Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Pre-Beatles Rock and Roll

 (Updated May 22, 2016)
Normally I write about 18th and 19th century social history, and I will get back to that. But, I also love the music of the 20th century, particularly older rock and roll, old time country, and big band.
Every-so-often I get into a 1950's musical mood, and, of late, I have been pretty big time.
In my last posting, I wrote about a few of the teen 1960's TV shows that I have on DVD and how much I enjoy watching these shows. Music - the top 40 hits - of the mid-60's was probably one of the greatest periods in pop music history. It seems that every song was a hit.
But, the 1950's had its fair share of great tunes as well. Years ago, we had an excellent oldies radio station here in the Detroit area - WHNE/WHND "Honey Radio" - and, initially, they played only pre-Beatles pop music. They played the big stars such as Buddy Holly, Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Elvis, the Platters, and so on. But, the coolest thing about this station is they played quite a bit of the 'deeper' cuts - one-hit wonders, minor localized hits, and some of the excellent adult pop. Groups and artists such as Billie and Lillie, the Danleers, Johnny Ray, Gene Vincent, Hank Ballard, the Tempos, Kay Starr, the Crows, the Crew Cuts, and numerous others.
Then, after a number of years, 'Honey' began to play Beatle-era 60's music as well. As a young teen, this was the only station I listened to. Where else could I hear Frank Sinatra, the Rolling Stones, Petula Clark, the Marcels, and Fabian all within a half hour set? And the DJ's (once Honey stopped being an automated station) were the best; very reminiscent of 60's radio - very personable. You just don't hear that today. I was lucky enough to befriend one of them, Richard D, and he and I did lunch together where I 'interviewed ' him to satisfy my own curiosity about radio of the 1950's. You see, Richard D was a DJ back in those days of the early 1950's and had some interesting stories to tell. Probably my favorite was how much he and the other DJ's of the pre-Elvis era didn't like this new rock and roll 'bop' that was becoming popular. They felt there was little talent in the artists putting this stuff out. He said that compared to the lush sounds of the orchestrated pop songs of Eddie Fisher, Rosemary Clooney and the like, rock and roll, such as Elvis, Bo Diddley, and Carl Perkins was truly 'jungle music.'
It took a while, but eventually, Richard and the other jocks of that era came to like this young teen music.
Unfortunately, here in the 21st century, unless you have sirius or xm satelite, music of the 1950's is virtually non-existent on the radio. And what a shame that is. Fortunately for me, years ago I subscribed to Time/Life's The Rock and Roll Era cd collection - a 50 CD set sent to me monthly one disc at a time (except during tax refund time when I would order five or six of 'em at once) - each disc had around 22 songs per. The main bulk of the original recordings covered the years 1955 to 1963, but, at times, reached as far back as the late 1940's for the roots music and continued up to early 1964. Roughly 1000 songs of the era with no repeats: Jimmy Jones, the Jewels, Smiley Lewis, Connie Francis, Eddie Cochran, Brian Hyland, Claudine Clark, Little Eva, Jackie Wilson...my gosh - the list of artists and tunes goes on and on...a phenomenal collection to have, if I do say so myself. In addition, I also subscribed to Time/Life's Your Hit Parade series, a 35 CD set which begins in 1940 and ends in the early 1960's, covering the big band era of the WWII years all the way through the pop stuff of the early rock and roll era. The pop music in this collection greatly complimented my Rock and Roll Era set - Nat King Cole, Guy Mitchell, Kitty Kallen, Johnny Mathis, Teresa Brewer, Frankie Laine, the Chordettes, and so much more, adding a few hundred more tunes to my already extensive 50's music collection. - because, as Richard D told me, they played it all, from Little Richard to Pat Boone, Bobby Freeman to Kay Starr.
With these two great sets of music, which now exceeds 1400 hit songs from 1950 to 1964, I undoubtedly have enough hit songs of the pre-Beatle era (and the beginning of the British invasion including the Beatles) to keep me more than satisfied.
And there are other fine collections out there, notably "The Golden Age of American Rock and Roll" series that, though not as extensive as the Time Life sets, are great in their own right.
My autographed copy of the American Graffiti 
album poster. 
I met "Laurie" (Cindy Williams) and "John Milner" 
(Paul LeMat) at a local car cruise. Both actors 
were very nice and happy to talk about their
American Graffiti adventures, including LeMat
telling me what a pain in the butt the '32 Coupe
was to drive.
Then there is the classic oldie album of all oldie albums - American Graffiti! If you just want a very good basic hour and a half of the biggest and most popular (with a few obscurities thrown in) oldies, American Graffiti is your set. And, do yourself a favor: if you haven't already (and only a hermit over the age of 30 hasn't), watch the American Graffiti movie from where the soundtrack came. This music and movie was probably the biggest catalyst of the oldies craze of the 1970s.
