The Pop History Dig

“Moondog Alan Freed”
1951-1965

1950s dance-concert scene with Alan Freed (far right) as DJ & emcee. CD cover for collection of 1950s songs from Freed’s radio years. Famous Grove Records / 1997-98.
1950s dance-concert scene with Alan Freed (far right) as DJ & emcee. CD cover for collection of 1950s songs from Freed’s radio years. Famous Grove Records / 1997-98.
In America during the early 1950s, the music being broadcast on the radio was beginning to change – but not everywhere. The normal fare of the day was mostly a mixture of Big Band music, old standards, Frank Sinatra-style crooners, a few pop tunes, and some novelty songs. Among the No. 1 singles in 1950, for example, were: “I Can Dream, Can’t I,” by The Andrews Sisters; “Chattanooga Shoe Shine Boy,” by Red Foley; “Music! Music! Music!,” by Teresa Brewer; “Mona Lisa” by Nat King Cole; and “The Tennessee Waltz,”by Patti Page, among others. But this style of music – which would remain a standard genre for years – was making room for a new sound and a new kind of music. And one place where the new music was being broadcast on the radio was in Cleveland, Ohio by a late-night disc jockey named Alan Freed. Working at station WJW and using the on-air nickname “Moondog,” Freed in 1951 was playing a mixture of rhythm and blues (R&B) music; music performed by and listened to by mostly African Americans; music that was not widely played on mainstream radio. This was the music that would soon be known as “rock ’n roll” – a name that Freed would later be credited with advancing.

“Moondog” Alan Freed in 1951 at Cleveland radio station WJW where he called the new music he played, “rock ’n roll.”
“Moondog” Alan Freed in 1951 at Cleveland radio station WJW where he called the new music he played, “rock ’n roll.”
The broadcasting business at that time was in the midst of major technological change, as the new medium of television had arrived. Radio drama programming – a big source of the radio broadcast business – was then shifting to television. That change was consuming the attention of broadcast executives and business mangers. Radio programming, as a result, had less of management’s attention. That gave radio producers and disc jockey’s more latitude and more opportunity to experiment with new kinds of music.

R&B music was then also known as “race music;” music that was played largely in the black community but rarely in white America. R&B music was racially-segregated, like much of American society then. But Alan Freed at WJW in Cleveland soon began using the music as a centerpiece of his broadcasts. Freed began his program of R&B music in July 1951 and he would later start calling it “rock ’n roll” music. He would also fashion a new kind of “DJ talk” during his broadcasts, ad-libbing and using part of the language he heard on the recordings he was offering. “Yeah, daddy,” he would say, “let’s rock and roll!” He was 29 years old at the time. His late-night show was called “The Moondog House” and it soon became popular with the young kids – black and white – of Cleveland, Ohio and beyond. In fact, Alan Freed would be credited as one of the early prime movers of “rock ’n roll” music and the early rock concert business. And Cleveland, the town where the rock `n roll broadcasts began, would later be honored with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame museum as tribute to Freed. But when Freed came to Cleveland in the early 1950s, he had not come with the idea of broadcasting R& B music.

 

Alan Freed

Early 1950s print ad for Alan Freed’s radio show on Cleveland’s WJW, sponsored by the Record Rendezvous.
Early 1950s print ad for Alan Freed’s radio show on Cleveland’s WJW, sponsored by the Record Rendezvous.
He was born Albert James Freed in December 1921 near Johnstown, Pennsylvania. By the time he was 13 or so, the future radio DJ had formed a band in high school, his family then living in Salem, Ohio. Freed’s band was called the Sultans of Swing and he played trombone. In 1942, by the time he was 21, Freed had started his radio broadcasting career at WKST in New Castle, Pennsylvania. He then did a short sportscasting stint at WKBN radio in Youngstown, Ohio before moving to WAKR in Akron, Ohio where he became a local favorite in the mid-1940s playing hot jazz and pop recordings.

By 1949 Freed had moved to WXEL-TV in Cleveland. There, Freed would later meet record store owner Leo Mintz in early 1951 who urged him to emcee a program of R&B music over WJW radio. Mintz was the owner of the Record Rendezvous, one of Cleveland’s largest record stores, and he had noticed young white kids buying what had been considered exclusively black music a few years earlier. Mintz believed that the R& B music was appealing to the white kids because of its beat, and that it could be danced to easily. He also proposed buying airtime on the station to help sponsor the R & B show. Record Rendevous would also appear in print ads promoting Freed’s shows, as illustrated in the ad above, which uses some radio lingo to pitch its ad slogans, such as: “He spins ‘em keed, he’s HEP, that Freed!”

Disc jockey Alan Freed shown in studio with 45 rpm recording in hand to play on his show.
Disc jockey Alan Freed shown in studio with 45 rpm recording in hand to play on his show.
On July 11, 1951, Freed went on the air at WJW and began playing R&B records. He didn’t make the move to R&B all at once, but gradually. And after listeners responded with repeated requests, he went full bore. He then began calling himself “Moondog” and his show “The Moondog House,” billing himself in radio banter as “The King of the Moondoggers.” He used an instrumental song, “Moondog Symphony,” as his show’s theme, a song by a New York street musician named Louis T. Hardin who also used the name “Moondog.” Others report that Freed used the song, “Blues for Moon Dog” as his radio theme, a song by Todd Rhodes.

On his show, Freed would later call the music he played, “rock `n roll,” a term found throughout R&B music. He wasn’t the first to use the term, but he became the first DJ to program R&B music for a much larger listening audience, helping to take the music business in a whole new direction. WJW at the time was a 50,000-watt clear channel station powerful enough to reach a giant market throughout the Midwest. David Halberstam, describing Freed’s rise in his book The Fifties, wrote:
 

Poster advertising Alan Freed’s “Moondog Coronation Ball,” March 21st, 1952, Cleveland, Ohio.
Poster advertising Alan Freed’s “Moondog Coronation Ball,” March 21st, 1952, Cleveland, Ohio.

“…His success was immediate. It was as if an entire generation of young white kids in that area had been waiting for someone to catch up with them. For Freed it was what he had been waiting for; he seemed to come alive as a new hip personality. He was the Moondog, He kept the beat himself in his live chamber, adding to it by hitting on a Cleveland phone book. He became one of them, the kids, on their side as opposed to that of their parents, the first grown-up who understood them and what they wanted. By his choice of music alone, the Moondog has instantly earned their trust. Soon he was doing live rock shows. The response was remarkable. No one in the local music business had ever seen anything like it before. Two or three thousand kids would buy tickets …all for performers that adults had never even heard of.”

Freed’s dance concerts were advertised over his radio show and he would also emcee the live shows, appearing as the DJ, introducing guest acts, and playing records at the site. In March 1952, he promoted a dance concert to be held at the Cleveland Arena that he called the “Moondog Coronation Ball.” A number of live R& B acts were also billed as part of this concert, including Paul Williams & The Hucklebuckers, Tiny Grims & The Rockin’ Highlanders, The Dominoes, Danny Cobb, and Varetta Dillard.

March 21st 1952: Scene at the Moondog Coronation Ball at the Cleveland Arena, just before things got out of hand. Photo, Peter Hastings/Cleveland Plain Dealer.
March 21st 1952: Scene at the Moondog Coronation Ball at the Cleveland Arena, just before things got out of hand. Photo, Peter Hastings/Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Over 20,000 young teens showed up for the 10,000-person ice hockey facility. A riot ensued as the crowd broke into the rink. The police responded and the concert was shut down. Part of the problem was due to the fact that a second night of Moondog Ball entertainment was planned to follow the first night, but all of the tickets for both nights were printed with the first night’s date, March 21st. In any case, the riot that resulted became the talk of the town, as the community was outraged. But the incident only raised the visibility of Freed and his radio show, then becoming more popular among teens.

August 1954. Print ad for big R&B revue show in Cleveland with Alan Freed hosting.
August 1954. Print ad for big R&B revue show in Cleveland with Alan Freed hosting.
On May 17 and 18th, 1952, Freed’s “Moondog Maytime Ball” was held at the Cleveland Arena, this time featuring three shows to handle the crowds. These shows had a number of acts including: The Dominoes, Todd Rhodes and his Orchestra, H-Bomb Ferguson, Freddie Mitchell and his Orchestra, Little Jimmy Scott, Al “Fats” Thomas, Joan Shaw, the Kalvin Brothers, and Morris Lane and his Great Orchestra. Additional “Moondog” dances and concerts were held in Akron, Youngstown, Canton, and Lorain, Ohio, and also Sharon, Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, back at his radio show, he was making his own stylistic mark. Rolling Stone writer John Morthland would later observe:

“It is 1953, and Alan Freed is on the air again for his late night Moondog Show on WJW… Freed yips, moans and brays, gearing up for another evening hosting the hottest rhythm & blues show in the land. Slipping on a golf glove, he bangs on a phone book in time to the music – maybe ‘Money Honey’ by the Drifters, or ‘Shake a Hand’ by Faye Adams… [H]e spins the hits and continues his manic patter throughout the night, spewing forth rhymed jive with the speed and flections of a Holy Roller at the Pearly Gates.”

In 1953, when “The Biggest Rhythm and Blues Show” (run by the Gale Theatrical Agency) came to Cleveland on tour that summer, Freed was the featured emcee. On July 17,1953, thousands came out for that show at the Cleveland Arena, which also featured boxing star and celebrity Joe Louis for a brief appearance, as well as a full roster of performers including: Ruth Brown, Wynonie Harris, Leonard Reed, the tap dancing Edwards Sisters, Dusty Fletcher, Stuffy Bryant, and the Buddy Johnson Orchestra. That tour drew a largely black audience and became the largest grossing R&B revue of its day. In 1954, a similar tour again came to Cleveland in August, with Freed running that show as well.

These R&B revues, and Freed’s own stage shows and dances, drew tens of thousands of teens, black and white. Freed’s broadcasts from WJW in Cleveland, meanwhile, were being picked up by some radio stations in the East, on Newark, New Jersey station WNJR, for example, where the show found a receptive audience.Freed’s broadcasts were being picked up by radio stations in the East, and his on-air style was now spreading to other DJs who played a similar mix of music. Freed’s on air radio style was also spreading to other DJs, who played a similar mix of music. And by the early- and mid-1950s, the new rock ‘n roll music was also being listened to on small, hand-held transistorized radios, then selling for $25 to $50.

In May 1954, Freed traveled to Newark, New Jersey where he held the “Eastern Moondog Coronation Ball” at the Sussex Avenue Armory in Newark. It was Freed’s first personal appearance in the New York area. Among the R&B artists who appeared there were: Buddy Johnson and his orchestra and vocalist Ella Johnson; The Clovers, a vocal quartet; Roost Bonnemera and his Mambo Band; Nolan Lewis, Mercury recording star; Sam Butera, jazz saxophonist; Muddy Waters, blues guitar player; the Harptones; and Charles Brown. A crowd of some 11,000 came out for Freed’s Newark show. RCA Victor recorded the entire show for use on a special Moondog album. Our World magazine also covered the event in a featured pictorial story.

