Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Rock Around the Clock

Popular music in the fifties was in transition. Big band and swing music was still popular, but the post-war generation was searching for a musical form they could call their own. That search ended in 1954 when Bill Haley and the Comets recorded "Rock Around the Clock". I still wanna boogie whenever I hear that song.

Rock Around the Clock created a sensation when first released, and received additional exposure in the movie of the same name. The film was banned in many countries after reports of teenagers ripping up the theater seats in their excitement over the loud, raucous music on the soundtrack. Rock and Roll was born.

There were so many rock groups in the early days that it would be difficult to name them all. Some were "one-hit-wonders" while others had real staying power. I liked The Platters, Dion and the Belmonts, The Diamonds, The Temptations, The Shirelles, The Four Seasons and The Ronettes.

Besides the groups, there were also individual performers whose unique style made them an integral part of the early history of Rock and Roll. Some of my favorites:

Elvis. Perhaps more than anyone, Elvis Presley personifies the definitive rock and roller. His songs and movies of the fifties and sixties propelled him to the top of the charts. Even after the Beatles and the British invasion of rock, Elvis kept reinventing himself and made comeback after comeback. If I had to pick one person to represent the genre, it would have to be "The King".

Connie Francis. Born Concetta Rosa Maria Franconero in Newark, NJ, Connie's breakout hit was "Who's Sorry Now". That was followed by top sellers including: "Where the Boys Are", "Everybody's Somebody's Fool" and Stupid Cupid". She had such a distinctive sound, and in hit after hit, connected with the teens to the tune of 24 gold albums.

Jerry Lee Lewis. One of early rock's wild men, Jerry Lee burst onto the music scene around 1956 with such piano-pounding hits as “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” and “Great Balls of Fire”. Through a life marked by controversy and personal tragedy, Lewis has remained a defiant figure who refuses to be pigeonholed. Still recording today, he is accorded "icon" status as one of the great rockers of all time.

Little Richard. "A-wop-bom-aloo-mop-a-lop-bam-boom," the famous opening line of "Tutti Frutti" (1955), launched Little Richard's career and remains his signature tune. Along with Elvis, Little Richard, with his slick curls, stiletto-thin mustache, and outrageous behavior helped define early rock and roll. Other memorable hits include "Slippin' and Slidin'," "Long Tall Sally," and "Good Golly Miss Molly."

Johnny Mathis. I couldn't do "fast dances" as a teen, so I prayed for a Johnny Mathis record so that I could get out on the floor. Johnny's romantic ballads like "Wonderful, Wonderful", "It's Not for Me to Say" and his first number one, "Chances Are". With 75 albums and over 100 million records sold, he remains one of my generations favorite performers. On behalf of all the acne-plagued Romeos with two left feet, thanks Johnny.

Roy Orbison. I have a CD of Roy Orbison's Greatest Hits, and it's mind boggling just how many mega-hits this guy put out. Roy had one of the great rock and roll voices: a forceful tenor with amazing range, which he displayed on songs like “Only the Lonely”, “Oh! Pretty Woman,” "Crying"and "Dream Baby". Sadly, he left us too soon at age 52.

Dick Clark. Many people know Dick as the old guy who ushers in the New Year on channel 7. His TV show, "American Bandstand" was the venue for new rock and roll artists in the fifties. The show debuted in 1957, and featured Philadelphia teens (who became celebrities in their own rite) dancing in a studio, and guest artists performing their latest songs. Dick was a rock impressario who launched many a career on his show, which lasted into the 1980s.

I love all kinds of music, (except rap) but there will always be a special place in my heart for the unforgettable doo-wop sounds and artists of the fifties.


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