The Dawn of Rock of Rock 'n' Roll

   

     
Let's begin by taking a look back to . In the spring of , most of us were 12 years old and in our first year of junior high. was definitely a trendsetting year and what a year it was!  

was the year of the Lawrence Welk Show, and the year we "met" Marshall Matt Dillon in the mother of all TV "adult westerns," Gunsmoke. It was also the year of the original big money TV quiz show, The $64,000 Question, and the year we met the incomparable Sgt. Bilko and saw the first of those 39 timeless classics, the hilarious, stand-alone, half-hour episodes of The Honeymooners. TV has never, never gotten better since!

    

It was the year that opened, and the year we met Davy Crockett
and Captain Kangaroo (but of course, we were a little old for Captain Kangaroo).  It was the year we lost Albert Einstein and met Ann Landers, Alfred E. Neuman, Annette, Maybelline, Julie London, and a couple of other gals, one named Sue (who "knows just what to do") and one named Daisy (who "always drives me crazy"). 

   

was the year Guys and Dolls made the move from Broadway to the silver screen. We also had other great films like Mr. Roberts, The Seven Year Itch and On the Waterfront. Marty won the Oscar for Best Picture, but the definitive film of our generation was Rebel Without a Cause, with James Dean, one of our heroes, who died September 30th that year in a tragic accident.  Broadway gave us The Diary of Anne Frank, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Silk Stockings, Damn Yankees, and Inherit the Wind

   

was the year of the Salk polio vaccine and the year the AFL merged with the CIO. It was the year of the novels, Marjorie Morningstar, Auntie Mame, Not as a Stranger,  No Time for Sergeants, and The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit. And it was the year that the colors, pink and gray, became a men's fashion phenomenon (unlike any before or since). It was the first summer we had little transistor radios so we could take our music to the beach, and the year the hero sandwich first appeared in New York (we got 'em for a quarter at Farmer Joe's on Long Beach Road near the movies when we were in junior high).

 

 

  

   

  

When a young black woman, Rosa Parks, refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white man and started a bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, became the birth of the civil rights movement in America.

 

It was the year that cars got really , when Chevy finally gave us both its first V-8 and the first cool station

wagon, the Nomad , it was the year that Ford introduced the ultra-cool T-bird,

  

and it was the year that the  finally won the World Series*  (after  losing five times to
the rival New York Yankees). 

was also the year the Great Lincoln Shopping Center and our brand new high school building were opened (and it was the year we got a great new jr. high music teacher, "Uncle" Ed Taylor).  

  

And speaking of music (and that's what this page is really about, isn't it?), was the year of the likes of "Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing" and "The Yellow Rose of Texas." But, we were at the very dawn of our adolescence, and coincidentally, it was also the very dawn of the most far-reaching, long lasting trend in popular culture in the history of the world  rock 'n' roll music ─ our music! And soon, our music changed the world.

 

was the year that our music climbed the charts and swept the nation and the year that comic genius and TV pioneer, the now late Sid Caesar, created a brilliant and classic parody of our brand new music called The 3 Haircuts (click here).

 

(To hear "Rock Around the Clock," go to "Prom Night.")

   
You want to talk about history? Now,
that was history. Yes, although it was bubbling in the background, "gestating," if you will, out of the spotlight for years before, on August 7th, 1955, a performance of
"Rock Around the Clock" by Bill Haley and His Comets became the first rock 'n' roll performance on national TV (on the Ed Sullivan Show).

But shortly before  all that, on March 25th, 1955, Blackboard Jungle hit the big screen in , it truly was the birth of rock 'n' roll ─ its most pivotal moment. When we went to the movies in the spring of to see Blackboard Jungle, the theater literally rocked when on the surface of a blackboard the opening credits rolled: Never before was a movie theater so energized. 

Blackboard Jungle was set in a New York City high school overwrought with juvenile delinquency, the kind of inner city school our parents wanted to keep us away from when they decided to move to the suburbs and buy their first homes.

  

Although it was not perfect, and it had its "incidents," Oceanside High School was not at all like the high school portrayed in Blackboard Jungle. Nevertheless, the rebellious spirit of rock 'n' roll was there with us, too, leading the teenage revolution of the 1950s just the same. 

  

     
                                                                       Chuck Berry, 1958  

  

And even though Mr. Berry somehow neglected to mention it,
we were really rockin' in Oceanside, too

  

 

  

Right after Blackboard Jungle, rock 'n' roll took hold ─ and it took hold fast and has dominated popular music and popular culture  from that day on. And we quickly became the first generation of young people in history to be given our very own music. And at no time before the time of our youth was the music more socially and culturally important. And what fantastic music it was!!

