The Expansion and
Mutation of Rock and Roll
By the late 1950s, the new pop music called rock and roll was showing signs of cultural fatigue. The folk music trend was taking shape. The California beaches were attracting a unique crowd of surfers, and Berry Gordy was not happy as a body trim specialist at the Ford plant in Detroit.
Then, too, several major stars were taken out of action. In 1957, Little Richard renounced rock and roll to go into the ministry of the Seventh Day Adventist Church. In 1958, Elvis Presley began a two-year tour of duty in the U.S. Army in Germany. In 1959, Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and the J. P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson were killed in a plane crash and Chuck Berry was sentenced to two years in the federal penitentiary at Terre Haute, Indiana. In 1960, Eddie Cochran died in an auto accident in England.
At the time, four major record companies – RCA Victor, Columbia, Decca, and Capitol – had begun to gobble up the small companies, and these four companies sold seventy-five percent of the recordings in America (Szatmary 1996, 54). By their size and bureaucratic design, big corporations knew how to market and distribute "product". To discover and nurture "talent", which leads to a product, is a slightly different skill. Two brilliant young men appeared on the late 1950s pop music scene to do just that.
Richard Augustus Clark II (1929-2012) showed an early interest in business matters, and his high school class voted him the "Man Most Likely to Sell the Brooklyn Bridge". He went to Syracuse University to study advertising and radio. At age twenty-two he worked for a short time for his father who was station manager at WRUN in Utica, New York.
After several modest jobs in radio and television, Clark got his big break. He took over the WFIL Philadelphia Bandstand, changed the name to American Bandstand, and did his first big program on August 5, 1957. The show aired for 90 minutes each weekday afternoon and on Monday nights from 7:30 to 8:00 p.m. One hundred fifty teenagers were in the audience, many of them getting up to dance and offer opinions about the music. With smooth patter and impeccably good taste, Clark would mingle with the kids, and then interview several guest artists before they got up to lip-sync their most recent hits.
Clark's business savvy transformed a local telecast into a national phenomenon. To get sponsors for the show he traveled the advertising agency circuit on Madison Avenue and eventually snagged the lucrative Beechnut Spearmint Gum account (Szatmary 1996, 55).
In no time at all, Clark became famous and very wealthy. He was one of the most influential disc jockeys in the nation – most of whom were suspected of taking bribes (called "payola") from the big record companies to play certain records more often than others. Congress held hearings to investigate that matter, and President Eisenhower ordered the Federal Trade Commission to bring formal charges against the offending record companies (Ewen 1977, 528). Clark was never accused of taking payola, but his personal investments in music publishing and recording companies were considered a conflict of interest, so he had to divest himself of those companies.
Beneath the boyish good looks and charming stage demeanor was a very astute business mind. For nearly ten years, American Bandstand was a primary force in the creation of a whole outlook on teenage life – hair styles, fashions, dances (the Mashed Potato, the Frug, the Watusi, Walking the Dog, and others), dating issues, and all the other adolescent concerns about behavior and social values.
Dick Clark launched the careers of Fabian Forte, Frankie Avalon, Bobby Rydell, the Dovells, and Chubby Checker. Often called America's oldest living teenager, Dick Clark gave rock and roll a wholesome image, and he did a lot to persuade parents that their children were not all that bad just because they were addicted to the music.
In later years, Dick Clark added to his financial empire with a strong move into independent television production. His companies have created and/or produced numerous television series television specials, and movies, including the Golden Globes, the Billboard Music Awards, Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve, and the American Music Awards. In the 1990s he opened a chain of American Bandstand restaurants to capitalize on his fame with the aging Americans who remember him from their formative adolescent years back in the 1960s.
Clark remained active in the entertainment industry until 2004, when he suffered a stroke. He made infrequent appearances after that, as his ability to speak had been affected. He died in 2012 due to complications from surgery.
