written by Cleave described Lennon’s views on religion, noting at the end of the graph, that Lennon was then reading a lot about religion.
“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 ‘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.”
March 4, 1966: Portion of the original London’s Evening Standard newspaper story and layout interviewing John Lennon about his life as a Beatle, in which he made remarks about religion and Jesus, which weren’t given any special attention by the paper, nor did they bring any noticeable reaction from British readers at the time.

The article provoked no controversy in the UK. Church attendance there was in decline and Christian churches were attempting to transform their image, to make themselves more “relevant to modern times”. Both McCartney and Harrison had been baptized in the Roman Catholic Church, but neither of them followed Christianity. In his interview with Cleave, Harrison was also outspoken about organized religion, as well as the Vietnam War and authority figures in general, whether “religious or secular.” He said: “If Christianity’s as good as they say it is, it should stand up to a bit of discussion.”

In late July, five months after its original publication, a U.S. teen mag called DATEbook republished the interview with Lennon. When the magazine’s final edition hit the newsstands in September – with Paul McCartney on the cover – it also used a tagline that ran second in a column of multi-colored taglines on the left side of the cover, quoting Lennon’s remark: “I don’t know which will go first — rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity.” That line was also used as the headline for the story that ran inside the magazine.

Paul McCartney on Sept 1966 DATEbook magazine cover, which also featured story on Lennon’s remarks about Jesus.

Two-page layout of the September 1966 DATEbook magazine article on John Lennon (from the March 1966 London’s Evening Standard) using the headline, “I Don’t Know Which Will Go First – Rock ‘n’ Roll Or Christianity”.

Two DJs at radio station WAQY in Birmingham, Alabama – Tommy Charles and Doug Layton – picked up on the quote, vowing to never play the Beatles and on August 8, started a “Ban the Beatles” campaign.

Birmingham disc jockeys Tommy Charles, left, and Doug Layton of Radio Station WAQY, rip and break materials representing the British pop group The Beatles, in Birmingham, Alabama, August 8, 1966. The broadcasters started a “Ban The Beatles” campaign. (AP)

Charles in particular took exception to Lennon’s statement as “absurd and sacrilegious.” He went on to say, “something ought to be done to show them they cannot get away with this sort of thing.” Charles then began making spot broadcast announcements on the air every hour urging WAQY’s audience to turn in their Beatles records, pictures, magazines and souvenirs for a Beatles bonfire. Other radio stations would soon follow suit. And the anti-Beatles sentiment grew from there. Overnight, it seemed, teenaged Beatles fans in states like Georgia and Mississippi turned out to smash records and throw their Beatles paraphernalia on bonfires.

The Beatles went up in smoke near Fort Oglethorpe, Ga., on August 12, 1966. The Beatlemania bonfire, planned by Chuck Smith, 13, was in protest against John Lennon’s remark.

Young churchfolk from Sunnyvale on the San Francisco peninsula protest against the Beatles and John Lennon’s remark that The Beatles are “more popular than Jesus” outside Candlestick Park where the Beatles are holding a concert in San Francisco, California, August 29, 1966. The picketers were seen by many of the teenagers but missed by the entertainers, who arrived and departed from a different direction. Some 25,000 fans went through the gates for The Beatles’ final U.S. performance on their tour. (AP)

Donna Woods of Longview, Texas applying torch to pile of Beatles material, ending a 10-day “Burn the Beatles” campaign. August 15, 1966. (UPI)

Beatles burning in the American city of Waycross, Georgia organized by the radio station WAYX. A smiling boy holds a copy of the 1964 album Meet the Beatles!, which is soon to be tossed into a bonfire. August 1966. (UPI)

The Beatles appear to have lost their popularity at Beaver Meadows, a small community in northeastern Pennsylvania according to the sign, ‘God Forever, Beatles Never’, posted along Route 93, near Hazleton on August 10, 1966.

Around three thousand Costa Ricans burn an effigy of the Beatles, British pop-singers, during a protest, on August 9, 1966. Demonstration took place in front of San Jose’s Our Lady of Solitude Catholic Church.

On August 12, 1966 the Beatles set out on tour, meeting protests and stupid questions about the quote all along the way. It would be the last tour the Beatles would ever do in the United States, ending on August 29 at Candlestick Park in San Francisco.

August 12th, 1966: The Beatles in Chicago at the International Amphitheater, first stop on their 1966 American tour, taking a bow on stage after their performance, which appears to have drawn a full house.


  1. There's something very Gestapo-ish about burning albums and paraphernalia. Doesn't need to be books per se, anything that's culture.

  2. Progressives, with their cancel culture do far worse today and get away with it.




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