November 22, 1963 The Day The Music Changed

JFK Nov. 22 2013.jpg

Submitted by Don Graham

November 22, 1963 marked a turning point in the history of the world and the history of music. The age of innocence was shot three times with a high powered rifle in Dealy Plaza in Dallas, Texas on that day and nothing was ever the same. Fifty years ago on that date United States  President  John Fitzgerald  Kennedy was assassinated, and the world realized life would never be the same. Along with the 50th anniversary of JFK's death comes the realization that Top 40 music changed beginning with that day.

People young and old loved Kennedy. Everyone was caught up in the whole Camelot story, America’s version of royalty, and life seemed carefree, idyllic and almost perfect, so the assassination hit very hard. This kind of thing happens in third world and other countries, NOT here in North America! Radio phone lines lit up all night long. It was all people could talk about. Nobody could understand why anyone would shoot JFK?  The wind had been knocked out of everyone and everything. Nothing made any sense.

John F. KennedyJohn F. KennedyFor days and weeks following the assassination, everything came to a standstill. When the  young people, teens and tweens were ready to start listening again, they had a whole new mind-set. It  was almost as if they needed some sort of break from the reality of what had happened. A party after a funeral. They were searching for something different – something fun, something rebel like. Something loud and different to fill the gaping hole that everyone of that era felt immediately after Nov. 22, 1963.

Cue The Beatles and all the other British rock artists that followed.  The Kinks, Eric Burdon & The Animals, Gerry and the Pacemakers and The Rolling Stones brought with them infectious beats and rhythms, heavy bass lines that almost seemed like a resurrection of the original rock 'n' roll from the fifties. The AnimalsThe AnimalsThe kind of music that had disappeared from the airwaves. The music of the day was safe and un-forbidding. The No. 1 song on the Cashbox Charts on Nov. 22, 1963, was Dominique by the Singing Nun and the year's overall top single was Sugar Shack by Jimmy Gilmer and the Fireballs. These British bands were unique.Their  clothes were bright and flashy. They had long, unconventional  “moptop”  hair that parents were appalled by. They were edgy, nonconformist and something the kids could claim as their own. It was the music, fashion and attitude the world needed after the gloom of the Kennedy assassination.

To show why the timing was so important in The Beatles’ success, their first release of Please Please Me earlier that year had been a bomb but then, during the first weeks of 1964 -- less than two months after the assassination -- I Want to Hold Your Hand soared to the top spot on music charts and soon She Loves You and the re-release of Please Please Me were second and third respectively. And when The Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show in February 1964, only two and a half months after the assassination, musical history was re-written.

Would the British version of rock 'n' roll have been as big if Kennedy had not been assassinated? We have no way of knowing But that tragedy had us all changing directions and searching for answers. If it did nothing else, it opened the door for The Beatles and the whole British invasion and the cultural changes that followed.

One thing of which there is no doubt, the Top 40 music scene was forever changed. In 1963 there was not one British group in the year's Top 20 rock 'n' roll groups. In 1964, there were 19. The whole landscape of rock 'n' roll changed within a few months of JFK's death.

Since that date there have been other tragedies and earth shattering events; Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King assassinations, the destroying of the World Trade Center buildings in New York City on September 11, 2001 by terrorists and many more. But nothing has affected the world of music like the events of November 22, 1963, the day the music changed!