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By 1963, the first flames of Beatlemania were ablaze, and The Beatles were on tour with Roy Orbison. Initially, Orbison was going to be the final act of the tour because of his popularity. By the time they got on tour, though, The Beatles were so popular that it didn’t make sense for anyone to follow them. This meant that Orbison played before they took the stage, which Ringo Starr admitted the band hated. 

A black and white picture of Beatles John Lennon and Ringo Starr feeding Roy Orbison cake.
The Beatles and Roy Orbison | Bunny Atkins/Daily Mirror/Mirrorpix via Getty Images

The Beatles joined Roy Orbison on tour in 1963

The Beatles formed in 1960, and by 1963, their popularity was soaring in the United Kingdom. They went on a tour of the UK with a number of artists, including Orbison. At this point, Orbison was already a successful, established artist with hits like “Crying” and “In Dreams.” 

Initially, the plan was for Orbison to end the show and for The Beatles to open for him. By the time they began touring, though, their popularity had eclipsed his. They switched the order of the tour so that Orbison opened for The Beatles. Though they were more popular, The Beatles admired Orbison’s talent.

“He’d had so many hit songs and people could sit and listen to him all night,” George Harrison said, per Slate. “He didn’t have to do anything, he didn’t have to wiggle his legs, in fact he never even twitched, he was like marble. The only things that moved were his lips — even when he hit those high notes he never strained. He was quite a miracle, unique.”

Ringo Starr said The Beatles didn’t like following Roy Orbison 

Because of Orbison’s talent, though, The Beatles found him to be a tough act to follow. He had an incredible voice and knew how to work the audience. The band waited backstage and listened to the thunderous applause he received each night.

“It was terrible following him,” Starr said, per The Beatles: The Authorized Biography by Hunter Davies. “He’d slay them and they’d scream for more. In Glasgow we were all backstage, listening to the tremendous applause he was getting.”

They were always concerned about taking the stage afterward, but Starr said it always ended up alright despite their worries. 

“He was just doing it by his voice,” he said. “Just standing there singing, not moving or anything. He was knocking them out. As it got near our turn, we would hide behind the curtain, whispering to each other — guess who’s next folks, it’s your favorite rave. But once we got on the stage, it was always okay.”

The Beatles had little to worry about

Orbison’s talent can’t be questioned, but at this stage in their careers, The Beatles had little to worry about. Though Orbison could win the crowd over, he recognized that he was fighting an uphill battle when he got onstage. He told his band to begin the songs pianissimo, or softly, so that the screaming audience of Beatles fans had to quiet down to hear him. Once he had their attention, he surged them into a normal set. 


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Orbison knew how to work the audience, but the fact that he had to do that proves that the crowds were nearly entirely there to see The Beatles. By the time they got onstage, the crowd would begin screaming so loudly that they could barely hear the music. Even if Orbison played the best set of all time, there was little The Beatles could have done to lose the audience’s favor.