I realize this may look like an advertisement for Time/Life and other oldies collections, but, though I'm sure it comes off that way, it's not. It's my way to help other fans of this great music find a way to get their fix. It's such a shame, when you think about it, that folks who do not own the Time/Life and other collections cannot hear this fine music on the radio. Good music is good music, no matter how old it is. My wife and I were both speaking very recently on how the music still had an innocence to it. Contrary to the popular belief of the so-called 'rock and roll historians' of today, rock music of the 50s wasn't necessarily rebellious. It's been my experience that, once again, the media perpetrated this myth by expanding on the (very) few disturbances that occurred during a couple of localized teen concerts (as usual - gotta sell those papers!). And, of course, let's also show the preacher trying to make a name for himself by denigrating rock as the devil's music. To be honest, most preachers of all denominations paid little attention to the music - it was a few loudmouths attempting to speak for everyone else while making a 'name' for themselves, just like today. In fact, in my own Detroit neighborhood, my father - a very conservative anti-rock and roller - would help put on and chaperon teen rock and roll hops/dances in the church basement. Now, dad had a deep disdain for rock & roll - many parents did back then - but he also understood that it was music not meant for him or his generation. It was meant for teenagers.
Just like the music of today.
But that doesn't make news and sell papers...
Except for a couple of songs here and there, most of the music of the 1950's were simple teen tunes. Now, I'll grant you that "I Put A Spell On You" by Screaming Jay Hawkins and "Wake Up Little Suzie" by the Everly Brothers did raise some eyebrows but didn't cause a panic for the greater majority and still received heavy airplay and sold a ton of records. But put yourself in their place in the years of 1956 and '57 and I believe you will see why many parents were upset upon listening to it.
And parents haven't changed - it seems each generation, for the most part, does not particularly care for the next generation's music or fashions.
The '57 Chevy club at a local cruise.
So, I will repeat, the greater majority of the adults didn't pay it too much attention.
It makes a great story but it's another great media-driven American myth.
Just listen to the music and you'll find most songs were lyrically typical teen love songs. And a neat discovery was when I learned that radio actually played the music of what the 'music historians' today consider to be 'white-bread pop' right along side of the more edgier rock. In other words, the teens listening to the radio heard Danny and the Jr's followed by Nat King Cole. They listened to the Crests "16 Candles" and Percy Faith "A Theme From A Summer Place" within the same few minutes and didn't blink an eye. The music guides will show that!
But you won't find this in the "History of Rock and Roll" book Rolling Stone magazine has put out, or even the History of Rock and Roll  that was shown on TV twenty years ago. Both are good - I own them and enjoy reading and watching as time permits - but both still lean very heavily on teen rebellion and not enough on the more simple side of the music.
Now, I won't discount that there was teen rebellion, and some of the music (and movies, of course) reflected that. But that tends to be much more sensationalized than reality. There is a pretty good book available that not only gives a fine, unbiased (for the most part) representation of the teen music of the 50's and early 60's but also gives an intelligent bit of social history as well, including cruising & cars, fashions, television, movies, adult society and society in general, politics, and the black and white relations. It's called "Doo Wop: The Music, The Times, The Era" by 'Cousin Brucie' Morrow. Don't let the title fool you - all forms of 50's music is covered but Doo Wop takes precedence.
The music of the 1950's is much more complicated than the so-called 'historians' tend to let on. They seem to be unwilling to perceive this and tend to keep it black and white - both figuratively and literally.
But it was for everyone.
That is, everyone who was young.
Me? I listen to it all: "Crazy Little Mama" by the Eldorados, "At the Hop" by Danny & the Jrs., "Crazy 'Bout Ya Baby" by the Crew Cuts, "Jeannie Jeannie Jeannie" by Eddie Cochran, the Danleers singing "One Summer Night," "Banana Boat Song" by Harry Belafonte, "I Want to Walk You Home" by the great Fats Domino, Doris Day's "Whatever Will Be Will Be," the Passions doing "Just To Be With You," "Sweet Nothin's" by Brenda Lee...I even have "Pledging My Love" by Johnny Ace!
Man! It all sounds so good!
It's just too bad this music is being relegated to the bottom shelves of the archives...