Five years younger than Dick Clark, but driven by equally keen business instincts, was a songwriter named Don Kirshner (1934-2011). The son of a Bronx tailor, Kirshner began to shape a dream in his late teens. His dream was to develop new rock songwriters the way Max and Louis Dryfuss (Chappell Music Publishers) had developed Tin Pan Alley songwriters – the Gershwins, Rodgers and Hart, and others – a few decades earlier (Szatmary 1996, 61).
At age twenty-four, Kirshner made his move when he and pop guitarist Al Nevins of the Three Suns formed Aldon Music in 1958. They even rented space in 1650 Broadway, a few doors down from the famous Brill Building (1619 Broadway at 49th, where many big band publishers had their offices in the 1930s and 1940s) and a few blocks north of the historic Tin Pan Alley. Kirshner and Nevins succeeded beyond all expectation in creating a world of "publisher-manufactured" rock and roll (Shaw 1982, 55). Since 1650 Broadway and the Brill Building were both essentially manufacturing centers for music, rock industry insiders began to call the tunes "Brill Building Rock", with a mixture of admiration, disrespect, and envy.
At his peak, Don Kirshner had thirty-five young men and women tucked away in little one-room studios composing simple tunes with simple lyrics about teenage concerns. Just as it was in Tin Pan Alley in the 1920s and '30s, many of the composers and lyricists were Jewish and young. Journalists said that Tin Pan Alley had become Teen Pan Alley, all because of the giant publishing octopus called Aldon Music, Inc. (Szatmary 1996, 67).
Sedaka and Greenfield
The child of a Turkish cab driver who was a competent pianist, Neil Sedaka (b. 1939) took to music at an early age. By thirteen he was a brilliant pianist and writing pop songs for school productions with his friend Howie Greenfield (1936-1986) doing the lyrics.
Sedaka went to the Juilliard School of Music, and was on his way to a promising career as a classical pianist. He got deflected, however, by his rock composing skills, and soon gave up his Juilliard scholarship to concentrate on pop tunes, again with Howie Greenfield. Sedaka's piano and vocal demos were so well received that he went on to a huge career as a performer, as well.
Together they wrote "Stupid Cupid", "The Diary", "Calendar Girl", "Fallin'", "Breaking Up Is Hard To Do", "Stairway to Heaven", "Happy Birthday, Sweet Sixteen", and "Oh! Carol", dedicated to Sedaka's then girlfriend, Carole Klein (later to be known as Carole King). She responded with "Oh! Neil", but it didn't make the charts.
Mann and Weil
Barry Mann (b. 1939) began composing at age twelve, but went to the Pratt Institute to study architecture. He dropped out of college, and set his sights on a career in pop music. Early in his career as a songwriter and demo pianist, he married lyricist Cynthia Weil (b. 1940) who was trained as an actress and dancer.
"It was insane," recalled Barry Mann. "Cynthia and I would be in this little cubicle about the size of a closet, with just a piano and a chair. No window or anything. We'd go in every morning and write songs all day.
In the next room Carole [King] and Gerry [Goffin] would be doing the same thing, and in the next room after that Neil [Diamond] or somebody else.
All of us... were so insecure that we'd never write a hit again that we wrote constantly in order to prove we could" (quoted in Szatmary 1996, 65).
Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil cranked out tunes 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. just like factory workers. Over fifty years later, Mann and Weil still work together in their own publishing house, Dyad Music. Between them, they have over 600 song credits to their names, including the Grammy winning "Somewhere Out There" from the movie An American Tail (1987), "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" (co-written with Phil Spector, 1964), and "On Broadway" (co-written with Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, 1963).
King and Goffin
Carole Klein (b. 1942) played piano at age four. While in high school, she changed her name to Carole King and formed her first band, the Co-sines. At Queens College, she began to write songs with her new boyfriend Gerry Goffin (1939-2014). They married, and became a prolific songwriting team, turning out a wide variety of hits – "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?" (The Shirelles), "Take Good Care of My Baby" (Bobby Vee), "The Loco-Motion" (Little Eva), "Up On the Roof" (The Drifters), "Go Away Little Girl" (Steve Lawrence), "Crying in the Rain" (The Everly Brothers), "Halfway to Paradise" (Tony Orlando and Bobby Vinton), "Just Once In My Life" (Herman's Hermits), and many more first-rate pop tunes.