In September 1954, Alan Freed would move from WJW in Cleveland, Ohio to WINS in New York City.
In September 1954, Alan Freed would move from WJW in Cleveland, Ohio to WINS in New York City.
Although still at Cleveland radio station WJW in 1954, by August of that year, Freed took his R&B revue show to New York. Around this time he had also begun talking with radio station WINS in New York about joining their station. On August 1, 1954, Freed’s “Moondog Jubilee Of Stars Under the Stars” was held at Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field Ebbets, then still home of baseball’s Brooklyn Dodgers. On the bill at that concert were the Dominoes, the Clovers, the Orioles, Fats Domino, Little Walter, Muddy Waters, Count Basie’s Orchestra, and Buddy Johnson’s Orchestra. A large, racially mixed crowd came out for this concert, like others Freed had helped organize or emcee. Back on his radio show, Freed had been forced to stop using his DJ name, “Moondog” in 1954 after a lawsuit was filed by the blind New York city street musician who had recorded the song “Moondog Symphony.” Freed renamed his show “Alan Freed’s Rock and Roll Party.” Freed had also tried to copyright the term “rock `n roll,” which wasn’t widely used at the time. He took out a copyright on the term in partnership with black musician Morris Levy, veteran promoter Lew Platt, and radio station WINS. But soon, the tidal wave of rock ’n roll music made the term common parlance, and Freed’s claim went for naught.

 

January 1955: “Billboard” magazine ad for Alan Freed’s shows on WINS radio, New York.
January 1955: “Billboard” magazine ad for Alan Freed’s shows on WINS radio, New York.
New York, NY

In September 1954 Freed was hired by WINS radio in New York. There he would receive a $75,000-a-year salary plus a percentage of syndication, as more than 40 radio stations would sign up to either simulcast or rebroadcast his show. Freed’s “Rock ’n Roll Party #1″ was broadcast Monday through Saturday in the 7:00-9:00 p.m. time slot. Another late night show, “Rock ’n Roll Party #2,” was broadcast Monday through Thursday in the 11:00 p.m.- 1:00 a.m. slot and Fridays and Saturdays, 11:00 p.m.-2:00 a.m.

Freed’s live concert dance shows, meanwhile, soon became New York sensations. On January 14th and 15th, 1955 he held a landmark dance at the St Nicholas Ballroom in Manhattan, promoting black performers as rock ’n roll artists. Each night was a sellout, with some 12,000 jamming the hall. The gate for the two nights was $27,500, pretty good money in those days. Among the performers were Joe Turner and Fats Domino.

Freed also became known for his New York stage shows at the Brooklyn and New York Paramount Theaters. At one of Freed’s Brooklyn Paramount shows in September 1955, called his “First Anniversary Rock ‘n’ Roll Party,” he broke the all-time record gross take for both the Brooklyn and New York Paramount Theaters with a gate of $178,000 (for an eight day run). This topped the previous high that had been set by the Dean Martin-Jerry Lewis comedy team some years earlier when they reached the $147,000 mark at the New York Paramount. Among those performing at this show were: Red Prysock and his band, The Cardinals, The Rythmettes, Nappy Brown, The Four Voices, The Harptones, Chuck Berry (doing “Maybellene”), the Nutmegs, Al Hibber, Lillian Briggs and others.

Wrote one Cash Box reporter who covered the show:

1950s: The Brooklyn Paramount’s electric marquee at night announcing an Alan Freed show and star participants.
1950s: The Brooklyn Paramount’s electric marquee at night announcing an Alan Freed show and star participants.

“…This reviewer has been through the teen age hysteria that existed from 1936 through 1945 when the kids danced in the aisles to the music of Benny Goodman, Frank Sinatra, Tommy Dorsey and others, but never have these eyes seen fanatical exuberance such as the type displayed at Alan Freed’s sensational 1st Anniversary Rock ’n roll program…”

In December 1956, during an eight-day stretch over the Christmas holiday, Freed threw his “Rock ’n Roll Christmas Show” at the Brooklyn Paramount with a line-up that included: the Drifters, Fats Domino, Joe Turner, and others. All the musicians were black, but at least half the audience packing the arena was white.

Print ad for one of Alan Freed’s Christmas Shows running over 8 days at the Brooklyn Paramount, 1950s.
Print ad for one of Alan Freed’s Christmas Shows running over 8 days at the Brooklyn Paramount, 1950s.
By 1956, Freed was making about $150,000 a year (1956 dollars) and had become a nationally-recognized DJ. He would also soon appear in a series of rock ’n roll films (see sidebar below) that would add to his national following. Not only was his radio show being heard nationally via CBS, but also internationally. Freed in 1956 began recording a weekly half-hour segment of his show for use on the European radio station known as Radio Luxembourg. Freed’s segment was used on a show called “Jamboree” which aired on Saturday nights throughout British Isles and much of Europe at 9:30 p.m., helped by the statio’s powerful AM nighttime signal. Radio Luxembourg, in fact, was the only commercial radio station heard in the U. K..until 1964. Freed’s show reached places like Liverpool, England and no doubt, the ears of four young lads who liked Little Richard and Chuck Berry and would later become the Beatles.

Back home, meanwhile, Freed’s radio show was also having an influence on emerging U.S. artists. Fred Bronson, writing in Billboard’s Hottest Hot 100 Hits, offers the following account of how Freed’s show had an impact on the formation of one of the more successful “girl groups” of the late 1950s:

…Arlene Smith was the leader of the Chantels, and her inspiration for forming her girl group was a man – or rather, a teenage boy. “Alan Freed came on the radio and played Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers singing ‘Why Do Fools Fall in Love,’” Smith told Charlotte Greig in [her book] Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? “It was a lovely high voice and a nice song. Then Freed announces that Frankie is just 13! Well I had to sit down. It was a big mystery, how to get into this radio stuff… It seemed so far removed, but I made a conscious decision to do the same.

October 1955 poster for an Alan Freed show at the Apollo Theater in New York City.
October 1955 poster for an Alan Freed show at the Apollo Theater in New York City.

When Frankie Lymon played a theater in the Bronx, Arlene took her group to meet Richard Barrett, Lymon’s manager. Backstage, the Chantels sang one of Arlene’s songs, “The Plea.” Barrett liked them enough to tell record company owner George Goldner that he wanted to sign them. Their first release was “He’s Gone” on Goldner’s End label; it peaked at No. 71. Their next single, “Maybe,” went to No. 15.

Within the space of five years or so, Alan Freed had helped move the rhythm and blues sound to a more prominent presence in pop and mainstream music. By early 1956, the music industry was advertising “rock ’n roll” records in the trade papers. A quote attributed to Freed from February 1956, has him explaining the new music: “Rock ’n roll is really swing with a modern name. It began on the levees and plantations, took in folk songs, and features blues and rhythm. It’s the rhythm that gets to the kids – they’re starved of music they can dance to, after all those years of crooners.” Freed had also become a champion of teenage kids and their musical interests, and a kind of middleman in the fight against those who wanted to ban the music seeing it as an influence on “juvenile delinquency,” a worrisome social problem and political issue at the time.

In 1957, while working for WINS, Freed continued hosting his big revues in the New York area and elsewhere. In Calgary, Ontario, for example, Freed’s “The Biggest Show Of Stars For 1957″ played at the Stampede Corral venue. Performers included Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly and the Crickets, the Everly Brothers, Paul Anka, Clyde McPhatter, Eddie Cochrane, Buddy Knox, Frankie Lymon, LaVern Baker, and The Drifters. Tickets were just $2.50. The show also played in the Canadian cities of Edmonton and Regina the next two nights.

By September 1957, Freed was a popular figure in the music industry, and during that month he hosted a big industry bash at his “Greycliffe” residence in Stamford, Connecticut. Among music label executives attending the gathering were: Bob Thiele of Coral Records; Sam Clark of ABC-Paramount; Morris Levy and Joe Kolsky of Roulette Records; and Jerry Wexler, Herb Abramson and Ahmet Ertegun of Atlantic. Alan Freed by this time, wasn’t limiting his exposure to the music industry via radio and TV. He was also involved with bringing rock ’n roll music to film.

 

“Rock ’n Roll Films”
1956-1959: With Alan Freed

 

Poster for the 1956 film, “Rock Around The Clock,” billed as “The Screen’s First Great Rock ’n Roll Feature!”
Poster for the 1956 film, “Rock Around The Clock,” billed as “The Screen’s First Great Rock ’n Roll Feature!”
When Bill Haley’s song “Rock Around The Clock” was played during the closing credits of the 1955 film, Blackboard Jungle, kids in some of the theaters began dancing in the aisles. And with that notice, the song soon shot to the top of the charts. But that early combination of rock ’n roll music with a movie also caught the attention of Hollywood promoters. And DJ Alan Freed soon saw the potential as well. Hollywood first came to Freed, seeing him and his radio platform as a marketing vehicle. “…Deejays out of town were picking up on whatever Freed did,” explained Paul Sherman, who worked with Freed in New York. “What Freed played, they played, what Freed hyped, they hyped…” So Freed agreed to take a part in a film called Rock Around the Clock. In making the deal, Freed at first wanted cash up front, but was persuaded to consider taking only a little money up front and a percentage of the box office. That turned out to be a good deal for Freed later on, or as Paul Sherman remembers: “They could have bought Freed for $15,000, and instead [with the percentage arrangement] he made a fortune.”

Scene from “Rock Around The Clock” with Bill Haley at center in plaid shirt & Alan Freed in upper right corner.
Scene from “Rock Around The Clock” with Bill Haley at center in plaid shirt & Alan Freed in upper right corner.
Rock Around the Clock, which starred Billy Haley and His Comets, was a fictionalized rendition of how rock ’n roll was discovered. The plot in this film – as for most of the rock ’n roll films of this era – was pretty thin and secondary to the music. It was released in March 1956.

In addition to Bill Haley, a number of performers appear, including the Platters, Tony Martinez and band, and Freddie Bell and His Bellboys. The film also marked the screen debut of Alan Freed, who plays a disc jockey who books the Haley group in a venue that gives them the exposure and notice they need to break through.

Alan Freed’s name appears on 1956 film poster for “Don’t Knock The Rock” with Bill Haley.
Alan Freed’s name appears on 1956 film poster for “Don’t Knock The Rock” with Bill Haley.
Rock Around The Clock – which became one of the major box office successes of 1956 – was shot primarily to capitalize on the popularity of Bill Haley’s multi-million-selling hit song, “Rock Around the Clock.” The Haley hit is heard on at least three occasions in the film, along with 17 other songs. The film was produced by B-movie king Sam Katzman, who would later produce several Elvis Presley films in the 1960s. It was directed by Fred F. Sears and distributed by Columbia Pictures. That same year, Katztman, Sears and Columbia teamed up for what they hoped would be an equally successful sequel, Don’t Knock the Rock, which also featured Bill Haley and Alan Freed. Rushed into production, the film premiered in December 1956 hoping to capitalize on Rock Around the Clock.

1957 film poster for “Rock, Rock, Rock!,” billing Alan Freed & Tuesday Weld.
1957 film poster for “Rock, Rock, Rock!,” billing Alan Freed & Tuesday Weld.
The sequel’s storyline featured a rock star who returns to his hometown to rest up for the summer, but finds instead that rock ’n roll has been banned there by disapproving adults. Disc jockey Alan Freed and Bill Haley and his band, set about to show the adults that the music isn’t as bad as they think. The 85-minute film included 17 songs, several again from Haley, but also “Long Tall Sally” and “Tutti-Frutti” from Little Richard. Don’t Knock the Rock failed to duplicate the earlier film’s success, though it did help popularize Little Richard.

The following year, two more rock ’n roll films were made involving Freed. Rock, Rock, Rock, was a black-and-white motion picture featuring performances from a number of early rock ’n roll stars, such as Chuck Berry, LaVern Baker, Teddy Randazzo, The Moonglows, The Flamingos, and The Teenagers with Frankie Lymon as lead singer. The film’s story line has teenager Dori Graham, played by then 13-year-old Tuesday Weld, who can’t convince her father to buy her a strapless gown for the prom and has to find the money herself in time for the big dance. The voice of Dori for her songs, was not Tuesday Weld’s, but that of singer Connie Francis. David Winters who would later appear in West Side Story, is also in the film. And Valerie Harper, later of Rhoda TV fame from a Mary Tyler Moore Show spin off, made her film debut in the prom scene of Rock, Rock, Rock.

