The Beatles' No. 1 fan? Mexico

When Paul McCartney sings in Mexico City tonight, he'll be fulfilling countless people's dreams to hear Beatles' songs live. The Beatles were blocked from playing in Mexico in 1965.

Jorge Adorno/REUTERS
Singer Paul McCartney performs at the Defensores del Chaco stadium in Asuncion, Paraguay, April 17.

The Beatles never played a single concert in Mexico. Yet Mexicans count themselves among the world’s most dedicated fans of the boys from Liverpool.

When Paul McCartney plays a free concert in Mexico City’s sprawling Zocalo plaza Thursday night, he’ll be fulfilling the dream of countless Mexicans to hear some of their favorite songs live – and not just the generation that witnessed the British invasion firsthand but their children and their grandchildren.

It’s hard for a single day to go by in Mexico City without hearing a Beatles song or something of the solo work of John, Paul, George, and Ringo. Stuck at a stoplight, the driver next door might have “Revolution” turned up full volume. At a restaurant, a musician might saunter up and play a strangely accented version of “Yesterday” or “Imagine.” “Something” might serve as background music at a grocery store.

“The music of the Beatles is very fresh,” said Abel Álvarez, manager of La Rock’Ola Inglesa, which organizes events for four of the most popular Beatles cover bands in Mexico City. “You can listen to it 10 years from now and it will still be fresh. There are many musical genres, but the Beatles will never disappear.”

In 1965, the Beatles announced a possible tour in Mexico, but Mexico’s then- iron-fisted authoritarian government blocked the plan, saying that Mexico’s youth weren’t ready for an event of that magnitude. And so fans were left eternally waiting.

Perhaps that’s why Mexico holds the record for radio time dedicated to Beatles music at 12 hours weekly. Fans can listen to Universal radio’s “Club de Los Beatles” every morning during rush hour; the station also sponsors an actual fan club which claims 1 million card-carrying members. The program’s host plays everything from the group’s happy early hits to its more dissonant, obscure later work.

On Tuesday, McCartney played to 70,000 ecstatic fans who withstood a falling mist in Mexico City’s massive Azteca stadium. The city said in a statement that it will admit 80,000 people to Thursday night’s show in the Zocalo and plans to install seven giant screens on adjacent streets to accommodate fans.

The Zocalo marks the center of what was once Tenochtitlan, the home of the Aztec empire. Today the city and national government palaces flank its eastern and southern sides. A grand cathedral dating to the Spanish conquest, and the ruins of an Aztec pyramid known as the Templo Mayor, stand side by side on the northern edge.

Álvarez, who attended McCartney’s stadium concert, noted that popular ballad singer Vicente Fernandez holds the attendance record for a concert in the Zocalo at 170,000 spectators. He expects McCartney will blow past that.

“Now that it’s free, I think there will be people coming from all over the country,” he said.

The city began closing streets around the Zocalo earlier this week and, to prevent campouts, authorities were expected to seal the plaza Wednesday night.

“In 1965, young people waited for the Beatles like they waited for an awakening of human consciousness, a change in totalitarian regimes, a change in the political and democratic structures that for many still haven’t arrived,” wrote José Antonio Martínez in a recent article in Mexico City’s Frente magazine, which included an interview with McCartney.

Martínez, host of another weekly radio program called “Beatle” and the co-creator of a documentary called “Waiting for Los Bitles,” [link with English subtitles] wrote that while investigating the film he discovered “an unquestionable idealization of a band that people had never seen and never would see, yearned for as if it would reappear at any moment.”

McCartney’s free show in the cultural heart of the country may be the closest fans will ever come.

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