On this date in 1966, the Beatles’ Jewish manager Brian Epstein cut short a vacation to fly to New York and defend John Lennon for making his infamous remark that the Beatles were “more popular than Jesus.” The remark had inflamed Christian true-believers, especially in the American South, but also in Mexico, South Africa, and Spain, producing concert and radio boycotts and record-smashings and Beatle paraphernalia bonfires. (To see a video about the campaign against the Beatles, including Epstein’s press conference, look below.) Epstein insisted that Lennon had been quoted out of context and had actually only expressing concern about the sorry state of modern Christianity.
“Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue about that; I’m right and I will 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.” —John Lennon