1957 film poster for “Mister Rock and Roll” with Alan Freed & others.
1957 film poster for “Mister Rock and Roll” with Alan Freed & others.
Alan Freed makes an appearance as himself in the film, telling the audience that “rock and roll is a river of music that has absorbed many streams: rhythm and blues, jazz, rag time, cowboy songs, country songs, folk songs. All have contributed to the big beat.”

Another film in this same genre that also came out in 1957, Mister Rock and Roll, features Freed, professional boxer Rocky Graziano, and a number of musical artists, including: Teddy Randazzo, Lionel Hampton, Ferlin Husky, Frankie Lymon, Little Richard, Brook Benton, Chuck Berry, Clyde McPhatter, LaVern Baker, and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins.

 

“Go, Johnny Go!”

Go, Johnny Go! was a 1959 rock ’n roll film in which Alan Freed played a talent scout searching for a future rock ’n roll star. Co-starring in the film were Jimmy Clanton, Sandy Stewart, Chuck Berry, Jackie Wilson, Ritchie Valens, The Cadillacs, Jo-Ann Campbell, The Flamingos, Harvey Fuqua, and others.

1959 poster for “Go, Johnny Go!,” with Alan Freed & performing artists pictured.
1959 poster for “Go, Johnny Go!,” with Alan Freed & performing artists pictured.
The filming of Go, Johnny Go!, according to Chuck Berry, was completed in five days in early 1959 in Culver City, California at the Hal Roach Studio. The 75- minute film premiered in Los Angeles October 7, 1959. The film’s title was inspired by Jimmy Clanton’s popular single “Go, Jimmy Go” as well as the refrain from Chuck Berry’s hit song, “Johnny B. Goode,” which was listed as “Johnny Be Good” in the onscreen credits. The song is sung by Berry over the opening and closing credits.

In the film, as summarized by Turner Classic Movies (TCM), Freed, plays a kind of hipster father figure trying to give talented young people the musical exposure they need to become successful. Johnny Melody, played by Jimmy Clanton, is the troubled teen whose potential musical career Freed helps direct and save.

In this tale, Clanton/Melody rises from rags to riches via a demo disc played on Freed’s radio show. Freed plays himself in the film, as does Chuck Berry. Yet the plot, like most films in this genre, is thin, and puts a cleaned-up face on rock ‘n roll. Still, it does provide a look at the fledgling music industry of that time and its early hype.

Screen shot from "Go, Johnny Go!" shows Alan Freed on drums behind Chuck Berry on guitar.
Screen shot from "Go, Johnny Go!" shows Alan Freed on drums behind Chuck Berry on guitar.
And in its day, before music videos and the web, films like Go, Johnny Go! did provide music fans with a chance to see their favorite performers. (Although few of these films were ever issued in VHS or disc format. Only in recent years, since 2005 or so, have some of them been issued as DVDs). Ritchie Valens, at age 18, has a cameo singing appearance in the film. However, Valens would die in a plane crash along with Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper on February 3, 1959, several months before the film was released. Go, Johnny Go! also marked the final screen appearance of “rockabilly” performer Eddie Cochran, who died in an automobile crash on April 17, 1960.

Cover of LP sound track album for the film, “Go, Johnny Go!,” with 19 song from the film, issued in early 1959.
Cover of LP sound track album for the film, “Go, Johnny Go!,” with 19 song from the film, issued in early 1959.
Jimmy Clanton and Sandy Stewart made their motion picture debuts in Go, Johnny Go! Chuck Berry, Clanton and Stewart are the only rock ’n roll stars to act as well as sing in the film. The others only sing, most in a stage performance setting. Other acts include: Harvey [Fuqua] of the Moonglows singing “Don’t Be Afraid to Love,” Jo-Ann Campbell’s “Mama, Can I Go Out?,” and The Cadillacs performing “Please Mr. Johnson” and “Jay Walker.” Sandy Stewart, cast as Clanton’s girlfriend and aspiring vocalist, performs an orchestra version of “Playmate.”

TCM’s reviewer, meanwhile, noting the film’s “crude fictionalizing and dreadful miming,” did find some redeeming value. Go, Johnny Go! “offers the only moving evidence of Ritchie Valens,” he observes, and also includes “a rare fragment of Eddie Cochran.” The film also shows the Cadillacs doing two “Coasters-like” numbers, and has Chuck Berry “struggling to be a nice guy in a ‘major acting role’.” This film might have been better, he concludes, if it merely undertook to be a concert film or a documentary. But the “pretense of plot” made it pretty superficial.

Go, Johnny Go!, in any case, was the final film foray of Alan Freed in those years, as not long after, Freed became embroiled in the radio “payola” scandal that ended his career.

 

Controversy

In 1957, Alan Freed briefly had his own ABC-TV dance show.  He is shown here at center, with Jackie Wilson, far left, and Jimmy Clanton, left of Freed, and others.
In 1957, Alan Freed briefly had his own ABC-TV dance show. He is shown here at center, with Jackie Wilson, far left, and Jimmy Clanton, left of Freed, and others.
In July 1957 ABC-TV had given Alan Freed his own nationally-televised rock ’n roll dance show billed as “The Big Beat,” a Friday evening show in prime time that featured a mix of pop and R&B acts. This Alan Freed TV dance show pre-dated the national broadcast of American Bandstand with Dick Clark, the Philadelphia-based show that also went national that August with ABC. Freed’s show was running earlier that summer with the understanding that if there were enough viewers, it would continue into the 1957-58 TV season. Early reviews in June and July were positive, and ratings for the first episodes were strong. Freed and his show seemed to be on course for a long run. But unfortunately for Freed, his TV show came to an abrupt end after a televised episode broadcast one of the show’s black performers – Frankie Lymon, who had appeared with Freed in some of his films – dancing with a white girl. The biracial dance scene enraged ABC’s Southern affiliates and the network cancelled the show despite its growing popularity.

Headlines from a May 1958 Boston Globe story spell trouble for Alan Freed’s stage shows.
Headlines from a May 1958 Boston Globe story spell trouble for Alan Freed’s stage shows.
Other controversy followed Freed at one of his dance concerts. In early May 1958, some violence occurred outside the Boston Arena after a Freed stage show. Authorities there moved to indict Freed for inciting to riot. About a week later, Freed was in Hershey, Pennsylvania with another show when he learned he had to appear in court in Boston. The negative publicity about the Boston show, caused cancellations of other Freed shows then scheduled for Troy, New York; New Haven, Connecticut; and Newark, New Jersey. In New Haven on May 7, 1960, a common pleas court judge upheld a police-requested ban on Freed’s rock ’n roll show there despite a plea from Freed to allow the show to run. Some 100 teenagers showed up outside the packed courtroom in support of the show. The Boston charges against Freed, meanwhile, were eventually dropped, but the resulting cancellations and appeals took a toll on Freed for legal costs, as the fight had stretched out over some 17 months. Much of his show tour that year was cancelled. Back at his New York radio station, WINS, Freed quit his job there, according to a letter he wrote, after management failed to support him during the “riots” crisis. In addition, the Brooklyn Paramount – where Freed had staged a long run of successful shows – refused to host any further Alan Freed concerts. He then moved to WABC radio, also in New York, and he also hosted a locally-televised dance show — again called “The Big Beat” — on WABD, a DuMont station that later became WNEW-TV. But the biggest threat to Freed’s career was yet to come.

 

“Payola”

Nov 1959: Newspaper headline from story on payola hearings.
Nov 1959: Newspaper headline from story on payola hearings.
The late 1950s turned out to be treacherous time for some radio and television DJs and celebrities. TV quiz shows had become one of the most popular forms of entertainment – as contestants on these shows could win huge amounts of money for answering questions correctly. Unfortunately, it turned out that some of the shows were rigged. In 1959, a star contestant on the TV quiz show Twenty-One, named Charles Van Doren – who had become a national sensation for his assumed brilliance on the show – admitted later that he was given the correct answers beforehand.

Congress had a field day with the TV “quiz show” scandals, and then turned to the radio industry where a new kind raucous “rock ’n roll” music was shaking up the established order — and some thought, fueling juvenile delinquency as well. But the main focus of the Congressional interest in the music business was something called “pay for play,” where radio DJ’s were being paid cash or given other favors by music industry reps for repeated playing or “plugging” of songs to boost their appeal and sales. This practice was given the name “payola,” a contraction derived from the words “payment” and “Victrola.”

Alan Freed, center, going into closed-door hearings before a U.S. House of Representatives committee investigating “payola” in the American radio business, April 25, 1960.
Alan Freed, center, going into closed-door hearings before a U.S. House of Representatives committee investigating “payola” in the American radio business, April 25, 1960.
In early November 1959, the U.S. House of Representatives announced that a subcommittee led by Rep. Oren Harris would begin probing commercial bribery in the promotion of music, and with that, the “payola” scandal became national news. Both Freed and Dick Clark, who’s American Bandstand was a rising national TV dance show, were investigated, along with many others. In early 1960, hearing began, and some twenty-five witnesses would be called, including Clark and Freed, the presidents of several of the country’s larger radio stations, representatives from Billboard magazine, and others. Freed testified in a closed-door session before the Congressional committee in April 1960. But Freed had already made some public statements that did him little good as he stepped into the national spotlight: “What they call payola in the disc jockey business,” he is reported to have said at one point, “they call lobbying in Washington.” At the time of the hearings, however, payola wasn’t a crime in most states, and many in the industry seemed to regard it as an accepted practice. Before it was all over, the U.S. House Oversight Committee, in both closed-door and open sessions, heard from some 335 disc jockeys from around the country who admitted to having received over $263,000 in “consulting fees.” But that number was likely low, since one DJ, Phil Lind, from Chicago’s WAIT, indicated he once received $22,000 to play a single record.

NY Sunday News runs front page story about Alan Freed‘s firing by WABC radio over “payola,” September 1960.
NY Sunday News runs front page story about Alan Freed‘s firing by WABC radio over “payola,” September 1960.
Alan Freed and Dick Clark, meanwhile, were asked by ABC to sign affidavits that they had not accepted payola. Dick Clark did so, and was also required by ABC to divest some of his financial holdings in the music industry. Freed, however, claimed the money he received was for “consultation,” not payola. He refused to sign the ABC affidavit. ABC then fired him on September 21st, 1959. Freed would also lose his “Big Beat” TV show at WNEW and did his last program there on November 23rd, 1959. Other DJs and promoters who were involved in payola suffered similar results, but many made it through the proceedings with only minor damage. Freed’s rising prominence on the national scene, however, made him a prime target. And in the wake of the payola probes, there was also some impact on the music itself, if only temporary. “One of the results of the payola scandal was the change in radio,”explains John Jackson in his book, Big Beat Heat – Alan Freed and the Early Years of Rock ’n Roll. “WINS radio in New York dropped rock ’n roll and played Frank Sinatra three days straight. Other stations dropped rock. Disc jockeys no longer could chose songs and play what they wanted. The station play list came in. And music became bland.”