By 1968, the King-Goffin partnership was over. They divorced and went their separate ways, but each continued to be quite successful in the world of big time pop music.
King moved to California, where she would later collaborate with other notable musicians, such as James Taylor and Joni Mitchell. Her second solo album, Tapestry, released in 1971, went to No. 1 on the album chart and held the spot for 15 weeks. Over 25 million copies of the album have been sold worldwide. In 2014, "Beautiful: The Carole King Musical", which chronicled her beginnings in the music business, debuted on Broadway. The actress who portrayed King, Jessie Mueller, won the 2014 Tony Award for Best Leading Actress in a Musical.
Goffin began writing with other composers, including Michael Masser, with whom he co-wrote the theme from Mahogany (sung by Diana Ross and for which Goffin and Masser received an Academy Award nomination), "Saving All My Love for You" (recorded by Whitney Houston), and "Tonight, I Celebrate My Love for You" (recorded by Roberta Flack and Peabo Bryson).
Leiber and Stoller
Composer Mike Stoller (b. 1933) and lyricist Jerry Leiber (1933-2011) were one of the most active and influential writer-producer teams in the field. Their parents had moved to Los Angeles during World War II and the boys were introduced by Lester Sill of Modern Records. In 1951, at age 18, they had their first commercial tune, "Real Ugly Woman", recorded by bluesman Jimmy Witherspoon.
For the next twenty years they carved out their place in rock and roll history, leading the way with innovations that soon became standard operating procedures. Every aspect of their recording sessions was carefully pre-planned, and there were times when they did sixty takes and agonized through much editing before they approved the final master (Clarke 1990, 696).
They were among the first to give their songs a mini-drama character, "little playlets", Leiber called them – like "Riot in Cell Block No. 9", "Smokey Joe's Cafe", and "Searchin'". They were among the first to become independent producers. It was a natural extension of their instincts. "We don't write songs," they said, "we write records." And they did, "tightly plotted and paced, and as relentlessly rehearsed, as any evening at the theater" (Palmer 1995, 39).
Leiber and Stoller blazed a new trail in 1960 by putting Latin rhythms into an arrangement of "Save the Last Dance for Me", then followed with "Spanish Harlem", making a solo star of the Drifters' lead singer, Ben E. King (Stambler 1977, 303). They used strings on "There Goes My Baby". Their young assistant, Phil Spector, took all their techniques to the maximum when he stepped out on his own.
When Leiber and Stoller moved back to New York, part of the West Coast music group called the Robins went along. Since they went from one coast to the other, they called themselves the Coasters. They immediately became a kind of rock and roll repertory company for Leiber and Stoller, acting out the story line during live performances of "Yakety Yak", "Along Came Jones", and other tunes.
One of the giant early hits of Leiber and Stoller was a textbook demonstration in the changing sociology of pop music.
"Hound Dog" was written by the white team of Leiber and Stoller, a couple of Jewish kids from the East Coast. They gave it to Johnny Otis, a white R&B bandleader who often passed for black. Otis, in turn, claimed that he had written the song and given it to blues singer Big Mama Thornton, who recorded it in a bluesy style.
Then along came Elvis, the white hepcat, who shot "Hound Dog" full of rock-'n'-roll and made it classic, only to have some claim that he had merely covered a "black" song (Smith 1989, 28).
For all its troublesome complexity, the revolutionary new music, rock and roll, did a great deal to bring black and white musicians, record producers, and audiences much closer together than they had been during any previous musical style. Dick Clark would later remark that he saw "rock and roll as the most subtle form of integration that ever existed" (quoted in Smith 1989, 17).
Co-writer of Ben E. King's "Spanish Harlem" and Gene Pitney's "Dream for Sale", Bronx-born Phil Spector (b. 1939) started out playing guitar and piano as a teenager when his parents moved to Los Angeles. He formed the Teddy Bears with schoolmates Annette Kleinbar and Marshall Leib, and at age 18 wrote "To Know Him Is to Love Him", which had been inspired by the inscription on his father's tombstone.
