The Babe Ruths of pop music

Posted: February 10, 2013 in Uncategorized
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In 1920, Babe Ruth changed baseball permanently.

In 1964, the Beatles changed popular music permanently.

Ruth had set the record for home runs in a season in 1919, with 29.

In 1920, he hit 54.  More than 14 of the 15 other TEAMS in the major leagues.  One out of every 11.6 home runs in the majors was hit by Babe Ruth.

But the thing is, it wasn’t that he was the only one who could hit homers, but he was the one who showed what was possible.  From 1876 to 1919, nobody had hit 30 home runs in a season.  In the 1920’s alone, it happened 29 times.

In much the same way, the Beatles arrival in 1964 changed the face of popular music in the US.  For example, Motown went from songs like “You Really Got a Hold On Me” , “Please Mr. Postman”, and “Do You Love Me”  (excellent songs, that had a very 1950’s feel to them) to “Nowhere to Run”, “Shotgun”, and “Stop! In the Name of Love” by the end of 1965.  Bob Dylan went electric in mid 1965.  Brian Wilson went from “Fun Fun Fun” and “Surfer Girl” to “California Girls”, Pet Sounds, “Good Vibrations”, and SMiLE within a year and a half.

Obviously, the Beatles weren’t the only catalyst, but I believe they were the major reason pop music went from the 50’s to the 60’s so quickly.  And, of course, they pulled in influences from the previous 10 or so years.  Motown, Elvis, Chuck Berry, Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan, the Beach Boys, etc.  It was like you threw all the pop music of the 50’s and it came out in the Beatles.

But there’s another comparison to be made.

1920 was the worst year in baseball history.  The Black Sox scandal broke, where it became known that the Chicago White Sox had fixed the World Series in 1919.  In August, Ray Chapman, a very popular player, was killed when he was hit in the head by a pitch.  And the National Commission, who were the rulers (so to speak) of baseball, dissolved, so there wasn’t even a figurehead “boss” of baseball.  The baseball world was in crisis.

Any other time, the magnates of baseball would have put a curb on this ridiculous home run hitting and taken steps and changed rules to limit it.  But, at that time, they knew they were in trouble and they saw the immense crowds that came to see Babe Ruth and let the home run hitters run with it.

In September 1963, “She Loves You” was released in the US.  It bombed.  In December, “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “I Saw Her Standing There” were released.  And to the astonishment of the record company, they were smash hits.  In February, they were on the Ed Sullivan Show.  By March, they had 4 of the top 5 singles in the US.

 And the rest is history.

What happened between September and December 1963?  The Kennedy assassination.  It is my belief that the assassination threw this country into such a tailspin that people were in great need of something the make them feel good.  And here come these very likable guys singing feel-good songs that weren’t 50’s songs.  It was as if the 50’s blew up on November 22nd 1963, and we needed a replacement.

The change might (and probably would) have happened anyway, but it would have been much more gradual without the monkey wrench thrown into our collective psyche.

In both cases, while the change might still have taken place, the chaos that was there facilitated the rapid acceptance of the change.


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