Thursday, 19 April 2012

Dick Clark and the Death of Rock and Roll

Did you realise rock music died in 1956 and Dick Clark was there for the funeral? You must have known. It was in all the papers.

There’s nothing more consistent in this world of ours than young people’s music being hated by the generation that came before it. Lovers of the big bands during the 1930s endured ridicule, just as they ridiculed their Elvis-loving kids, who didn’t have anything good to say when Led Zeppelin’s ‘Black Dog’ blared through speakers.

Today, it’s really hard to believe the absolute disgust rock was greeted with, even in the media that played it. “Disc jockey” was a pejorative term. Those with a distaste, even horror, for the direction of music in the mid-‘50s preferred to be referred to by the more dignified term “announcer.” They would recoil at the idea of sullying their turntable with the likes of Bill Haley and the Comets. But a new breed of on-air cat enthusiastically embraced the music, and so did teeming numbers of teens, and rock radio was born.

The oldsters in the media of the day, that is, men generally over the age of 30, looked for ways to dismiss or kill rock and roll. And that brings us to an Associated Press story of August 20, 1956. To us today, the idea that Buddy Knox, Fats Domino and Jerry Lee Lewis were something other than rock singers is preposterous, but it wasn’t to at least one writer. What he didn’t take into account is music constantly evolves. The watered-down “jazz” sounds of Paul Whiteman gave way to the swing of Artie Shaw and the Dorseys. Buddy Knox and Buddy Holly gave way to the British Invasion, which gave way to the guitar groups of the early ‘70s, and so on.

As you can see, no tears were shed at this rather premature funeral.

Ballad With Beat
Rock ‘n’ Roll Heads For Graveyard
AP Newsfeatures Writer
AS IT MUST to all raucous noises that periodically assail the ear drums of the American public, the musical boneyard is finally beckoning to the fantastic fad that’s known as rock ‘n’ roll.
A few of its more celebrated cantatas, like the tender “You Ain’t Nothing But a Hound Dog” and the triumphant “Shake, Rattle and Roll,” may be heard again from time to time in misty-eyed medleys of old songs, but the bulk of this cannabalistic caterwauling will lie buried forever beside such mementoes of other bygone eras as the “The Three Little Fishies,” “The Fuehrer’s Face” and “Don’t Hit your Grandma With a Shovel, Boys, It Makes a Bad Impression on Her Mind.”
Early last week the honorary pallbearers, in the person of 18 internationally famous disc jockeys, arrived in New York to attend the final rites, which appropriately enough took place in a musty movie studio hard by Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen.
In the best traditions of the musical industry they quietly disposed of the still warm rock ‘n’ roll corpse by burying it under a mountain of publicity for its heir apparent, known in the trade as “the new music.”
Tho shotgun wedding of Madison Avenue to Tin Pin Alley has failed so far to come up with a name for the new music but it goes under the working tide of “Ballad With a Beat.”
It will get its first big plug in the forthcoming movie “Jamboree,” which further accounts for the presence of the disc jockeys at the studio. All appear in the picture to give their official blessing to the new music. Among them are Howard Miller of Chicago, Dick Clark of Philadelphia, Al Jarvis of Hollywood, Zenas Sears of.Atlanta, Milt Grant of Washington, Gerry Myers of Ottawa; Keith Sandy of Toronto, and Chris Howland of Cologne and Werner Golze of Munich, Germany.
The plot never gels complicated enough to interfere with the 18 disc jockeys who parade across the screen to introduce the 20 new songs.
The songs are performed by such recording stars as Count Basie and his orchestra, the Four Coins, Fats Domino, Connie Francis, Joe Williams, Jody Sands, Frankie Avalon and several other reformed rock ‘n’ rollers.
What will the new music be like?
Chris Howland, a pleasant Englishman who lives in Cologne and does a German disc jockey show over West Deuschen Rundfunk and does an English disc jockey show for the British Forces Network, described it as “a type of song that will give singing back to the singers.”
The old fashioned love ballad has replaced the hillbilly yodel that formed the basis o£ rock ‘n’ roll and the beat has been slowed down to something resembling a combination of rhumba and tango.
One disc jockey, evidently having trouble adjusting musical gears, acidly compared it to a 78-speed rock 'n' roll record played on a 45 turntable.
Most, however, agreed that the melody would be easier on the ears, the lyrics easier on the intellect, and the emotional effect more dulcifying on teen-aged faddists than the current frantic pops leaders.
Skeptics might say the only thing new about the new music is its name — or lack of one — but its tempered tempo, with or without a perceptible beat, sure beats rock ‘n’ roll. And it’s bound to revive singing fortunes of balladeers like Eddie Fisher, Vic Damone and others.
Will Elvis survive? What the moving finger of Tin Pan Alley will write, nobody knows.