He moved back to New York, and worked as a freelance studio assistant for Leiber and Stoller and several other established composers and producers. Finally, at age 21, he teamed up with Lester Sill, and, combining their names, they formed a new record label called Philles.
He was obsessed with studio techniques, and soon was recording with triple rhythm sections – three drummers, three bass players, and three pianos – plus several guitars and horns. The singers became almost interchangeable, and Spector would often lay down the monster instrumental track even before he hired the singers.
Spector would boil all this instrumentation down into a massive mono mix, a great, grandly textured "wall of sound". The idea was not to hear individual instruments, but… to hear a sound that was deliberately blurry, atmospheric, and of course HUGE – Wagnerian rock and roll with all the trimmings (Palmer 1995, 40).
The records were unusual, to say the least, and they were commercially successful, especially the Ronettes' "Be My Baby", "Walking in the Rain", and "(The Best Part of) Breakin' Up". He also had big hits with the Crystals' "Uptown", "He's a Rebel", and "Da Doo Ron Ron". He even scored with the Righteous Brothers' version of "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" (co-written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil).
The "wall of sound" stunned everyone in the middle of the 1960s. It got a little weary, though, with the same gigantic sounds always creating rather the same effect – and it was very expensive! In 1967 Spector sold the label and hired himself out as a freelance celebrity producer, eventually working on such projects as the Beatles' Let it Be album.
Although he was largely inactive in the music business in the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s, Spector was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989 (as a non-performer) and the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1997. Things took a bit of an interesting turn after that, however, as he was convicted in 2009 of second-degree murder. He is now serving a prison sentence of nineteen years to life in California.
THE FOLK PROTEST MOVEMENT
As if to get some pure musical roots back into the pop music industry, a wave of folk song groups washed over the land. Some, like Leonard Cohen, Richie Havens, and Phil Ochs followed the legendary Woody Guthrie (1912-1967), who spent his whole life as a spokesman for poor people. Guthrie could formulate the most complex political argument in simple terms, within the framework of traditional folk-country tunes. He was the absolute archetype of all later American singer-songwriters (Logan and Woffinden 1977, 100).
Others, like the Kingston Trio, John Denver, and Tom Paxton, followed a more pop-rock approach and sang the songs of others with sweet harmony in a gentle, entertaining manner. Many of these singers were not real folkies, but urban middle-class kids who massaged the traditional folk style into what came to be known as folk-rock.
Here, then, is a brief overview of some of the biggest names in folk music.
His father, Charles Seeger (1886-1979), music specialist at the Library of Congress, studied and catalogued thousands of folk songs from all over the world. Little did the father suspect that his son, Pete, would use that great body of folk songs as the raw material for a huge career in protesting all manner of establishment abuses of power and position.
Just like Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger (1919-2014) was deeply concerned with peace, love, honor, and social compassion. He, too, was outraged when big corporations violated all principles of decency and democracy by hiring mobsters to beat up union organizers. He, too, wanted workers to get a reasonable share of company profits. Like the Hutchinson Family Singers (see page 33) had done one hundred years earlier, Seeger traveled around the country lashing out at what he saw as the major social problems of the day – greed, prejudice, corruption, and such.
In 1941, Seeger formed the Almanac Singers. In the great tradition of folk singers all through history, they took well-known tunes and performed them with new, original protest lyrics. In 1948, Seeger formed the Weavers, establishing a more pop-flavored style of folk singing, featuring strong harmonies and geared more toward entertaining and less fiercely political in nature.
As the daughter of a Mexican-born physicist and a Scotch-Irish mother, dark-skinned Joan Baez (b. 1941) felt a lot of nasty discrimination growing up in Clarence Center, New York. She marched on Washington, D. C., in 1963 along with Bob Dylan, Odetta Holmes, Harry Belafonte, and Peter, Paul, and Mary. She helped organize the Free Speech Movement and founded the Institute for the Study of Nonviolence (Szatmary 1987, 72).