“Boom-to-Bust”
Failing Fortunes

Over the years, as Alan Freed’s fame rose, his income also soared, sometimes in ways not generally known at the time. One way to promote new songs, was to add a popular DJ’s name to the record’s label as a “song publisher,” which would give the DJ a share of the royalties from that song and also incentive to play the song. Alan Freed, although not a song author, became a co-publisher of several hit songs. Freed received writing credit, for example, on Chuck Berry’s “Maybellene,” a million-seller; on the Moonglows’ “Sincerely,” a No. 20 hit in 1955; and several others. Recording labels like Chess Records, would put DJs’ names on the songs to get airplay and this amounted to form of a payola. Still, author John Jackson, who has written about Freed and the 1950s music industry, says Freed pushed songs like “Maybellene” because he believed in them, and that he also pushed other Chuck Berry records – and those of many other artists – just as hard, even though he had no co-writing or publishing involvement in any of them. Alan Freed also did well with his rock ‘n roll stage shows, taking a piece of the gate for each show. And he sold record albums, had a recording label, and a band of his own for a time – each of which also provided him with income. Still, as the rock ’n roll “riots” and payola scandal both ensnared Freed around the same time, his legal costs soared, his fame sank, and his income dried up, leaving him in dire financial straits in his final years. Even after his death, the IRS attached royalty payments from Freed’s BMI records for 12 years to satisfy its income tax judgement against him.

Alan Freed, meanwhile, tried to pick up the pieces of his shattered career and move on. In 1960, after leaving New York, he was hired by Los Angeles radio station KDAY – a station owned, ironically, by the same company that owned WINS. But shortly after starting at KDAY, Freed was called back to New York when a grand jury there handed down commercial bribery charges against him that dated back some ten years. In May 1960, he and seven other radio DJs were arrested and booked in Manhattan, charged with receiving a total of $116,850 in payola. The final verdict in Freed’s case wouldn’t come for another few years.

Back at KDAY, meanwhile, Freed had signed an agreement to steer clear of payola, and he jumped back into his DJ persona and musical passion, helping showcase new songs and artists, such as Kathy Young & the Innocents and their hit-to-be, “A Thousand Stars.” Freed was also planning to continue his live concerts in the L.A. area, this time eyeing the Hollywood Bowl as a choice venue for the live shows. KDAY, however, would not permit Freed to promote or stage his concerts, and with that, he quit the station and returned to New York. At the time, Chubby Checker’s hit song “The Twist” had caught on nationally spurring a new dance fad, and Freed hosted a live twist show for a time in New York. But as the twist rage faded, Freed left New York and began working at WQAM radio station in Miami, Florida, a job which lasted about two months.

By 1962, Freed was back in New York dealing with his commercial bribery trial. He was eventually charged with 26 counts of commercial bribery. In December 1962, he plead guilty to 2 counts, received a suspended sentence, and paid a fine of $300.00. Facing mounting legal bills for that fight, Freed then faced Federal charges of income tax evasion in 1964. By then, he was living in Palm Springs, California and drinking heavily. On New Year’s day 1965, he entered a Palm Springs hospital for gastrointestinal intestinal bleeding, resulting from cirrhosis of the liver. He died twenty days later of kidney failure. He was 43 years old.

Poster for the 1978 film about Alan Freed and early days of rock ’n roll, “American Hot Wax.”
Poster for the 1978 film about Alan Freed and early days of rock ’n roll, “American Hot Wax.”
American Hot Wax. Some years later, in 1978, Alan Freed was the subject of the biographical musical film, American Hot Wax, directed by Floyd Mutrux and starring Tim McIntire as Freed. The film includes appearances by Chuck Berry, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Frankie Ford and Jerry Lee Lewis, performing in recording studio scenes or concert sequences. Jay Leno and Fran Drescher also appear in the film.  A two-disc soundtrack for the film released by A&M Records features Brooklyn Paramount performances on one disc, and original recordings used in the film on the other.  The album hit No. 31 on the Billboard charts.

In 1986 Freed was among the original inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland – located there partly due to Freed’s influence on early rock ’n roll. In 1988, he was also posthumously inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame. In 1991, a “star” was added in his name to the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the same year John Jackson’s biography of Freed was published – Big Beat Heat: Alan Freed and the Early Years of Rock & Roll. In 1999, another attempted film on Freed, this one for TV, titled Mr. Rock N Roll: The Alan Freed Story, with Judd Gregg as Freed, received a lukewarm reception. Freed’s story is perhaps best told, however, by his surviving family, which due to his three marriages, and a number of children and grandchildren, is nicely assembled at the website, AlanFreed.com, which is highly recommended for those who want to see original news sources and other material. In addition to the other awards and inductions already mentioned, in February 2002, Freed was honored at the annual Grammy awards show with a Trustees Award, given to “individuals who, during their careers in music, have made significant contributions, other than performance, to the field of recording.” And last but not least, the mascot of the Cleveland Cavaliers professional basketball team is named “Moondog,” in honor of Freed.

For additional music related stories at this website see the Annals of Music category page, or visit the Home Page for other story choices. Thanks for visiting – and please consider supporting this website. Thank you. - Jack Doyle

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Date Posted: 28 February 2014
Last Update: 1 March 2014
Comments to: jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “Moondog Alan Freed: 1951-1965,”
PopHistoryDig.com, February 28, 2014.

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Sources, Links & Additional Information

Alan Freed at WAKR radio in Akron, Ohio, mid-1940s.
Alan Freed at WAKR radio in Akron, Ohio, mid-1940s.
Hartford Times (CT) newspaper story announcing a forthcoming January 1958 Alan Freed stage show.
Hartford Times (CT) newspaper story announcing a forthcoming January 1958 Alan Freed stage show.
1958: Alan Freed, going through a stack of 45rpm records at WABC radio station in New York.
1958: Alan Freed, going through a stack of 45rpm records at WABC radio station in New York.
Poster ad for an Alan Freed “Big Beat” stage show of April 16, 1958 for the Municipal Theater of Tulsa, OK.
Poster ad for an Alan Freed “Big Beat” stage show of April 16, 1958 for the Municipal Theater of Tulsa, OK.
Alan Freed in the 1950s, likely hosting a live stage show in the New York city area, broadcast over WINS radio.
Alan Freed in the 1950s, likely hosting a live stage show in the New York city area, broadcast over WINS radio.
Pennsylvania historic marker honoring Alan Freed at location of his boyhood years in Windber, PA.
Pennsylvania historic marker honoring Alan Freed at location of his boyhood years in Windber, PA.
8 Sept 1957: From left, Alan Freed, Larry Williams, Ben Dacosta (DJ) & Buddy Holly at NY Paramount Theater.
8 Sept 1957: From left, Alan Freed, Larry Williams, Ben Dacosta (DJ) & Buddy Holly at NY Paramount Theater.
One of Alan Freed’s “Rock ’n Roll Dance Party” albums, (Vol.3) w/1950s acts, issued on WINS label, circa 1970.
One of Alan Freed’s “Rock ’n Roll Dance Party” albums, (Vol.3) w/1950s acts, issued on WINS label, circa 1970.

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An Ohio Historical marker located just outside the Rock ’n Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland,  commemorates Alan Freed’s contributions to rock ’n roll and also notes that he was a “charter inductee” at the Hall (1986).
An Ohio Historical marker located just outside the Rock ’n Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, commemorates Alan Freed’s contributions to rock ’n roll and also notes that he was a “charter inductee” at the Hall (1986).




“…No Satisfaction”
1965-1966

The young Rolling Stones in the mid-1960s brought plenty of “attitude” to their music. From left: Mick Jagger, Brian Jones, Keith Richards, Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts.
The young Rolling Stones in the mid-1960s brought plenty of “attitude” to their music. From left: Mick Jagger, Brian Jones, Keith Richards, Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts.
     Did one rock ’n roll song of the mid-1960s provide a kind of social dividing line —  a musical bright line separating old and new?  Did one song lay down, in a popular way, a kind of generational and values  demarcation?  

     Certainly there were any number of songs at that time heralding the new generation’s outlook and values — in  lyrics, distinctive sound, and in some cases, musical “attitude.”  

     Bob Dylan, for one — the leading tr0ubadour of the  1960s — had begun offering his interpretations by the early 1960s.  His “Blowin` in the Wind” and “The Times They Are A Changin`” were much in the air by 1963. 

Music Player
“Satisfaction”-1965
[scroll down for lyrics]

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     But in May 1965, a young British rock group named the Rolling Stones recorded a rock song called “Satisfaction”– also known by its longer title, “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction.”  By July 1965, “Satisfaction” had been released in the U.S. and soon became a gigantic hit.  This song, however, was something more than merely good rock `n roll.  In its way, and perhaps in a more popular mainstream sense, “Satisfaction”  became the pop/rock equivalent of what Dylan and other folk/protest musicians were offering to somewhat less mainstream audiences.  “Satisfaction” was a hard-rock tune with a driving sound, but with lyrics that were also aimed at the status quo; a song that expressed a distinct “dis-satisfaction” with the way things were.

Sample record sleeve from 1965 for the Rolling Stones’ song “Satisfaction,” with B-side title, “The Under Assistant West Coast Promotion Man,” Decca Records.
Sample record sleeve from 1965 for the Rolling Stones’ song “Satisfaction,” with B-side title, “The Under Assistant West Coast Promotion Man,” Decca Records.
     The Rolling Stones had formed their band in the early 1960s playing mostly cover versions of American rhythm and blues(R&B) music and Chicago blues and rock n’ roll artists, including Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, and others.  Their manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, a former Beatles publicist, later encouraged the Stones to write their own pop songs as the Beatles were doing.  Brian Jones, a talented guitarist who had once led the group and would later die in a drowning accident, preferred the R & B path.  But lead singer Mick Jagger and guitarist Keith Richards soon began writing pop rock ‘n roll songs, taking the group in what would prove to be a very successful direction.  “Satisfaction” would become their  landmark hit; their big breakthrough.


The Song

     Keith Richards played a key inventor’s role with this song.  In early May 1965, as the Rolling Stones were on tour in the U.S., it was Richards who came up with “Satisfaction’s” opening guitar riff — the distinctive, flat-sounding twang that powers the song throughout and its signature sound.  Story has it that Richards woke up in the middle of the night during the U.S. tour and recorded the guitar riff into a tape recorder that he kept at his bedside for unexpected moments of inspiration.  Then he went back to sleep.  Next morning he played the riff for Mick Jagger, offering one lyric he had in mind for the song – “I can’t get no satisfaction.”  Jagger would later say he thought that line was possibly influenced subconsciously by Richards’ listening to a 1955 Chuck Berry song titled “30 Days,” a tune which has a similar line – “I don’t get no satisfaction from the judge”.  The guitar riff developed by Richards in any case, was initially not set for guitar, but thought as a guide for horns.  Jagger, meanwhile, fleshed out more of “Satisfaction’s” lyrics one afternoon while on tour, later admitting to incorporating some of his own feelings at the time about the media and advertising.

“Satisfaction”
Rolling Stones-1965

I can’t get no satisfaction,
I can’t get no satisfaction.
‘Cause I try and I try and I try and I try.
I can’t get no, I can’t get no.

When I’m drivin’ in my car
and that man comes on the radio
and he’s tellin’ me more and more
about some useless information
supposed to drive my imagination.
I can’t get no, oh no no no.
Hey hey hey, that’s what I say.

(repeat refrain)
…I can’t get no satisfaction,
I can’t get no satisfaction.
‘Cause I try and I try and I try and I try.
I can’t get no, I can’t get no.

When I’m watchin’ my TV
and a man comes on to tell me
how white my shirts can be.
Well he can’t be a man ’cause he doesn’t
smoke the same cigarettes as me.
I can’t get no, oh, no no no.
Hey hey hey, that’s what I say.

I can’t get no satisfaction,
I can’t get no girl reaction.
‘Cause I try and I try and I try and I try.
I can’t get no, I can’t get no.

