Few athletes have impacted their sport or had more to do with the fortunes of individual franchises than George Herman "Babe" Ruth. On this day 91 years ago, Ruth hit a turning point in his career that also represented a nearly century-long period of futility for the Boston Red Sox. On January 5, 1920, the New York Yankees formally announced that they had purchased Ruth from the Red Sox for the sum of $125,000, which kicked off the "Curse of the Bambino."
Ruth had been one of the greatest players in the history of the game even before his legendary seasons with the Yankees. In six seasons in Boston, Ruth had established himself as a dominant pitcher before moving into the outfield as a hard-hitting slugger. He helped the Red Sox capture three World Series championships. During the 1919 season (his last with Boston), Ruth set a new Major League Baseball record for home runs, smashing 29 over the course of the year (he also added a league-leading 114 RBI to boot).
But the Red Sox only finished in sixth place that year, and the team's new management decided that a shake-up was necessary. Famously, new owner Harry Frazee used the money from the Ruth deal to finance a Broadway show. The Yankees got a signature player hitting his prime (Ruth hit 54 home runs in his first season in pinstripes, then hit 59 the following year), and the Red Sox got an incredible streak of failure, as they did not win another World Series until 2004 (a period that saw the Yankees win a total of 26 championships). In honor of baseball's greatest curse, crank Killswitch Engage up to 11.
Over the weekend, the college football bowl season delivered some incredible match-ups and some truly memorable games. Urban Meyer notched one final victory as the coach of the University of Florida Gators, while Texas Christian University made a case for itself (and the rest of the unheralded smaller programs in the country) with an impressive win against Wisconsin. Of course, while those games were both excellent, neither could hold a candle to the 2006 Rose Bowl, which was played on this day five years ago and pitted the University of Southern California Trojans against the University of Texas Longhorns in one of the most hotly-anticipated (and greatest) college football games in history.
A few weeks before the game, USC running back Reggie Bush narrowly beat out Texas quarterback Vince Young for the Heisman Trophy, which is awarded to the best college football player in the country. But once the Rose Bowl kicked off, Young made a case for himself not only as the best player in the country but also as one of the greatest players of all time. His performance in the Rose Bowl was incredible, as he notched 267 yards passing and another 200 yards rushing, scoring a total of three touchdowns and even picking up a two-point conversion. The game was tight and the lead changed constantly, but in the match-up's key play, Young ran eight yards into the end zone on fourth down for the go-ahead touchdown that put Texas up 41-38 with only 19 seconds left. That was enough to seal the game, the 2006 national championship and an MVP prize for Young.
Though his professional career has been spotty at best, Young's place in college football history is secure. In honor of one of the greatest single performances in the history of the sport, check out "Mr. Jones," by Houston rapper and Young friend Mike Jones (Young even appeared in another Jones video in 2007).
Of all the high profile rock reunions that went down in 2010 (including Soundgarden, Pavement, Faith No More and Guided By Voices), none of them was more low-key than the Strokes. Though they were once declared the saviors of American rock music, the group slouched back into existence after a four year hiatus to very little fanfare. It was somehow appropriate for the quintet, as they have always seemed to shrug off any sort of over-the-top buzz and get to the heart of the matter. While that particular character trait has probably prevented them from becoming a much bigger band, it has also kept them steady and focused on the music. It's probably also why people generally ignored the group's third (and at the moment final) album First Impressions of Earth, which was released on this day in 2006.
Thanks to a growing interest in other musical genres and the influence of producer David Kahne (who has twiddled the knobs for acts as diverse as Paul McCartney, Sublime, Sugar Ray, Linkin Park and Tony Bennett), First Impressions of Earth is a pretty huge-sounding album (especially compared to the group's first two releases, 2001's Is This It? and 2003's Room On Fire). The band took the better part of a year to craft their third album and infused it with bigger riffs, jauntier tempos, clearer melodies and a whole lot of New Wave keyboards (the obsession with electronic sounds really showed when frontman Julian Casablancas released his solo album Phrazes for the Young in 2009). Though few people loved these expansions, First Impressions of Earth is the band at its most mature, most enthusiastic and most accomplished.
The album also contained one of the best singles the band ever put out in "Juicebox," the soundtrack to the best spy movie never made.
Today is December 30, which means there are less than 48 hours left in 2010. On Friday night (December 31), the big sparkly ball will descend in Times Square in New York City, signifying not only the end of the old year but also the beginning of the new one. Since New Year's Eve is always something of a lost day, that means that today is your last chance to accomplish the things you promised yourself you would do in 2010. Have a resolution left over that you never got around to? Time to put it to bed. Need to square accounts with friends or family before the calendar changes? Today is the day. There are all manner of things that you could have let slip, but the road to keeping those things in 2010 begins and ends here.