  

By early July of (after "sleeping" for a year after its initial release in 1954), the record, "Rock Around the Clock," by Bill Haley and His Comets rallied our generation and became its anthem as it was was propelled by Blackboard Jungle to become the first rock 'n' roll record to go number 1 it stayed there for 8 weeks until Labor Day weekend, selling 6 million copies by the end of the year  and the world has never been the same since. Just over six months later, on March 21, 1956, the movie, also titled Rock Around the Clock, opened in theaters all over the USA. It was the first full-length movie about rock 'n' roll music and the first of a series of five such movies that featured our generation's no. 1, outspoken advocate, Alan Freed, playing himself.
   
Soon the first singer-songwriter and the greatest lyricist of the genre, Chuck Berry, (whom we also first "met" on record in , along with Little Richard and Fats Domino) would be shouting this familiar rebellious challenge, the teenage declaration of independence, to the adult establishment, "Roll over, Beethoven, and tell Tchaikowski the news."

    

Our music was everywhere. It came at us from the big screenand the little screen in our living
rooms (on "American Bandstand" and its many imitators), from the stages at the Fox and Paramount theatres
and from the school gyms, from the juke boxes
in bars and diners and little 45-rpm record playersat basement parties. But first and foremost, the rock 'n' roll revolution was on the radio, and it was led by a new group of heroes
 the mighty DJs. We listened to them in the privacy of our bedrooms, in our basements, at the beach, and while we were , from the dashboards of our cars .

   

Although for many kids in the more remote parts of our country, that trip to the movies to see Blackboard Jungle was the first time they ever heard anything like "Rock Around the Clock," we were lucky enough to be only 25 miles from the one and only New York City. There, Alan Freed , the first and most important of our new DJ heroes and a true champion of our generation, was at 1010 WINS New York spinning rock 'n' roll records for us on the radio  every night, and sometimes every afternoon after school, since his New York debut on September 7, 1954 (the day before we started the 7th grade at Oceanside Jr. High School). He accompanied the music by ringing a cowbell and pounding to the "Big Beat" on a Manhattan telephone directory, and he supplemented it with his rapid-fire recitations of endless dedications (which you can hear again by clicking here).

Yes, over six months before anyone ever saw Blackboard Jungle or heard "Maybelline," "Tutti-Frutti" or "Ain't It (That) a Shame" and over a year before any of us up north ever heard of Elvis Presley (his first national hit, "Heartbreak Hotel" was in early 1956), Freed was playing unforgettable songs for us ion New York Radio in 1954, songs that many of us still listen to often, songs like "Sh'boom," "Shake, Rattle and Roll," "Earth Angel" and, of course, even "Rock Around the Clock." 

  

And from the beginning, Freed was giving us live stage shows featuring our favorite rock 'n' roll performers several times a year, practically right next door in Brooklyn and in Manhattan, and movies like Rock Around the Clock. He was the undisputed father of rock 'n' roll music, more than anyone, the man responsible for the wide and rapid spread of this popular musical phenomenon, and we, the teenagers, were his target audience.  

 

So where did this fresh new music come from?  

  

Alan Freed described our music in late 1956, with incredible perspective for the time, in the movie, Rock, Rock, Rock  (which, incidentally, introduced a 16-year old Tuesday Weld almost three years
before her memorable role as Thalia Menninger in "The Many Loves of Doby Gillis,"
one of the first TV shows in which all the main characters were teenagers. 

Freed's description went like this:

  

"Rock 'n' roll is a river of music, which has absorbed many streams: rhythm and blues, jazz, ragtime, cowboy songs, country songs, folk songs.  All have contributed greatly to the 'Big Beat'."

  

Like the melting pot that American society itself was supposed to be, it was a mixture of many older American musical forms originating from every corner of our nation. With incredible speed, the doo-wop harmonies of urban blacks and whites shot like bullets out of the blues clubs of Chicago and from the street corners of Philadelphia and our own New York, some of it becoming "rockabilly" as it blended with southern and southwestern country styles, and some of it taking on the rolling rhythms of New Orleans. In fact, you might say that, more than anyone else, Fats Domino (who rolled his body as he played the piano) put the "roll" in "rock 'n' roll."

  

In the immortal words of Mr. Domino, "Music makes people happy." Ours did and after all these years it still does. For us, "[e]very sha-la-la-la, every wo-o, wo-o still shines." And as I said when I addressed our 20-year reunion in 1980, "Most of our music made us happy; some made us cry; all of it made us dance. It still does all of these things and it's all our own."