When I’m ridin’ round the world
and I’m doin’ this and I’m signing that
and I’m tryin’ to make some girl
who tells me baby better come back
                                       later next week
’cause you see I’m on a losing streak.
I can’t get no, oh no no no.
Hey hey hey, that’s what I say.

I can’t get no, I can’t get no,
I can’t get no satisfaction,
no satisfaction, no satisfaction,
no satisfaction….

     The Stones, still on tour in the U.S. at the time, continued to work on the song between performances.  In Chicago, they took it into the Chess recording studios, working on it there May 10, 1965.  Two days later in Los Angeles, California, they completed it during a long session at RCA’s studios.  It was in this session that Richards reportedly rigged up a version of a “fuzz box” to his guitar which gave the opening riff he’d invented its distinctive sound, helping send “Satisfaction” straight up the charts.

     In that summer of 1965, there was no shortage of rock ‘n roll music.  New songs were coming from all directions – Detroit’s Motown, the California surf scene, and a wave of new British artists.  Among the tunes at or near the top of the charts that summer were songs such as: “Help Me, Rhonda” by The Beach Boys, “Mr. Tambourine Man” by The Byrds, and “I Got You Babe” by Sonny & Cher.  But “Satisfaction” was different; the song stood out and apart.  It had something about it that made it more than just a song.  Though it was certainly musically appealing to the youth of that day, “Satisfaction” was also music with a message.

     A share of popular and folk music by then had begun to take a more serious and cynical tack.  Bob Dylan, as mentioned earlier, was having a profound influence, not only in folk and protest music, but also in mainstream rock `n roll.  Dylan’s songs in 1962-1965, such as: “Blowin’ in The Wind,” “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall“, “Masters of War,” and “The Times They Are A-Changin`,” as well as songs by other protest songwriters, had opened a new window for 1960s’ music, bringing social commentary to song writing.  The Rolling Stones and other groups at that time were greatly influenced by Dylan’s music.  And “Satisfaction” – though not a protest song per se – was clearly one of those songs that had picked up on the idea of adding some “message” to the music.

     Although the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement were both underway by mid-1965, “Satisfaction” was not a song aimed at those troubles per se.  Rather, “Satisfaction” at the time was more of a general angst tune; a song that captured the frustrations bubbling up with the younger generation on a number of fronts, Vietnam and civil rights included.  Conventional wisdom and social values were then being challenged all around and “Satisfaction” chimed in with lyrics aimed at superficial advertising and uptight sexual mores.“Satisfaction” had enough attitude and swagger to wilt any set of established values its listeners might target. It  became an all- purpose anti-etablishment anthem.

     The plea of the narrator/singer in this song is a guy who is frustrated with the “useless information” and advertising hype he hears on radio and TV, plus his own personal plight of not being able to score with the ladies  The guy is essentially throwing up his hands in frustration with life in general: he just isn’t getting any satisfaction on any level.  Millions of young people then were trying to make their way in the world, and many weren’t happy or “satisfied” with what they saw around them.

     The song’s lyrics, for their day, were controversial, in part, because they challenged the prevailing cultural mores.  Perceived as an attack on the status quo, the song could be threatening to older listeners.  “Satisfaction”  offered plenty of attitude – not only in its lyrics, but also in its sound and the way the Stones delivered the song.   “Satisfaction,” in fact, had enough attitude and swagger to wilt any set of established values its listeners might choose to target.  It became an all-purpose, anti-establishment anthem with broad applicability.  The song was a good fit for its times and audience.


Breakthrough

The Rolling Stones pictured on “Satisfaction” record sleeve, from left: Bill Wyman, Charlie Watts, Keith Richards, Mick Jagger (looking a bit out of it), and Brian Jones, 1965-66.
The Rolling Stones pictured on “Satisfaction” record sleeve, from left: Bill Wyman, Charlie Watts, Keith Richards, Mick Jagger (looking a bit out of it), and Brian Jones, 1965-66.
     For the Rolling Stones, “Satisfaction” proved to be the breakthrough song; the one that set them apart and sent them on their way toward superstardom. The group performed “Satisfaction” on American TV even before the single was released in the States.  On May 20, 1965, they appeared on the ABC show Shindig! from Los Angeles.  “Satisfaction” was released as a U.S. single by London Records on June 6th,1965, with another somewhat obscure song on its B-side, “The Under-Assistant West Coast Promotion Man.”  The Stones were then touring in the U.S., the third time they’d been to the States.  But at the time they were still a new group to many in America.  As part of this tour, for example, on May 4th, 1965, they performed at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, Georgia.  On June 5, 1965 they played to about 3,000 people at Jack Russell Stadium in Clearwater, Florida.  “Satisfaction,” meanwhile, had entered the Billboard Hot 100 that week and rose to No. 1 by July 10th, displacing The Four Tops’ “I Can’t Help Myself.”  The song was also featured on the Rolling Stones’ third U.K. album, Out of Our Heads, also released in the U.S. in July 1965.

Keith Richards & Brian Jones comparing guitar licks,1960s.
Keith Richards & Brian Jones comparing guitar licks,1960s.
     Glenn Gass, a professor at the School of Music at Indiana University, told ABC News decades later on the 45th anniversary of “Satisfaction,” that although there were many great songs that year from groups such as the Beach Boys, Sonny & Cher, the Byrds, the Four Tops and others, “Satisfaction” nonetheless “claimed that summer.”  The song held the top spot on the record charts for four weeks until August 7, 1965, when another English band, Herman’s Hermits, hit No. 1 with their tune, “I’m Henry the Eighth, I Am.”  Still, “Satisfaction” remained on the Billboard charts for 14 weeks.  The song sold 500,000 copies in its first eight weeks, giving the Stones their first official gold record award by the Recording Industry Association of America.  The song also put the Stones on the path to “Beatles-level” popularity.  “They were already going strong,” said Indiana University’s Gass of the Stones’ growing popularity then, “but that song put them in the Beatles’ stratosphere of rarified air.”“…It was the song that really made the Rolling Stones, changed us from just another band into a huge, monster band…”
                    – Mick Jagger
 Mick Jagger himself would later acknowledge much the same in a 1995 interview with Jann Wenner of Rolling Stone magazine:

“…It was the song that really made the Rolling Stones, changed us from just another band into a huge, monster band.  You always need one song.  We weren’t American, and America was a big thing and we always wanted to make it here.  It was very impressive the way that song and the popularity of the band became a worldwide thing.  It’s a signature tune, really,…a kind of signature that everyone knows.  It has a very catchy title.  It has a very catchy guitar riff.  It has a great guitar sound, which was original at that time.  And it captures a spirit of the times, which is very important in those kinds of songs… Which was alienation.  Or it’s a bit more than that, maybe, but a kind of sexual alienation.  Alienation’s not quite the right word, but it’s one word that would do.”

Mick Jagger and Keith Richards in 1967, two years after “Satisfaction” was released.
Mick Jagger and Keith Richards in 1967, two years after “Satisfaction” was released.
     “Satisfaction” did, however, in the mid-1960s, tread upon sensitive ground with its lyrics suggesting frustrated adolescent sexuality — i.e., not getting any “girl reaction” – interpreted by some listeners and radio programmers as meaning a girl willing to have sex.  In fact, when the Rolling Stones performed the song on the TV show Shindig! in 1965, the line “trying to make some girl” was censored.  And again, when they performed it later on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1966 the same line – “trying to make some girl”– was not used.

     “Satisfaction” also put rock music, and the Rolling Stones, on something of a more raucous, more bawdy, harder-edge path – a distinction some would later draw in comparisons to the Beatles.  The Beatles, of course, had just been through their 1964-1965 “Beatlemania” period with a phenomenal run of pop hits and lots of “yeah, yeah, yeah.”  The Stones, on the other hand, were coming on with a little different sound; providing music that had more of an R&B- and blues-tinge to it.  “Satisfaction” was a “great ‘no’ to the Beatles’ ‘yeah’,” offered Glenn Gass from Indiana University in a 2010 interview with ABC News at the song’s 45th anniversary.  Others, including writer Tom Wolfe, would go farther.  “The Beatles,” he once famously wrote, “just want to hold your hand.  The Rolling Stones want to burn your town down” – an exaggeration, of course, but the message was plain.

Ed Sullivan talking with Mick Jagger; Keith Richards in background, at another, later show rehearsal, January 15, 1967.
Ed Sullivan talking with Mick Jagger; Keith Richards in background, at another, later show rehearsal, January 15, 1967.
     But it wasn’t just the Stones who were supplying that harder edge to rock music.  In 1964 there had also been bluesy songs like the Animals’ “House of the Rising Sun,” and even the Beatles did their raucous cover of “Twist and Shout” that year.  The Stones themselves also had the bluesy 1964 hit, “Time is On My Side,” which rose to No. 6 that November.  Bob Dylan, meanwhile, had “Like A Rolling Stone” in the summer of 1965, a landmark message song.  Still, “Satisfaction” grabbed center-stage attention at the time, appealing to mainstream rock audiences in a new way.  It was a distinctive turn.  After 1965-1966, of course, the music would change again, and the change would escalate, with much more innovation, new sounds, and good music to come – from the Stones, Dylan, the Beatles, and many others.

     The Stones, for their part, would follow “Satisfaction” with a long list of other 1960s’ hits, such as: “Get Off My Cloud” and “As Tears Go By” in 1965; “Paint it Black” and “19th Nervous Breakdown” in 1966; “Let’s Spend the Night Together” and “Ruby Tuesday” in 1967; “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “Street Fighting Man” in 1968; “Sympathy for the Devil” and “Honky Tonk Woman” in 1969, and many more.  The Stones, in fact, were just getting started in the 1960s, with about four more decades of music-making and performing ahead of them.  “Satisfaction,” meanwhile, would experience a spike in sales after being heard in movies such as Apocalypse Now in 1979 or Starman of 1994, as well as during and after the Stone’s many concert tours.

In November 2004, Rolling Stone magazine put “Satisfaction” at No. 2 among its ‘500 Greatest’ songs.
In November 2004, Rolling Stone magazine put “Satisfaction” at No. 2 among its ‘500 Greatest’ songs.
     Over the years, “Satisfaction” has been accorded high honors in the pantheon of rock `n roll.  The song has been noted in various “top 100 lists” by Vox, BMI , VH1, MTV, Q magazine and other media and rock music venues.  Newsweek once called the song’s opening guitar riff, “five notes that shook the world.”  In November 2004, Rolling Stone magazine placed the song at No. 2 on its list of the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time”– second only to Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone”.  In 2006, “Satisfaction” was added to the Library of Congress National Recording Registry, songs deemed to be among those that are culturally and/or historically significant.

     Other stories at this website on the Rolling Stones, their music, and business history include, for example, “Paint It Black” (song history & subsequent uses); “Stones Gather Dollars” (how the Rolling Stones helped develop a lucrative concert touring model); “Start Me Up” (Bill Gates & Windows 95 theme song), and “Shine A Light, 2008” (Rolling Stones film trailer).  Additional story choices on other topics at this website may be found on the Home Page or in the Archive.  Thanks for visiting — and please consider supporting this website. Thank you. — Jack Doyle


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Date Posted: 11 July 2011
Last Update: 11 March 2012
Comments to: jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “…No Satisfaction, 1965-1966,”
PopHistoryDig.com, July 11, 2011.