In and out of jail frequently for demonstrating against the Vietnam War in the 1960s, Baez continues her musical activism today. The subdued passion of "Birmingham Sunday", "We Shall Overcome", and "What Have They Done to the Rain" inspired thousands of American adolescents to challenge the political status quo.
Certainly the most influential of all the folk-song activists was Robert Allen Zimmerman (b. 1941) who named himself, so the story goes, after poet Dylan Thomas. Dylan denied the story in some interviews (Charlton 1990, 139), but offered no other explanation.
Woody Guthrie's accusatory, righteous stance as the guitar-picking People's Sage was copied lock, stock, and cracker-barrel (even down to the harmonica rack) in Bob Dylan's early career – except that Dylan spoke about adolescent alienation instead of the displaced hobos, drifters, and Great Depression homeless who had been Guthrie's main concern (Logan and Woffinden 1977, 100).
Dylan's singing and guitar playing have often been ridiculed as amateurish and unintelligible, but no one has ever doubted the power and significance of his poetic-philosophical declarations. "Blowin' in the Wind" and "The Times They Are A-Changin'" carried the folk-protest movement to new heights of sensitivity and awareness.
Dylan was discovered by John Hammond, at the time a volunteer executive at Columbia Records. (Volunteer because his mother was a Vanderbilt, and he didn't need the job or the money.) Hammond had a long list of discoveries – Count Basie and Billie Holiday among them – and he heard Dylan's promise. All the other executives at Columbia spoke of Bob Dylan as "Hammond's Folly".
A few months after his audition, Dylan's self-titled album was released (1962). His second album, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, contained "Blowin' in the Wind" and "Masters of War". Dylan was on his way. With his next album, The Times They Are A-Changin' (1964), he became a major star, indeed the major star of the folk movement.
He is certainly one of the most peculiar superstars in American pop music. He rejected all the parties, glitz, and glamour of his fame to live the life of a recluse. He embraced Christianity, but turned back to Judaism when his oldest boy approached the age of bar mitzvah. Then, there are some who say that a motorcycle accident in July of 1966 did not really happen, but rather, that Dylan was doing battle with his manager, Albert Grossman, trying to regain control of his wealth and his career (Eliot 1989, 117).
Dylan's Witmark [publishing] contract expired in 1965, at which time Dylan agreed, at Grossman's urging, to start his own publishing company, Dwarf Music. The move… doubled Grossman's take to 50 percent of all Dylan's publishing income. This was in addition to his managerial piece, said to be 20 percent of everything, including Dylan's share of his own publishing income (Eliot 1989, 115).
Whatever may be the cause, Dylan's career has been a continuous string of oblique shifts that surprise and disturb his fans. The most famous instance came at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965. He appeared, much to his followers' dismay, with an electric guitar and the highly amplified Paul Butterfield Blues Band, leaving the stage after only three songs because of the hissing and booing, ostensibly because he "went electric". (Some say the hissing and booing occurred only after the announcement that Dylan could only play a short set, and that it had nothing to do with the non-acoustic delivery.) Irwin Silber, longtime activist and fan, editor of the radical folk magazine Sing Out, said, "I would not have minded so much if he had sung just one song about the war!" (Szatmary 1987, 74).
Peter, Paul, and Mary
Owning such a big chunk of Bob Dylan's creative rights, Albert Grossman was eager to get those songs recorded. In due time, all the acts in Grossman's stable of performers would have hits with Dylan tunes – Judy Collins, Manfred Mann, the Byrds, the Animals, Sonny and Cher, the Turtles, and Peter, Paul, and Mary.
They were just as political and serious as the unpolished "authentic" folk singers, but Peter Yarrow (b. 1938), Paul Stookey (b. 1937), and Mary Travers (1936-2009) distinguished themselves from the others by their clear enunciation and carefully shaded harmonies. They became enormously popular, scoring nineteen hit singles between 1962 and 1970. Most of their songs were written by others – "Leaving on a Jet Plane" (John Denver), "Blowin' in the Wind" (Bob Dylan), and "If I Had a Hammer" (the Weavers, Pete Seeger, and Lee Hays) were among their biggest hits. Yarrow's "Puff, the Magic Dragon" and Stookey's "I Dig Rock and Roll Music", however, revealed strong compositional skills in the group.
