Although some people tend to look upon rock 'n' roll as a musical sound medium, it is fact that both the film and television industry, has played an important part in it's development. The film industry from its infancy has always had a relationship with music. But during the 20th century, there was some metaphoric pot-boiling going on. I shall not go into all detail, but during the 1950's it exploded. BIG!
A film drama was being made in Hollywood about an inner city school: Blackboard Jungle. It is reputed that the producer of the film was visiting one of the stars, namely Glen Ford. Glen's son was upstairs listening to some of his records. One of them was Thirteen Women and it's flip side Rock Around The Clock. This attracted the attention of the producer, and as a result, Rock Around The Clock was used at the start of the film both in the opening and closing credits, as well as briefly, in some opening shots. But according to an interview with Bill Haley with Roger Scott on Capitol Radio on a 1970's (pos. 1974) visit, he assumed he had been chosen because he and his band, The Comets, did a lot of college gigs. He had recorded several songs on a particular recording session: April 12th 1954. There had been success with a less risque version of Shake, Rattle and Roll. The next record would be Rock Around The Clock. This would mean that the film and song could popularise each other. A big band version is also heard coming from somewhere, as well as on record material from Bix Biederbeck and Stan Kenton.
Hollywood was very quick to get involved in the emerging music scene. It made a film named Rock Around The Clock. Bill Haley is seen and acting in it. Society was now going to be turned upside down.
Teddy boys were the rebellious youth at the time in the UK. I do not know how many times in the UK it happened, or whether it was an isolated incident. But there was a press report which referred to a screening of the film in London's West End. The Teddy boys were reputed to have made some adjustments to seating fixtures in the cinema. This would enable them to dance to the musical items.
This caused uproar. Rock 'n' roll became the 'in' subject of society. Cinemas held special meetings to decide as to whether to show the film. Questions were even asked in Parliament. Conductor Sir Malcolm Sergeant even referred to it in the traditional speech at The Last Night of the Proms. It was also the subject in an edition of the BBC radio programme Twenty Questions. I, some years later, heard a story from a work colleague, that she, the mother, together with the father, did not wish their daughter to go and see this film. The daughter retaliated by saying that she had never disobeyed them in her life. But tonight she would; and saw this production.
It affected Bennetts End Secondary Modern School's second school concert circa 1957. The class I was in at the time, was scheduled to recite a poem titled Lone Dog. Unfortunately, the night's performance coincided with the screening of Rock Around The Clock. A handful of boys went to the Princess Cinema to see the film. So the rest of us had to continue without them. The school also monitored anyone going into the morning assembly without being properly dressed. Certain boys were quite often were stopped from entering, because they wore fluorescent socks.
On the small screen, rock 'n' roll turned up in various programmes. Up to September 1955, the only networked channel was the BBC. Today it is called BBC1. During late 1956, the government of the day granted an extra hour of television broadcasts. One programme that was created for this situation was Six-Five Special. Although not strictly as much of a rock 'n' roll show as some people might think, it did feature this music quite a lot. Not only did it feature British acts, it also, where possible, featured some pop stars from the USA. It also featured what I personally described as a poor man's rock 'roll; or a jazzed up folk music. This was of course Skiffle. An old style American music which had gained popularity over here in the 1950's. There were spin offs of this show. Such as two versions of the signature tune, a road show, a long playing record or LP, and a feature film.
The original producer of Six-Five Special was Jack Good. There was a concern about some of the spin offs by some BBC officials. Jack Good was summoned to them. I gather there was a mighty row. Jack Good left, and went to the other television company, ITV. Here he produced more slick pop shows such as Oh Boy!, Boy Meets Girl and Shindig.
The BBC replaced Jack Good with Stuart Morris on Six-Five Special. This programme continued until the end of 1958. It was replaced by Dig This! Then subsequently, Drumbeat and not forgetting Juke Box Jury.
Commercial television continued with Ready, Steady, Go! and Thank Your Lucky Stars, during the early 1960's. And of course BBC's long lasting Top Of The Pops. USA had both during the 1950's and 1960's a show called Bandstand.
During the early 1960's, there was a possible serious threat to juke boxes. I read in a paper that there was a thing called a cine box which could do this. I saw one at Ramsgate. It was enclosed in a booth. Up would come not only a record, but also cine film of it being performed. Possibly projected on a frosted glass screen. Over the years; of course, this method has been replaced by the pop video/DVD. Many pop acts claim that a video/DVD plays a vital part in the promotion and eventual sale of their records.
Although cinema continued to make story films that involved this and other music, it also scored success with a different type of film. That of capturing events and concerts. Some were given the name of rocumentary. Notable successes as examples are Jazz On A Summers Day, Woodstock, Let The Good Times Roll, Elvis: That's The Way It Is, and Elvis: On Tour.
As far as the small screen is concerned, Elvis' early appearances on network television, had caused sensational controversy in the USA. Later, television also played an important part in his career. Notably, what later has been dubbed as his Come Back Special. Also Aloha From Hawaii. This concert was broadcast simultaneously throughout the world. Well, almost. This country felt that the price was too expensive. Although it has been shown, albeit years later, on the BBC. And of course, that very sad last concert given just before he died.
In this country, commercial television put out a few special programmes based on blues, gospel and rock 'n' roll music. These featured legendary performers such as Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, Gene Vincent and Jerry Lee Lewis. And one programme, had huge demands to repeat a show featuring Little Richard, The Shirelles, all being backed by Sounds Incorporated. This was circa 1963 and 1964. Jack Good produced a special titled, With The Beatles during the 1960's. The Beatles not only performed The Liverpool sound aka Mersey Beat, but some 1950's rock 'n' roll numbers.
And so the music and film industries still continue doing their thing. What will the music and movie scene be like in 100 years' time? Who knows? But if my ghost drops in I shall make sure I will perform something. So rock 'n' roll will survive.
Now for my useless information bit:
In 1953, Knight and Freeman did not write Rock Around The Clock as a rock 'n' roll song. It was written as a foxtrot.
Gene Vincent once performed at The Ovaltine's ball room.
Gene Vincent did live in the UK for awhile. He liked going to the pub and watching Dad's Army.
One of the presenters of Six-Five Special, Josephine Douglas, was guest of honour at the first annual county film competition aka H.A.C.C.A.
The Comets were at one time named The Saddlemen.
The first act to record Rock Around The Clock was Sonny Dae and His Knights.
Anyone wishing to know more about rock 'n' roll and skiffle on British television, please refer to Whirligig Turnipnet - Heritage Websites
Those interested in the blues, rhythm and blues and jump music etc; I would recommend films such as an early 1929 short sound musical titled 'St. Louis Blues' starring the tragic blues singer Bessie Smith. And a 1945 musical short titled 'Caldonia' starring Louis Jordan and his Timpani Five.
Some pre rock 'n' roll era records: Trucking Little Woman by Big Bill Broonzy, Drinkin' Wine Spo-De-Odie by Stick McGhee and his Buddy, Guitar Boogie by Arthur Smith and the Crackerjacks, and Honky Tonk Train Blues by Mead Lux Lewis.
I have twice seen the film Rock Around The Clock on television. I am still mystified as to how it caused so much upheaval.
See you later alligator - in the next blog.