 A quick aside: Greenfield Village, the open-air museum in Dearborn, Michigan, has an annual Motor Muster every father's Day weekend where nearly a thousand cars of the late 1930's through the early 1970's are featured - some stock and some souped up.
Rock and Roll is more than just music!
In previous years they used to have a WWII USO show with a live big band on stage and people dressed in 1940's fashions dancing the jitterbug and other popular dances of the day.And it was awesome!
This year of 2014, however, they changed it up a bit and had a 1963 'high school dance.'  What fun to see the young folk dressed up in their early 60's finest and dance to not only the songs of that great year, but to tunes of the previous few years as well.
Some of the Greenfield Village dancers

What fun this was! Yes---a few of us on the bleachers ran down and danced as well ("Shout!" by the Isley Brothers really brought nearly everyone out onto the dance 'floor'). So many of the great tunes from the pre-Beatle rock and roll era were played by the DJ. We were all singing and dancing along. 

And here are a couple of video clips I took from 2015 when they were in 1964. Yes, it is the Beatles era here in the clips, but I thought you might enjoy seeing them:



This next clip features my 14 year old daughter dressed for '64 and dancing pretty much for her very first time.

They did a pretty darn good job bringing back the spirit of teen youth 1963!

All of this made me realize just how radio was really missing out. There are still a huge number of fans of this great early rock and roll music. Not even so-called "oldies" stations are touching it these days - do you hear me CKWW?
Oh yeah, that's right. It's advertising money, right?
So sad that this wonderful music is being tucked away in the dark corners of the basements of radio stations instead of being kept alive, all for the love of money.
At least those of us that are open-minded in our musical tastes can still get a hold of it.
But you better do so now - it may not be around much longer.
Metro-Detroit's own version of American Graffiti - Eddie's Drive-In, including music of the 50s and 60s and girls/car hops on roller skates.
Yes, this is a very cool place to go for burgers, rides, and cool rock and roll music!

When I met Cindy Williams and 
Paul LeMat (see American Graffiti 
poster above), I also asked them 
to sign my DVD of the movie.
Very cool indeed!

For an advertisement for the Time Life Music collection, click HERE
And, since the collections are out of print, here is a way to pick up some of this fine music - just click the links: Time Life Rock and Roll Era
and Your Hit Parade
Click HERE for the Golden Age of American Rock and Roll series
And if you are looking for a somewhat cheaper overview of the era, I highly recommend the great soundtrack to the movie that put oldies on the map: American Graffiti soundtrack
And, for a posting on the early Beatles Capitol albums, click HERE









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2 comments:

Bella said...

This was really helpful! I used it to choose music for my post and directed readers who wanted more info there for it. Thanks!

DoowopAl1 said...

The sounds of the 50's & 60's are still alive on Friday night,8-11PM on commercial free radio,WSND-FM 88.9,Notre Dame/South Bend,In..For those of you outside of the So.Bend area we are now streaming at WSND.ND.EDU..For more info check out my Facebook page at,Jukebox Melodies South Bend.In.