 

And as Bob Seeger said in his 1978 tribute to our music, which he called "old time rock 'n' roll," "Today's music ain't got the same soul."  (Click to listen.) In fact, we should be grateful that our rock 'n' roll music changed when it did, for if it were to be indistinguishable from all that followed, it wouldn't be so special and it wouldn't really be only our music, would it? 

 

Jerry Seinfeld once said, "In China, Chinese food is just called food. Well, the songs we now lovingly call "golden oldies" would just be called "songs" if they weren’t so special if they didn’t have that special way of taking us back in time, making us remember, and making us feel so good.  

 

"No wonder the music ... resonated in our time … the messages (poetry) in the music pieces are timeless," said one of our classmates, Mike Blumenthal. Our music was created just for, and embraced by, young people (us), but it seems that the older we get, the more we enjoy and appreciate it  and the more we appreciate how lucky we were, as kids, to be given such an extraordinary gift that would enrich our entire lives as it has for all these years. We loved our music when it was new, but in many ways, as kids generally do, we took it for granted. How could we have known then how much joy it would give us over 50 years later?

  

Often, when I hear a recording by Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry or Buddy Holly, I think to myself, how blessed were we to be just the right age when this music came on the scene! Truly the treasure of our time and the jewel of our generation, our music was incredibly central to our teenage lives and culture, like no time before. It was originally made to be, it always was and once again, in the poetry of one Mr. Chuck Berry, "any ol' way you choose it," it always will be our music.

  

Isn't it amazing how the songs we call
"oldies" make us feel so young?

 

Some people think our music died in a 1959 plane crash in an Iowa cornfield but it didn't. For us, our music lives and in a special and very effective way, it takes us back and keeps us forever young. 

 

 


Danny & the Juniors, 1958
Click on the blue panel above to listen
   

 

 

 

 


 

 

  

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING REALLY SPECIAL, SAILORS:  

  

The Class of 1960 was born on September 8, 1954, when most of us entered Oceanside Jr. High School. Just the night before, Alan Freed first picked up a microphone at WINS AM radio in New York, and started a musical and cultural revolution of unprecedented and as yet unsurpassed significance. Thus, like a twin, the birth of our great class has been inexorably associated with the dawn of rock ‘n’ roll.

  

Click here for the story of that beginning in an original 13-minute video documentary that, like this page, is entitled The Dawn of Rock 'n' Roll, 1954-'59. It was made especially for us in conjunction with our 50-Year Grand Reunion and is now available online for viewing by everyone.

   

      

After you have enjoyed both reading the thumbnail history presented above and viewing the video, then the next logical place for you to visit would be our "Rock 'n' Roll Radio" page where you will be able to read more about your favorite New York DJs of the 1950s, the people who gave us our music and who, in doing so, changed the world forever, Alan Freed, Murray the K and, of course, the incomparable Jocko, the "Ace from Outer Space." There you will find links to individual pages for each of them that will allow you to view their photos and, once again, hear  yes, hear  rare audio of their familiar voices recorded when we were young and listening every day.

 

 

  



   
 

Explore the following links, and the countless others they will lead you to, to learn more about (or to hear some of) our early rock 'n' roll music and its great pioneers who were heroes to our generation. But once again, don’t forget to come back.

•

The History of Rock 'n' Roll http://www.history-of-rock.com

•

The Briarcliff Manor High School Class of 1960 Jukebox http://www.bobforrest.com/JukeBox.htm

•

Chuck Berry Official Website http://www.chuckberry.com

•

The Chuck Berry Page http://departments.colgate.edu/diw/Pegg/Chuck.html

•

The Everly Brothers International Info Circle http://www.everly.net

•

Bill Haley & His Comets Rock Around the Web http://www.billhaley.co.uk

•

The Official Site of Buddy Holly http://www.cmgww.com/music/holly/holly.html

•

The KILLER Jerry Lee Lewis http://www.rockabillyhall.com/JLL.html

•

Little Richard News Home http://www.kolumbus.fi/timrei/lre.htm

•

ELVIS.com The Official Site http://www.elvis.com

•

The Original Unofficial Elvis Home Page http://metalab.unc.edu/elvis

• The Originals of Rock and Roll http://www.typearts.com/Originals/index.html
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* To read more about, and to view photos of, this famous "Subway Series" of , click here (or on the Brooklyn Dodgers' World Series poster, above).
 

 

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