If there was anyone who would preside over a funeral of rock and roll, it would have been Dick Clark. Rock has now outlived him. Clark’s legacy can’t be overstated. Rock music went through a rough patch. The Alan Freed payola scandal did more to potentially kill it than any Bing-loving bluenoses ever did. But Clark made rock look squeaky-clean to the parents of America through ‘American Bandstand.’ It became acceptable, albeit perhaps grudgingly.

People who love being on the radio are, generally, content with the idea of turning on the microphone and having a few things to say. Dick Clark was the first disc jockey with the drive and smarts (and, perhaps, the desire) to parlay that into an entertainment empire. Clark stood out above the pack. It’s surprising to discover that in 1956 there was not one but three weekday afternoon dance shows on Philadelphia TV, all on different channels. Clark turned his into an institution and the pattern for all others to follow. Not bad for someone who, if old newspapers are correct, took side-jobs emceeing high school dances only a couple of years earlier.

Clark didn’t originate ‘Bandstand.’ He took it over in 1956. ABC, the runt television network in those days, was anxious for hit shows, especially ones that appealed to young people. It grasped the ‘Bandstand’ of its Philadelphia affiliate and the show zoomed into a place in TV history. Clark began to get noticed by the major wire services who weren’t being so snippy about rock music now.

He outlined his show’s philosophy in this story from November 26, 1957

Teen-Agers Make, Break Pop Records
But Television Pays Little Attention

United Press Staff Correspondent

NEW YORK —UP— Teen-agers make or break a pop record.
But strangely enough, although TV trots out a bushel of musical shows each week, only one is pitched right at the saddle shoes set—“American Bandstand.”
ABC-TV, which launched the show on its network in August (it started as a local TV entry in Philadelphia five years ago) beams it to 74 of its stations for 90 minutes each afternoon, Monday through Friday. The daytime show has proved so successful that, since October, the network also has staged a half-hour evening version each Monday.
No ‘Maggie’ Talent
The show’s click with teen-agers is based on a simple formula. It shuns the high-priced, highly-publicized “When-You-and-I-were-Young, Maggie” talent that other network musicals offer so often. Instead, “American Bandstand” zeroes in on the artists the kids are buying—Johnny Mathis, the Everly brothers, the Crickets, many of them names that don’t mean, much to square elder auditors.
“It’s no secret that TV neglects the teen-ager,” says Dick Clark, emcee of the show.
“Even some radio stations have stopped programming for the kids. The situation exists because so many advertisers think the teen-agers lack buying power.
“But, of course, anybody who knows teen-agers knows that’s nonsense. In any family, the teenager influences the purchase of the car, the toothpaste, the breakfast cereal that goes into that family. And he sets the styles for the rest of the nation in other things—in music, in fashion, for example.”
Commands Loyal Audience
At 27, the baby-faced Clark commands a pretty loyal audience. One trade weekly (“Variety”), he pointed out, recently called him “the number one hit maker in the nation.” Clark returns that loyalty.
“I think it was Mitch Miller who said the teen-ager likes rock ‘n’ roll because nobody else does,” says Clark. "The teen-ager would like to be thought of as belonging to a distinguishable group. He wants an identity of his own.
“He thinks like an adult, but he thinks of different things. He’s not concerned too much with making a living as adults are. His concerns are things like the high school football team, music...
“His heroes? Well, in music, Ricky Nelson and Sal Mineo. Elvis Presley is still big. And there’s Jerry Lee Lewis and Fats Domino. With the exception of Fats, who is 29, they're all pretty young — the kids can identify with them. They buy Pat Boone, too, but they don't get excited about him. He’s sort of solid bread—the Frank Sinatra of this generation.
“On the whole, 98 per cent of our kids are well-mannered, well-adjusted people. It’s the two per cent who have stirred up all the trouble — something many adults fail to consider. I remember once on my show I read a statement about young people being unfit, disrespectful...
“You know who wrote the statement? Socrates, in 400 B. C. Even then, the older generation was complaining about the kids.”