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Sources, Links & Additional Information

Young Rolling Stones, London, England,1963: From left: Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Brian Jones (1942 - 1969), Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts.
Young Rolling Stones, London, England,1963: From left: Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Brian Jones (1942 - 1969), Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts.
Decca record label for Rolling Stones’ 1965 song, “Satisfaction,” by Mick Jagger & Keith Richards.
Decca record label for Rolling Stones’ 1965 song, “Satisfaction,” by Mick Jagger & Keith Richards.
Young Rolling Stones, early 1960s, U.K. street scene.
Young Rolling Stones, early 1960s, U.K. street scene.
Screen shot from Rolling Stones' performance in the October 1964 T.A.M.I. Show, filmed in Santa Monica, CA, where they performed “Time in On My Side” and “It’s All Over Now,” among others.
Screen shot from Rolling Stones' performance in the October 1964 T.A.M.I. Show, filmed in Santa Monica, CA, where they performed “Time in On My Side” and “It’s All Over Now,” among others.
Mid-1960s: Rolling Stones shown with wunderkind studio producer, Phil Spector, with sunglasses.
Mid-1960s: Rolling Stones shown with wunderkind studio producer, Phil Spector, with sunglasses.
Mick Jagger on stage, with Keith Richards and Brian Jones behind him, as Stones debut “Jumpin Jack Flash” at a New Musical Express (NME) concert in the U.K., May 1968.
Mick Jagger on stage, with Keith Richards and Brian Jones behind him, as Stones debut “Jumpin Jack Flash” at a New Musical Express (NME) concert in the U.K., May 1968.

“The Rolling Stones,” in Holly George-Warren and Patricia Romanowski (eds), The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, New York: Rolling Stone Press, 3rd Edition, 2001, pp.831-835.

Jann Wenner, “Jagger Remembers: The Rolling Stone Interview,” Rolling Stone, December 14, 1995.

“No. 2: Satisfaction – Rolling Stones,” Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Songs, December, 9 2004.

Michael Murray, “‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,’ 45 Years Later; In 1965, the Rolling Stones Released the Legendary Rock and Roll Song,” ABC News, May 6, 2010.

“(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” Wiki- pedia.org.

Robert Christgau, “The Rolling Stones,” in, Anthony DeCurtis and James Henke (eds), The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock n Roll, New York: Random House, 1992, pp.238-251.

“The Rolling Stones,” Wikipedia.org.

“‘Satisfaction’ Comes to Keith Richards,” This Day in History, May 7, 1965, History.com.

J.P., “The Rolling Stones: Road Worn, Forlorn & Almighty Guitar Porn,” The Selvedge Yard, August 25, 2010 (a Stones photo collection).

Paul Richard, “Rolling Stones Lacking In Beatle-Like Finesse,” Washington Post / Times Herald, November 14, 1965, p. B-3.

“5 Rolling Stones Gather Avid Fans,” New York Times, July 4, 1966.

“Library of Congress Selects Stones Song,” USA Today, March 6,2007.

“(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” The Rolling Stones, SongFacts.com.

Joel Whitburn, The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, Billboard Books, New York: Watson-Guptill Publications, 8th Edition, 2004.

Hank Bordowitz, Turning Points in Rock and Roll, New York: Citadel Press, 2004.

Mick Jagger, Mick Jagger in His Own Words, Putnam Publishing Group, 1982, 127 pp.

Bill Wyman, Stone Alone: The Story Of A Rock ‘n’ Roll Band, Viking Adult, November 1990, 608 pp.

Victor Bockris, Keith Richards: The Biography, Da Capo Press, March 1998, 416 pp.

Laura Jackson, Heart of Stone: The Unauthorized Life of Mick Jagger, Blake Publishers, November 1998, 288 pp.

Stanley Booth, The True Adventures of the Rolling Stones, Chicago Review Press, May 2000, 416 pp.

Bill Wyman, Rolling With The Stones, DK Publishing, 2002. 512 pp.

Robert Greenfield, S.T.P.: A Journey Through America With The Rolling Stones, Da Capo Press September 2002, 352 pp.

Laura Jackson Arise Sir Mick: The True Story of Britain’s Naughtiest Knight, John Blake Publishers, July 2003, 288 pp.

Stephen Davis, Old Gods Almost Dead: The 40-year Odyssey of the Rolling Stones, Aurum Press Ltd., July 2003, 624pp.

Christopher Sandford, Mick Jagger: Rebel Knight, Omnibus Press, October 2003, 386 pp.

Robert Greenfield, Exile on Main Street: A Season in Hell with the Rolling Stones, Da Capo Press, February 2008, 272 pp.

Philip Dodd, According to the Rolling Stones, Chronicle Books, May 2009, 402 pp.

Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot, The Beatles vs. The Rolling Stones: Sound Opinions on the Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Rivalry, Voyageur Press, October 2010, 192 pp.

Steve Appleford, The Rolling Stones: The Story Behind Their Biggest Songs, Carlton Books, November 2010, 272 pp.

Luke Crampton, Dafydd Rees and Tim Lister, Rock Diary: The Rolling Stones, Original Media, February 2011.

Francois Hebel, Mick Jagger: The Photobook, Contrasto, April 2011, 192 pp.

Keith Richards and James Fox, Life, Little, Brown and Co., May 2011, 576 pp.

Marc Spitz, Jagger: Rebel, Rock Star, Rambler, Rogue, Gotham Press, September 2011, 320 pp.

______________________________




“Stones Gather Dollars”
1989-2008

October 1989 edition of Forbes business magazine featuring Mick Jagger & Keith Richards among the world's 'highest paid entertainers'.
October 1989 edition of Forbes business magazine featuring Mick Jagger & Keith Richards among the world's 'highest paid entertainers'.
     In October 1989, Forbes magazine featured rock ‘n roll stars Mick Jagger and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones on its cover.  The story’s headline asked “What’ll They Do With All That Money?”  Forbes writer Peter Newcomb pro- vided a detailed look at what the Stones were then up to, and his story was quite revealing of the rock ‘n roll business on its way to the 1990s.  The Stones, even then, were a “senior” rock ‘n roll group, having risen to fame a good 25 years earlier in the 1960s along with the Beatles.  Yet at this point in their lives and careers, they still had another 20 years of performing ahead.  But in the late 1980s when Forbes caught up with them, they were at the beginning of a series of live concerts called the “Steel Wheels Tour,” a tour launched to coincide with a new album, also titled Steel Wheels.  This tour, however, also presaged a new era in the business of rock ‘n roll, and specifically the big business of concert touring.

     In 1988, a Canadian promoter named Michael Cohl had guaranteed the Stones a take of $70 million for the tour.  The math went something like this: the tour would draw 3 million people in just under 60 locations.  At about $30 a ticket, a $90 million gate would be generated, with 40 percent paid to the stadium owners and local promoters, leaving 60 percent — or more than $50 million — to the Stones and the tour promoter.  Tour-related merchandise, including T-shirts, jackets, and other paraphernalia, would boost the take to the guaranteed $70 million.  In fact this tour, and its related business, would generate considerably more than $70 million.

 

Macy’s, Bud & Beyond

     The Stones had also made arrangements to sell tour-related material not only at the concert sites, but also at department stores such as Macy’s, J. C. Penney, and Marshall Field.  In some of these stores, “Rolling Stones boutiques” offered a full line of products stamped with the Steel Wheels logo: $5 bandanas, sweatshirts, skateboards, $450 bomber jackets, and two lines of Converse high-top sneakers.  There were also pay-per-view TV rights in the offing at $6-to-$7 million, not including foreign TV rights.  A tour-related movie and a two-hour TV special were being planned as well. “We never dreamed there was any money when we started this thing. It was idealism. It was not knowing what else to do with your life. But then, suddenly, the impossible happened.”
              - Keith Richards, 1989
 And finally, Anheuser-Busch paid close to $6 million for rights to make its Budweiser beer the tour sponsor.  All of this meant that the Stones would gross about $90 million for the year.

     By the time of their 1989 concert tour, however, the Stones were already a group with a significant cache of assets.  They also had a musical legacy — a “bank account” of sorts — to draw upon even in off years when there was no tour income or no new album.  Between 1964 and 1979, the Stones had turned out at least one album every year; sometimes 2 or 3 albums per year in that period.  Many of these albums charted in the U.S and the U.K., often in the Top 10 or Top 20.  So by 1989, this catalog of older Stones recording was still selling, and selling well, at about 1 million copies a year.  With a royalty rates then about $1.75 per record, they would have about $2 million a year coming in just from that catalog, making a kind of annuity possible even if they quit work.  But if they chose on top of that to do a single new album which sold at around 3 million copies, the annual take would rise to as much as $7 million a year.  There was also income from radio airplay as well.  And as songwriters the Stones had agreements for a royalty of about 5 cents per airplay, which can also add up to real money with popular hits — or as Keith Richards once put it, “making money while I sleep.”

Budweiser was a Steel Wheels sponsor.
Budweiser was a Steel Wheels sponsor.

 

Business Savvy

     At the time of the Steel Wheels Tour in 1989, the Rolling Stones were already pretty savvy business people.  Since 1971, they had secured the services of a former London merchant banker named Rupert Zu Loewenstein, who carries an old Bavarian title of “Prince” and became their financial advisor.  The Stones by then were also pretty capable when negotiating recording deals.  In 1985 they signed a distribution agreement with CBS Records that reportedly gave the band $25 million for four albums and the rights to all the old Rolling Stones catalog from Atlantic.  Walter Yetnikoff, the CBS record chief who negotiated with Jagger, said that “Mick was very astute,” lauding him as a guy who could think on his feet, capable of figuring royalty and tax rates in his head.  Jagger had studied macroeconomics at the London School of Economics, which he would later say was mostly economic history.

     But the Stones weren’t always on top of their game economically.  In fact, in the early years, they lost a good deal of money making bad deals.  During the mid-1960s, when the Stones first broke out, they had sold some ten million singles, including their monster 1965-66 hit “Satisfaction.”  They also sold some five million albums in the early years.  Still, they were not making money.“When we first started out, there wasn’t really any money in rock ‘n roll. There wasn’t a touring industry; it didn’t even exist….”
                          – Mick Jagger
  “When we first started out, there wasn’t really any money in rock ‘n roll,” Jagger explained to Fortune magazine in 2002.  “There wasn’t a touring industry; it didn’t even exist.  Obviously there was somebody maybe who made money, but it certainly wasn’t the act. …[E]ven if you were very successful, you got paid nothing.”  The Stones also suffered from lack of negotiating experience.  “I’ll never forget the deals I did in the ’60s, which were just terrible,” Jagger would later say.  In 1965, Allen Klein, a New York manager, helped the Stone’s negotiate a new contract with Decca records and also helped the group win their first million-dollar payday.  But Allen Klein also helped himself.  His company, ABKCO, still retains the rights to the Stones’ early songs from the 1960s through 1971 — a sore point with the Stones, who parted ways with Klein in the early 1970s.  Since then, the Stones have been very much a business-minded rock ‘n roll group, attentive to everything from royalty rates to tax policy.  But by the time of their 1989 Steel Wheels tour, their business savvy had reached a new level and demand for their music was as strong as ever.