All this month, the MTV Newsroom Blog (and the entire MTV News organization, really) has been looking back at some of the greatest moments from the past year. There were incredible albums (Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Eminem's Recovery, Taylor Swift's Speak Now and others), killer concerts (Lady Gaga, Em and Jay-Z, Kings of Leon, Pavement, the whole of Lollapalooza), controversial moments (Lil Wayne's adventures behind bars, Lindsay Lohan's struggles with addiction and the law) and strange sights (just about everything Katy Perry did, come to think of it). But in looking back on the year, it turns out that, somehow, the MTV Newsroom Blog never once featured the video for the Flaming Lips' "Bad Days." So to rectify that, enjoy said video below, and feel free to use it as your personal anthem if you're particularly happy to see 2010 come to an end.
A lot of travelers have been stuck in a lot of airports over the past few days as airlines struggle to right themselves after airport shutdowns and canceled fights thanks to the big blizzard. All over the country, people are spending time in terminals waiting to win the standby lottery and drinking in those surreal bars stuck between Starbucks and Hudson News. Those hours seem to stretch out interminably. Indeed, if purgatory existed, it would probably look and feel a lot like O'Hare. For the appropriate soundtrack to a bizarre experience, we turn to Marcy Playground.
A strange, druggy little trio from New York, Marcy Playground released their debut album in early 1997 to a mostly apathetic rock landscape that was otherwise distracted by the Wallflowers, the Verve Pipe, Third Eye blind and the rise of ska. But at some point in the summer of '97, the band's single "Sex and Candy" started to build a little bit of buzz, and it just kept climbing. By the end of the year, it had taken the top spot on the Billboard Modern Rock chart, where it stayed for a record 18 weeks (it was finally upended by Fastball's "The Way").
Even for the late '90s alternative universe, "Sex and Candy" was as unlikely a hit as could be found on the radio. Awash in shaggy minimalism and carried by frontman John Wozniak's marble-mouthed moan, the song casts an extremely weird shadow. It's a bit of a downer, but the chorus still manages to sound powerful, triumphant and — most importantly — catchy. And of course, the video is super-bizarre. So if you've spent a lot of time in an airport terminal over the past few days, let Marcy Playground carry you away. Because momma, this surely is a dream.
"You're just a butter knife — I'm a machete!" So rapped Antonio Monterio Hardy (better known in the hip-hop world as Big Daddy Kane) on "Ain't No Half-Steppin'" (a classic tune from his 1988 debut Long Live the Kane). While just about every rapper boasts about his or her abilities on the microphone, Kane was the real deal. His smooth, bombastic style bridged the gap between the old school cats and the next generation of rappers.
If there was one year that saw hip-hop really explode, it was 1988. While rap music had slowly been insinuating its way into the mainstream since the release of Run-D.M.C.'s Raising Hell in 1986, the 12 months that made up '88 saw a handful of rap records perform well commercially but also found many groups reaching their artistic apex. Hip-hop was finally coming into its own, both as a commercially viable brand of music and as a true envelope-pushing art form.
Consider that in 1988, the following albums hit store shelves: Public Enemy's It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, N.W.A's Straight Outta Compton, Run-D.M.C.'s Tougher Than Leather, EPMD's Strictly Business, Eric B. & Rakim's Follow the Leader, Boogie Down Productions' By All Means Necessary, DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince's He's the DJ, I'm the Rapper, Slick Rick's The Great Adventures of Slick Rick, Ice-T's Power and the Jungle Brothers' Straight Out the Jungle. That's 10 staggeringly great albums, and at least three or four stone cold classics.
One of those classics? Definitely Long Live the Kane. Big Daddy Kane's persona gave birth to the "sensitive hustler" style that guys like Biggie Smalls and Jay-Z spun into platinum success and worldwide recognition (in fact, Jay-Z was a hype man for Kane for a brief period). Aided by the minimalist, head-spinning production of Marley Marl, "Ain't No Half-Steppin'" remains an all-time great track and could totally stand up against anything produced in 2010. There's no real reason to be listening to Big Daddy Kane today versus any other day, but there's also no reason not to.
In the lead-up to the release of Taylor Swift's second album Fearless in 2008, there was a great deal of anticipation based on the advanced buzz and on the success of her debut. And though Fearless debuted at the top of the Billboard album chart the week it was released (moving nearly 600,000 copies in its opening week, a massive number for a country star), Swift's chart dominance didn't really begin until this day in 2008 when Fearless ascended back to the top of the chart in a flurry of holiday purchases and stayed there for seven straight weeks. It set up a run through 2009 that has become one of the biggest single years in the history of any one pop star.
Based on the first single "Love Story" (which became an instant hit across multiple radio formats), Fearless came out of the gate early when it was released on November 11, 2008. But it only stayed at number one for a single week before being displaced by Beyoncé's I Am ... Sasha Fierce. Kanye West's 808s & Heartbreak and Britney Spears' Circus each took turns on top as well, but once the Christmas buying frenzy kicked in, Swift's cross-genre (and cross-generational) appeal put her back on top. She stayed there for seven weeks before being displaced for two weeks by Bruce Springsteen's Working on a Dream and the Fray's self-titled album. Fearless took the top spot once again at the end of February, where it stayed for another three weeks before finally bowing out in favor of U2's No Line on the Horizon.