Even the Associated Press, which had sneered at rock, gave papers a couple of versions of this favourable review of ‘Bandstand’—and Clark—in papers starting October 22nd.

TV-Radio News
A Big Name That Will Stay At The Top
NEW YORK (AP)—It’s a season of big name performers on television and the low budget program and relative unknown may be easily overlooked.
So let’s not overlook “American Bandstand” and a young man named Dick Clark.
Teen-agers, who brought him and his program to the attention of this department, will resent his being called a “relatively unknown,” for he’s attained a big following on his 90-minute afternoon network shows from Philadelphia.
And now, “American Bandstand” has entered the nighttime field on ABC-TV (Mondays). It’s a refreshingly simple program. There’s a little talk, some music, some dancing by youngsters who throng the studio in Philadelphia where the programs originate.
The atmosphere is what you can expect if you have a play room in your basement and teen-agers in your family. In short, it’s real, unpretentious, free of hokum.
“We program the show strictly for young people,” Clark said. “Our idea is that if young people have fun on the show older people will watch and enjoy it too. It’s the same idea as parents’ day at school,” Clark explained.
Clark, who is 27, genuinely enjoys working with and playing to the younger generation.
“Young people, in general, are wonderful,” he said. “It’s a shame that 98 per cent of them are so often condemned for the things that only two per cent of them do. The young live in a wonderful world by themselves. They want to be distinctive, as the hi-fi boys and the sports car enthusiasts want to be distinctive. And they are distinctive.”
Because Clark makes friends of young people on his programs, he finds that he’s constantly consulted by the young on a great variety of matters
Clark, a native of Mount Vernon, N. Y., worked his way through Syracuse University. Summers and after graduation he served as a disc jockey on radio stations in Syracuse and Utica, gradually becoming a musically well-informed young man.
In 1952 he made the big jump to WFIL-TV in Philadelphia, where he eventually took over the “Bandstand” program. Clark and his wife live in Drexel Hill, Pa., with their dachshund, a massive hi-fi rig and about 15,000 records.
“Pop and not too progressive jazz.”
Clark voices no ambitions in the world of television except to make “American Bandstand” as good and long-lived a show as possible. Watch him, however, and you’ll wager this: When some of this season's “big names” no longer are “big,” the name of Dick Clark will be very big indeed.

Clark spent a life-time making refreshingly simple programmes from basic concepts. Add a word-association game and suspense and you have ‘The $10,000 Pyramid’ (which Clark hosted but did not produce). Add comedy and people’s desire to be entertainment industry insiders and you have ‘TV’s Bloopers and Practical Jokes.’ Add the suspense of trophy giveaway night with the glamour of show biz and you have a pile of Dick Clark produced awards shows. It’s all very simple. But Clark grasped all that and managed to use his name to get them on the air.

He even exacted a revenge of sorts on the haters who had wanted rock dead and buried. He displaced a symbol of an earlier generation’s music—Guy Lombardo—as Mr. New Year’s Eve with a December 31st TV party aimed at a neglected younger audience. Rock music had overcome.

Dick Clark will be known for many things but the most important is, through television, to ensure that no one presided over the death of rock and roll.

1 comment:

  1. Re: The writer of the first piece, Hugh Mulligan, was still doing his "Mulligan's Stew" features for the Associated Press well into the 1990s. I'm not sure if he did any columns bemoaning the state of hip-hop before he retired in 2000, but Hugh was all of 30 when he wrote the column above about the caterwauling sounds on the nation's airwaves.