Although they went through a brief period in the early 1970s where they were not working together, Peter, Paul, and Mary continued to tour on and off until Travers' death in 2009.
Woody Guthrie's son, Arlo (b. 1947), carries on his father's anti-establishment social and political views, and has added a classic put-down to the repertoire of folk-song protests. It's called "Alice's Restaurant Massacree", and it became a giant hit at the Newport Folk Festival in 1967.
The tune is a long, droll, comic tale of Arlo's troubles with the police and the draft board. After Thanksgiving dinner at Alice's Restaurant, Arlo and his buddy offer to take some garbage to the city dump on their way home as a friendly gesture to Alice (owner of the aforementioned restaurant). The police arrest the boys for littering, for which they have to pay a $50 fine. The song then goes on to describe Guthrie's interactions at the draft board, during which he discloses the prior littering incident. To make a long story short, Guthrie is eventually dismissed with the reproach "We don't like your kind." It's a hilarious spoof of the establishment mentality so prevalent in the late 1960s.
Arlo Guthrie went on to a modest film and TV career when Alice's Restaurant was made into a movie, and he still continues to write and record music today.
After growing up in Saskatchewan, Canada, Roberta Joan Anderson (b. 1943) went off to the Alberta College of Art in Calgary, but soon dropped out to sing folk songs in the local coffee houses. She moved to Toronto, married and divorced a cabaret entertainer, Chuck Mitchell, and soon made a name for herself composing and singing poignant ballads.
By the end of the 1960s, she was something of a cult heroine, with a strong crowd of fans devoted to her whole approach to life. Her characteristic view, expressed in "Both Sides, Now", "Let the Wind Carry Me", and "Woodstock", is a mixture of social commentary and personal moods, feelings, and scenarios. "Joni exorcises her demons by writing those songs," said Stephen Stills, "and in so doing she reaches way down and grabs the essence of something very private and personal to women" (quoted in Ewen 1977, 643).
She continued to write and record through the mid-2000s, but she officially retired in 2010 for health reasons.
Simon and Garfunkel
In 1957, Paul Simon (b. 1941) and Art Garfunkel (b. 1941), fifteen year old classmates at Forest Hills High School in New York, began a rocky but illustrious career in urban-folk music. After several years of ups and downs, including an appearance on Dick Clark's radio show as "Tom and Jerry", they began to click. In 1964, their first major album, Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. (Columbia Records), contained some Bob Dylan tunes and several originals of their own. One of the tunes, "The Sounds of Silence", was remixed and reissued with bass, guitar, and drums. It shot up to No. 1 in the nation on New Year's Day, 1966. A month later, an album of the same name was released, with a surprise hit, "I Am a Rock".
A third album in 1966, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme, sold over a million copies with masterful tunes like "Homeward Bound", "Scarborough Fair/Canticle", and "The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy)", and "7 O'clock News/Silent Night, Holy Night", with a newscaster's voice describing the death and destruction that day, while the famous Christmas carol is heard in the background.
For the next three years, Simon and Garfunkel led a charmed musical life. They became the spokesmen for adolescent angst in America – delivering a message of "literate protest against the pangs of youth, the pathos of old age, and the matter-of-fact hypocrisies of the middle-aged and the middle class in between"(Josh Greenfield, quoted in Ewen 1979, 651).
After the movie soundtrack for The Graduate (1967), with the classic "Mrs. Robinson", they went on to record a number of hits, but one masterpiece stands out – "Bridge Over Troubled Water", which was eventually recorded by two hundred different singers over the next four decades.
After a breakup in 1969, Simon and Garfunkel broke up. Garfunkel went into acting and continued to do solo work in music. Simon continued to write songs, perform, and produce, winning the 1987 Grammy for Album of the Year for Graceland. The duo has reunited on and off since the early 1970s, making appearances at benefit concerts and the occasional tour.