 

Steel Wheels Success

Just as the Rolling Stones were beginning their North America 'Steel Wheels' tour in 1989, they appeared on the cover of Time magazine, September 4th, 1989.
Just as the Rolling Stones were beginning their North America 'Steel Wheels' tour in 1989, they appeared on the cover of Time magazine, September 4th, 1989.
     The 36-city Steel Wheels tour started on August 31, 1989 in Philadelphia.  From there it proceeded north to Toronto, Canada, then to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and beyond.  Near the start of the tour, the Stones appeared on the cover of Time magazine’s September 4th edition.  Time’s cover story focused on the staying power of older rock groups.  On the tour, meanwhile, there were sell outs in some places months before the event.  When the New York City shows were announced, 300,000 tickets were sold in a record six hours.  And at the concerts, it wasn’t just middling baby boomers who were coming out to relive the 1960s.  Younger fans were also discovering the Stones — at least at New York’s October 1989 Shea Stadium show. Jennifer Ames, then a 19-year-old college sophomore, told a New York Times reporter she had liked the Stones since she was a young girl.  “My parents, my older brothers all played their records,” she explained.  “There are two or three generations of fans here,” added Raymond Finocchio, 42, who brought his 11-year-old son to the concert that night.  But other younger fans had discovered the Stones on their own:  “We’re fans, not children of fans,” said Paula Giglio, 29, of the Bronx, also attending the Shea Stadium show.  The Steel Wheels Tour in North America ended on December 20, 1989 at Convention Center in Atlantic City, New Jersey.  The tour had earned about $260 million, which was then a record for any rock concert tour.

 

Tour Model Honed

     Yet 1989’s Steel Wheels was just the beginning for the Rolling Stones.  More gate-busting tours would follow over the next two decades.  But Steel Wheels became the model.  Its promoter, Canadian Michael Cohl, was hired permanently by the Stones to become their full-time tour manager.  With each subsequent tour, the 1989 experience was honed, costs were pared, and even bigger paydays resulted. 

The Rolling Stones
Selected Tours
1989-2007

Steel Wheels
1989
Urban Jungle Tour
1990
Voodoo Lounge Tour
1994-1995
Bridges to Babylon Tour
1997-1998
No Security Tour
1999
Forty Licks Tour
2002-2003
A Bigger Bang Tour
2005-2007

     The Stones’ Voodoo Lounge tour of 1994-95 grossed nearly $370 million worldwide.  In 1997-1999, the Bridges to Babylon/No Security Tour grossed more than $390 million, attracting some 5.6 million people worldwide.  By 2002, Fortune magazine estimated that between 1989 and 2002, the Stones pulled in about $1.5 billion, including tours and other business, an amount that exceeded what other rock ‘n roll competitors did in that same period, whether U-2, Michael Jackson, Britney Spears, or Bruce Springsteen.  Nor did the Rolling Stones’ touring end in 2002.  Their Forty Licks world tour of 2002-2003 played to an audience of 1 million, generating $200 million over 32 show dates in the U.S., Canada, Europe, and the Far East.  In 2005, they released a studio album, A Bigger Bang, followed by another tour — this one the highest-grossing tour in history, pulling in $558 million between the fall 2005 and late August 2007, according to Billboard.

     The Stone’s success with touring and their tour-related businesses no doubt had an impact on other “retired” rockers who in recent years decided to get back in the game and on the road again.  But other economic factors were also at work by the late 1990s.  The traditional music sales model was changing dramatically with the internet and MP3 players, as album and CD sales began to plummet.  The live-performance business became a much more important source of income for artists, old and new.  Still, the Stones appear to have made a special category all their own.

     Fortune magazine’s Andy Serwer, writing in September 2002 on why the Stone’s continued their appeal way beyond their prime hit-producing years, explained:

“…Subjectively, the Rolling Stones sound pretty damn good, even after all these years.  And objectively, if they’re such has-beens, then how do you explain the band’s phenomenal commercial success over the past decade? No, they aren’t writing groundbreaking songs anymore — in fact they haven’t really recorded any new material of note in 20 years — but we sure are listening to their old stuff.  A lot.  And buying concert tickets.  Millions and millions of them.  And that’s the wrinkle here. Even though the Stones have been in what you might call a creatively fallow period, we want to hear them more than ever.  Couple that with the fact that they have perfected their business model, and it’s easy to understand why they are such an astounding money-making machine.”

Although not turning out hits at the rate they did in the 1960s & ‘70s, the Rolling Stones in the 1990s & 2000s used concert filming & DVDs to package their music in a new way as in 1995's Voodoo Lounge DVD.
Although not turning out hits at the rate they did in the 1960s & ‘70s, the Rolling Stones in the 1990s & 2000s used concert filming & DVDs to package their music in a new way as in 1995's Voodoo Lounge DVD.
     Although by the late 1990s and 2000s the Stones’ hits weren’t coming as frequently as they did in the 1960s and 1970s, they were still putting new songs on the music charts.  The single “Don’t Stop” charted in the U.S. and the U.K. in 2003.  “Streets of Love,”released in August 2005, did the same.  Their concert films, and other videos, both older and more recent, have also done well as DVDs.  In 2003, they released Four Flicks, a four-disc DVD set that included several of their concert shows from their 2002-2003 World Tour.  This DVD debuted at No.1 on Billboard’s music video chart selling 53,000 copies during the first week.  As of April 2007, the DVD had sold 360,000 copies.  In February 2006, the Stones also demonstrated they could still draw a crowd, bringing out a record-setting 1.5 million fans at a free concert on the Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro (see photos at end).

 

Songwriting, Ads & Film

     Beyond touring and DVDs, there have also been other business deals and income streams to help fill the Stones’ coffers.  Songwriting royalties continue to flow to Jagger and Richards for the 200 or so songs they have jointly written.  “Music publishing is more profitable to the artist than recording,” Jagger explained to Fortune magazine in 2002.  “It’s just tradition.  There’s no rhyme or reason.  The people who wrote songs were probably better businesspeople than the people who sang them were.  You go back to George Gershwin and his contemporaries — they probably negotiated better deals, and they became the norm of the business.  So if you wrote a song, you got half of it, and the other half went to your publisher.  That’s the model for writing.”  So anytime one of the Jagger/Richards songs is played on the radio or any other public venue, they get a piece of the action.

In 1995, Bill Gates made a multi-million-dollar deal to use the Rolling Stones’ 1981 song ‘Start Me Up’ as the theme song in an advertising campaign to launch & sell Microsoft’s new computer software.
In 1995, Bill Gates made a multi-million-dollar deal to use the Rolling Stones’ 1981 song ‘Start Me Up’ as the theme song in an advertising campaign to launch & sell Microsoft’s new computer software.
     In 1995, the Stones made their first major venture into using one of their songs in commercial adver- tising — a multi-million-dollar deal (some estimates say $13 million) with Bill Gates at Microsoft.  Gates wanted the Stones’ 1981 song “Start Me Up” as the theme song to launch and advertise his company’s new Windows 95 computer software.  The campaign, associated with the start button on the Microsoft program, was widely used and became quite successful.  Not to be out done, rival computer maker Apple used the Stones’ 1967 song “She’s a Rainbow”to launch its colored iMacs in 1999.  And then there’s the movies.  “We do a lot of film licensing,” Jagger said in his Fortune interview.  “We get lots of requests, and I usually say yes.  It’s a great business…”  The Stone’s music can be found in films dating to the early 1970s and many others since then, as well as numerous TV shows.  As of 2002, Stones’ songs used in films were averaging in the low six figures.  In fact, during the 1992-2002 decade, Fortune estimated that the Jagger/Richards songwriting team pulled in about $56 million from radio play, advertising, and movie deals.

     Ray Gmeiner, a vice president at Virgin Records has stated that “The Rolling Stones are a unique brand because they’ve taken the business side of rock and roll to the level that few if any other bands have.”  Add Roger Blackwell and Tina Stephan in their 2004 book, Brands That Rock:  “The Rolling Stones organization is a well-oiled, money making machine, and to say it resembles anything less than a Fortune 500 firm would be unjust…”

 

Still Rocking

The Rolling Stones, 2005.
The Rolling Stones, 2005.
     As of 2008, the Rolling Stones were still rocking and showed few signs of retreat.  Shine a Light, a 2008 documentary film featuring some of the Stones’ recent concerts and produced by famed Hollywood director Martin Scorsese, was released to theaters in April 2008.  The film cost about $1 million to make and grossed about $14 million.  A companion soundtrack album for the film from Universal was also released and charted in the U.S. and U.K.  During their career, the Rolling Stones have released 24 studio albums and nine concert albums in the U.S., plus numerous compilations, with similar numbers in the U.K.  Over the years they have had more than 40 songs that have charted in the Top 40; more than 30 in the Top 10.  In 1971, they began a run of eight consecutive No. 1 U.S. albums. Their business empire aside, love of the blues, love of rock music, and love of performing that music is still at the center of what the Rolling Stones are all about. They have sold more than 200 million albums worldwide and their catalog continues to sell. 

     Their business empire aside, however, at the center of the Rolling Stones is their music.  Millions of fans young and old still enjoy that music, and will no doubt continue to enjoy it for many years into the future.  And for the Stones too, the music is key.  They don’t really need to be touring; they make money standing still.  In a 1995 interview with Jan Wenner of Rolling Stone magazine, Jagger told Wenner that love of the blues, love of rock music, and love of performing that music was at the center of what he did.  And Keith Richards has said much the same.  “This whole thing runs on passion,” Richards told Fortune in 2002.  “Even though we don’t talk about it much ourselves, it’s almost a sort of quest or mission.”  New York Times reporter Stephen Holden recently wrote in an April 2008 review of Martin Scorcese’s documentary featuring Stone’s concerts, “…[T]he Rolling Stones appear supremely alive inside their giant, self-created rock ‘n roll machine. The sheer pleasure of making music that keens and growls like a pack of ravenous alley cats is obviously what keeps them going.  Why should they ever stop?”

Other stories on the Rolling Stones at this website include: “Paint It Black” (song history & subsequent uses); “Start Me Up” (use of song by Microsoft as Windows 95 theme song), “…No Satisfaction”(1966 song that marked a kind of cultural divide at the time); and, “Shine A Light” (Martin Scorsese / Rolling Stones film trailer). Additional story choices on music history and artists can be found at the Annals of Music category page. Thanks for visiting – and please consider supporting this website. Thank you. - Jack Doyle

Please Support
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Donate Now

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Date Posted:  3 December 2008
Last Update:  17 March 2014
Comments to: jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “Stones Gather Dollars, 1989-2008,”
PopHistoryDig.com, December 3, 2008.

_____________________________



 

Sources, Links & Additional Information

Poster for 2008 Martin Scorsese film of Rolling Stones’ concerts.
Poster for 2008 Martin Scorsese film of Rolling Stones’ concerts.
Jay Cocks, “Roll Them Bones,” Time, Monday, September 4, 1989.

Peter Newcomb, “Satisfaction Guaranteed,” Forbes, October 2, 1989.

Constance L. Hays, “2 Generations of Fans Enjoy Rolling Stones’ Live Legacy,” New York Times, October 11, 1989.

Tom Harrison – Music Critic, “Keith Richards Sets The Tone,” The Vancouver Province, November 1, 1989.

Michiko Kakutani, Pop View, “Troubadours Of Fickle Time And Its Passing,” New York Times, September 4, 1994.

Richard Harrington, “That Old Jagger Edge; At RFK, the Stones Rock and Roll On,” Washington Post, August 2, 1994, p. F-1.

“Microsoft Throws Stones Into Its Windows 95 Ads,” New York Times, August 18, 1995.

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Kelefa Sanneh, “Rolling Stones Revel in the Act of Survival,” New York Times, September 27, 2002.

Andy Serwer and associates Julia Boorstin and Ann Harrington, “Inside the Rolling Stones Inc.,” Fortune, September 30, 2002.

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Jon Pareles, “Swaggering Past 60, Unrepentant,” New York Times, August 23, 2005.

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The Rolling Stones” and “Shine a Light,” Wikipedia.org, 2008.

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Seaside streets & Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 'filling up' with hundreds of thousands of onlookers & fans during the evening prior to Rolling Stones’ concert, February 2006.
Seaside streets & Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 'filling up' with hundreds of thousands of onlookers & fans during the evening prior to Rolling Stones’ concert, February 2006.
 