All told, Fearless stayed on top for 11 weeks over three different reigns, a staggering accomplishment in the modern pop music landscape. Swift is truly a singular star, and Fearless remains one of the most astounding accomplishments in recent music history. And as Speak Now has proven, she's just getting warmed up.
The final week of December is always a busy time for the film industry, as it not sees the release of broad populist films (to take advantage of the fact that most people have a bit of down time during the holidays) but also the last of the year's awards bait (so as to get the Oscar buzz rolling right). On this day in 1993, a film opened that seemed to bring together those two universes, as "Philadelphia" hit theaters.
Directed by Jonathan Demme, "Philadelphia" starred Tom Hanks (who was in the midst of ascending to his status as one of the biggest and greatest American actors ever) as a gay lawyer who is fired from his firm because he has AIDS. The film featured a number of excellent performances, including turns from Denzel Washington (as Hanks' homophobic defense lawyer in the wrongful termination suit against the firm), Antonio Banderas (as Hanks' boyfriend) and Jason Robards (as Hanks' boss). Not only was "Philadelphia" a compelling piece of cinema, but it also aggressively tackled the fears and misconceptions that many people still had about AIDS. As the first major Hollywood movie to address the disease head-on, "Philadelphia" acted as a useful tool to burying some of the stigma that the disease carried.
"Philadelphia" was nominated for five Academy Awards (though shockingly not for Best Picture; "Schindler's List" took home the top prize that year), and Hanks won his first of two consecutive Best Actor awards for his role in the movie (he would also collect one for "Forrest Gump" a year later). The only other Oscar "Philadelphia" picked up was for Best Original Song, which went to Bruce Springsteen for his moody tune "Streets of Philadelphia."
Even during peace time, this country spends hundreds of billions of dollars a year on military development and defense research. It often seems like a gigantic waste of money, time and resources, but many of the innovations developed in the military have filtered down into everyday civilian life. And even when those developments aren't all that practical, at least they are unspeakably cool. Such was the case of the SR-71 spy plane. Known alternately as "Blackbird" (because of it's cool exterior) and "Habu" (named after a species of Japanese snake), it was one of the greatest, most badass pieces of hardware available to the American military, and it made its first flight on this day in 1964.
Designed by Lockheed for the CIA, the SR-71 needed to be both fast and quiet, two things necessary in a reconnaissance aircraft. The plane was built mostly out of titanium, which prevented overheating at top speeds, and contained a new engine system that allowed for both quiet cruising and supersonic aggression. The result was a plane that could carry large payloads, move deftly through the air and generally avoid radar detection. Over the course of its history (the plane was finally retired in 1998), not a single SR-71 was lost due to enemy intervention (though about half the planes were destroyed because of technical malfunctions or operator error). It still has the air speed record for manned aircraft, topping out at just over Mach 3 (that's three times the speed of sound).
The SR-71 also lent its name to a short-lived pop punk band from the turn of the century who had a hit with "Right Now." Dig those haircuts.
Has there ever been a band more unfairly maligned in the history of rock music than Stone Temple Pilots? The California quartet — anchored by a pair of brothers and the singular Scott Weiland on the microphone — were victims of what has always been wrong with rock criticism (and what was especially problematic in the 1990s). Their breakthrough single, a dirge called "Plush," sounded so much like a Pearl Jam track (and if you really break it down, it's mostly just Weiland sounding a bit like Eddie Vedder) that the group never managed to get out from under the burden of being late-comers to the grunge buffet.
While it's true that most of STP's debut Core sounds relatively uninspired and somewhat generic, the band spent the rest of the alt-rock decade crafting some of the most interesting rock on the radio. Their 1994 sophomore release Purple is fantastically underrated and features "Interstate Love Song," perhaps the best piece of radio rock recorded in the past three decades. In 1996, they really took a left hand turn and dropped Tiny Music ... Songs From the Vatican Gift Shop, a strange little album that tapped into foot-stomping glam rock and moody, jazzy experiments. It's fascinating and strange, but the hooks are great and the vibe strangely jittery.
Of course, Tiny Music nearly destroyed STP, as Weiland got into a bunch of trouble shortly after it was released. As a result, the band never toured for the album, and the group splintered while Weiland worked on a solo project and the remaining trio created a side project called Talk Show. Tiny Music remains one of the band's weakest albums commercially speaking (though it still managed to shift two million units), and deserves to be remembered as a bold and fascinating experiment. There's no real reason for focusing on STP today (Tiny Music actually came out in March of 1996), but a little dose of "Big Bang Baby" is just what the doctor ordered to get the blood flowing during a sleepy holiday week.