Rock Flashback: November 22, 1963

On November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. Critic and essayist Lance Morrow wrote of the assassination, “It came to seem that Kennedy’s murder opened some malign trap door in American culture, and the wild bats flapped out.”

As Morrow suggests, the assassination was a transforming moment in our political history. It occurred at almost the exact moment of a similar transformation in popular music. One month earlier, Beatlemania had broken out in Britain; within six weeks, the storm would start to rise here in the States. And did we ever need the jolt.

Among the top songs of the week, “I’m Leaving It All Up to You” by [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Dale and Grace[/lastfm] is a tired retread of ’50s pop; “Deep Purple” by [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Nino Tempo and April Stevens[/lastfm] seems to exist in a historical moment of its own, looking neither backward nor forward. Even if you take the folk boom into account, [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]the Singing Nun[/lastfm]’s “Dominique” is sui generis. If it had come along six months later, it’s doubtful whether anyone would have heard it.

There were, however, some better songs on the radio that week, still worthy of note 48 years later. “Since I Fell for You” is by [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Lenny Welch[/lastfm] is grade-A makeout music in any era. “Louie Louie” by [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]the Kingsmen[/lastfm] channeled the primal power of the rock beat like nothing ever had before. “Walking the Dog” by [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Rufus Thomas[/lastfm] was one of the early successes on the Stax label from Memphis.

The [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Ronettes[/lastfm]’ classic “Be My Baby” might be the greatest hit of all that week, opening with an iconic hook, so simple yet so perfect, guaranteed to make you eagerly anticipate what you’ve heard a million times before. It’s the quintessential girl-group record, yet there’s an irony in it too. Although the Ronettes would score more hits in the next three years, their style and that of their producer, [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Phil Spector[/lastfm], was destined to be swept away by the British tidal wave to come.

Here’s “Be My Baby.” Pro tip: the louder you crank it, the better it sounds.

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