As always happens, big money can be made by packaging and marketing sentiments. And sure enough, by the middle of the 1960s, ABC Television took the folk-protest, anti-war mood of America's college students and dropouts, and put together a squeaky clean, non-threatening weekly TV show that derived its name from a Scottish folk party, called a "hootenanny".
In the 20th century revision of the word, a hootenanny became the term for a gathering of union men, working-class poor, folksingers, and intellectuals sympathetic to the cause. They gathered to sing old and new songs and to cement their emotional bond. The ABC show, of course, turned out to be something completely different.
Joan Baez refused to appear when she learned that Pete Seeger had been turned down for his left-wing political views. Others did appear, though, and, generally speaking, the show was not all that objectionable.
Fiercely proud and confident, Pete Seeger summed it up succinctly when the ABC-TV Hootenanny finally went off the air.
"It was just a bunch of white college kids all clapping inanely, no matter what song was sung, big smiles all over, and never a hint of controversy or protest. In the six months the show was on, it almost ruined the word "hootenanny". I was pleased when they moved on to make money out of something else" (quoted in Palmer 1976, 207).
Back in the 1950s, hardly anyone ever danced to Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, or Little Richard. By the 1960s, however, because of Dick Clark's American Bandstand, dancing was coming back into fashion.
In August of 1960, Ernest Evans, known as Chubby Checker (b. 1941), caused a dance craze with his treatment of Hank Ballard's release of March 1959 called "The Twist". It began a huge movement of dances. Checker then followed up with "Let's Twist Again" and "Slow Twistin'".
The Isley Brothers offered "Twist and Shout", covered later by the Beatles. Sam Cooke recorded "Twistin' the Night Away". Gary U.S. Bonds came out with "Twist, Twist, Señora", and Jimmy Soul with "Twistin' Matilda". Santo and Johnny released "Twistin' Bells", and the Marvelettes came up with "Twistin' Postman". Bill Black's combo recorded "Twist-Her".
Of course, Hollywood saw dollar signs, and moved in with Twist Around the Clock, in 1961, with Chubby Checker introducing "Twistin' U.S.A.". At the same time came the film Hey, Let's Twist! Then in 1962, Twist All Night, with jazzman Louis Prima, and Don't Knock the Twist, again with Chubby Checker.
New York's Peppermint Lounge became the favorite hangout of the Jet Set as Joey Dee and the Starliters played their hit, "The Peppermint Twist", all night long. Among the frequent twisters were English playwright Noël Coward, gossip columnist Elsa Maxwell, American playwright Tennessee Williams, Judy Garland, and a variety of East Coast politburo types. Checker's business advisers, no doubt including Dick Clark, introduced Chubby Checker T-shirts, jeans, dolls, Twist skirts, Twist raincoats, and Twist nighties.
The Twist spawned other dances, most with their own special tune – "The Loco-Motion" by Little Eva, "The Mashed Potato" by Dee Dee Sharp, "Limbo Rock" and "Popeye (the Hitchhiker)" by Chubby Checker, "The Wah-Watusi" by the Orlons, "Hully Gully" by the Dovells, "Walkin' the Dog" by Rufus Thomas, along with more generic dances without specific songs, including the swim, the jerk, the shake, the pony, the Frug, and others.
History was repeating itself, with modifications. A wave of colorful dances sweeps through America every fifteen years or so. In the 1920s parents were puzzled by the strange attraction their teenager children had for the Shimmy, the Charleston, the Black Bottom, the Sugar Foot Strut, and the Varsity Drag – and then in the late 1930s the Lindy Hop, the Jitterbug, the Bunny Hop, the Samba, the Tango, the Mambo, the Conga, and dozens more.
The urge to shock their parents with "undignified" dancing seems to be a necessary phase for each generation of teenagers on their way to adulthood. The 1980s found teenagers imitating hieroglyphics with the Bangles' "Walk like an Egyptian". The rage of the 1990s was the Macarena. More recently, South Korean K-pop musician Psy introduced the world to "Gangnam Style".