Later that night at the same venue on Copacabana Beach as Stones played to a ‘full house’ estimated at 1.5 million.
Later that night at the same venue on Copacabana Beach as Stones played to a ‘full house’ estimated at 1.5 million.



“American Bandstand”
1956-2007

Dick Clark at his DJ post in the 1950s.  "I don't make culture," he reportedly said at one point, "I sell it."
Dick Clark at his DJ post in the 1950s. "I don't make culture," he reportedly said at one point, "I sell it."
      On July 7, 1956, a young radio disc jockey named Dick Clark made his first appearance hosting an afternoon TV show called Bandstand.  Broad- cast from Philadelphia, the show had originally begun in 1952.  Bandstand played the new rock ‘n roll music and featured kids from local high schools dancing to the music.  When it first began, the dancing was almost accidental, but local TV viewers called in saying they liked watching “those young people dancing.”  As the show’s new host, Clark made the most of that novelty, and took Bandstand to the national level.  The son of a radio-station owner in Utica, N.Y., Dick Clark had been a radio disc jockey as a student at Syracuse University.  By 1951, when he landed a job at ABC’s WFIL station in Philadelphia, he worked in radio, regarded as too youthful looking to be a credible TV newscaster. Clark’s big break came when the station decided to replace former Bandstand host Bob Horn.  A youngish-looking 26 when he took over, Clark quickly made the show his own. He featured musical guests lip-synching their songs and used his teenage audience to “rate” new records.  Local audiences loved the show.

       American Bandstand, late -1950s-early-1960s.
American Bandstand, late -1950s-early-1960s.
      Bandstand, out of Philadelphia, soon became the highest rated local daytime TV show in the nation. That got the attention of network executives in New York. By August 1957, now called American Bandstand, ABC began broadcasting the show nationwide at 3 p.m. for an hour-and-a-half. Within six months of going national, American Bandstand was picked up by 101 stations. Twenty million viewers were now tuning in, half of whom were adult. The show was also receiving 20,000 to 45,000 fan letters a week. Teenagers came to Philadelphia from wide and far for a chance to dance on the show. Bandstand also became known as a place where new talent could be seen; a place where aspiring artists could get their start. On the November 22, 1957 show, for example, two young singers using the name “Tom & Jerry” appeared. The duo would later become known as Simon & Garfunkel. New dances were often introduced on the show. It was on Bandstand that Chubby Checker brought “the Twist” to the nation in the summer of 1960. Bandstand’s “regular” dance couples approached daytime soap-opera fame, and in the 1950s and 1960s they were written about regularly in teen magazines, as was Clark and the show.
Clark interviewing singer Bobby Rydell, 1958.
Clark interviewing singer Bobby Rydell, 1958.
It didn’t hurt, of course, that Bandstand‘s WFIL-TV station was owned by the Walter Annenberg empire, which also included, among other media outlets, TV Guide and Seventeen magazine for girls. Seventeen had a regular column on Bandstand, “written” by one of the show’s regulars. And TV Guide put Clark’s telegenic face on its cover several times during the 1950s (see sample covers below).

 

Brokering Rock ‘n Roll

     American Bandstand also played another critical role —  especially for mainstream culture and the music business. It helped make America more receptive to rock ‘n roll, a music genre not then accepted as it is today.  “From the time it hit the national airwaves in 1957,” observes rock historian Hank Bordowitz, “Bandstand changed the perception and dissemination of popular music.”   The show helped make rock ‘n roll more acceptable to many adults by bringing the music and the dancing kids into their homes every afternoon, with Clark providing the responsible, clean-cut adult supervision.  Clark’s income was soon approaching $500,000 a year.

“We built a horizontal and vertical music situation… We published the songs…, managed the acts, pressed the records, distributed the records, promoted the records… .” – Dick Clark

     American Banstand also helped to open the doors to a new kind of music business.  And along the way, Dick Clark became a wealthy man, buying into music publishing companies, record labels, and promoting “Philly sound” recording artiststs on those labels — stars such as Frankie Avalon, Bobby Rydell, and Fabian.  Clark also became involved in managing the artists, formed a radio offshoot, and conducted live productions.  He also made personal appearances as a DJ hosting live dance events called  “sock hops”  —  as many as 14 a week.  And he also packaged concert tours, taking the music on the road.  He soon had a nice little musical empire in the making.  “We built a horizontal and vertical music situation,” explained Clark of his various businesses. “. . . We published the songs domestically and abroad, managed the acts, pressed the records, distributed the records, promoted the records. . . .”

 

Dick Clark Covers
Annenberg-Owned TV Guide

May 24, 1958
May 24, 1958
October 4, 1958
October 4, 1958
August 29, 1959
August 29, 1959
September 10, 1960
September 10, 1960

 

“Payola” & Congress

August 1958 cover of 'Teen' magazine with Clark & headline: 'Why America Loves Dick Clark's American Bandstand.'
August 1958 cover of 'Teen' magazine with Clark & headline: 'Why America Loves Dick Clark's American Bandstand.'
     In 1960, however, the “payola” scandal broke, a controversy involving prominent radio disc jockeys then implicated in playing records for payment to make them popular. Clark was investigated by Congress during the scandal, along with other prominent DJs like Alan Freed. But Clark, in his appearence before a Congresional committee, was cool and thorough in his testimony, and denied taking “payola.” He emerged from the hearings without lasting harm. However, it was later revealed that Clark had been “given” royalty rights to more than 140 songs.  ABC did require him to divest his outside ventures, more than 30 by one count, including a number of record labels. Still, Clark and American Bandstand held their popularity.

     American Bandstand was broadcast every weekday through the summer of 1963. But in the fall of that year, it became a once-a-week show run on Saturday afternoons. By 1965, Dick Clark, then 35 years old, was making about $1 million a year. By February 1964, American Bandstand moved to Los Angeles, in part to facilitate Clark’s expansion into other TV ventures and film production. It was also easier in L.A. to tap into the recording industry.  By 1965, Dick Clark, then 35, was making about $1 million a year. Musically, the sound on Bandstand changed with the times, featuring the California surf sound in the 1960s, and a decade later, the ‘70s disco beat.  Through it all, dating from the 1950s when Clark took over, Bandstand was one of the few places on television where ethnically-mixed programming could be seen.

1959: "Caravan of Stars."
1959: "Caravan of Stars."

In fact, Clark later claimed that he had integrated the show in the 1950s – a claim disputed by some.  Clark did feature black recording artists as guests on the show in its early years.  When American Bandstand first went national with ABC in August 1957, Lee Andrews and the Hearts appeared among the first guests performing their song, “Long Lonely Nights.”  In that year as well, other black artists also appeared, including Jackie Wilson, Johnny Mathis, Chuck Berry, Mickey & Sylvia, and others.  Integration of the studio audience, however, appears to have been slow and controlled according to research by John Jackson in his 1997 book, American Bandstand, and also Matthew F. Delmont in his 2012 book, The Nicest Kids in Town.  However, there are also reports that when Clark took black and white artists on the road to perform concerts in his “Caravan of Stars” shows of the 1960s – sometimes in towns where segregation was still practiced – he insisted on equal treatment of his performers at those venues, otherwise threatening to pull his show.

 

Dick Clark shown in American Bandstand's 'rate-a-record' segment sometime in the 1970s.
Dick Clark shown in American Bandstand's 'rate-a-record' segment sometime in the 1970s.

 

Changing Scene

     In the 1970s, with the rise of disco, Bandstand began to become something of an artifact rather than a trend-setter, although still netting its share of popular guests.  By the mid-1980s, with the rise of MTV and other music video channels, American Banstand’s format became dated. In September 1987 Bandstand moved to syndication, and in April 1989 it ran briefly on cable’s USA Network with a new host and Clark as executive producer. The show ended for good on October 7, 1989.  Yet over its three decades, American Bandstand played a key role in the music business.  Not only did it become the place where major record labels sought to showcase their songs and artists, it also generated millions in record sales each year, plus millions in advertising revenue for ABC.  As for recording artists — with the notable exceptions of Elvis Presley, the Beatles, and the Rolling Stones — most of the major rock ‘n roll acts from the 1950s through mid-1980s appeared on the show.

     Sonny and Cher made their first TV appearance on American Bandstand, June 12, 1965.  The Jackson 5 made their TV debut on the show February 21, 1970, as did Aerosmith in December 1973.  In January, 1980, Prince made his TV debut on BandstandBy the mid-1980s, with the rise of MTV and other music video channels, American Bandstand’s format became dated.Among others appearing during the show’s 33-year run were: Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, James Brown, the Beach Boys, the Doors, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, the Temptations, the Carpenters, Van Morrison, the Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Neil Diamond, Ike & Tina Turner, Pink Floyd, Creedance Clearwater Revival, George Michael, Rod Stewart, Bon Jovi, Gloria Estefan, Michael Jackson, and last but not least, Madonna, who appeared January 14, 1984 singing the tune “Holiday.”  But even after the show’s on-air demise, American Bandstand did not die. In early 1996, MTV’s sister network, VH-1 began broadcasting old Bandstand episodes, mostly from the 1975-1985 period. Within three months, these reruns — called the Best of American Bandstand, with taped introductions by Dick Clark himself  — became one of VH1’s top-rated programs.

 

Dick Clark’s Empire

     In addition to American Bandstand, Clark amassed a portfolio of other TV and movie productions, among them, numerous TV specials and awards shows. In the late 1960s he did various television series, talent shows, and also hosted TV game shows, culminating in the late 1970s with The $25,000 Pyramid. In the 1980s and 1990s, his Dick Clark Productions, Inc. turned out more than a dozen made-for-television movies, at least 60 TV specials, several Hollywood films, and radio shows. By 1986, Clark had made the Forbes 400 list of the wealthiest Americans. By 1986, Clark had made the Forbes 400 list of the wealthiest Americans. In recent years he continued his TV productions, landing a prime time TV series, American Dreams. That show was set in 1950s-1960s Philadelphia and used American Bandstand footage in its storyline. It ran for three seasons on NBC during 2002-2005. Clark also parlayed the American Bandstand name into other businesses, using it as a brand and capitalizing on its nostalgia cache. He opened a chain of music-themed restaurants using the name Dick Clark’s American Bandstand Grill. Several of these have opened at airports — Indianapolis, Indiana; Newark, New Jersey; Phoenix, Arizona; and Salt Lake City, Utah. Two others are located in Overland Park, Kansas and Cranbury, New Jersey.

One of Dick Clark's 'American Bandstand' Grills. Similar themed venues have also opened in airports.
One of Dick Clark's 'American Bandstand' Grills. Similar themed venues have also opened in airports.
      In June 2006, Dick Clark’s American Bandstand Theater — which uses some now-senior performers from the 1960s era in its acts — was opened in Branson, Missouri. An American Bandstand Grill opened there as well. In 2007, Dick Clark’s American Bandstand Music Complex, with restaurant, opened in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

     Throughout his career, Clark kept one foot in the world of radio, and would later focus some of his business interests there, also using it as a platform for rock ‘n roll nostalgia.  In 1981, he created The Dick Clark National Music Survey for the Mutual Broadcasting System, which counted down the Top 30 contemporary hits of the week.

Sample recording from one of Dick Clark's radio programs, May 1985.
Sample recording from one of Dick Clark's radio programs, May 1985.
Beginning in 1982, Clark also hosted a weekly weekend radio program distributed by his own syndicator, United Stations Radio Networks. That program focused on oldies, called Dick Clark’s Rock, Roll, and Remember — also the name of a 1976 autobiographical book he wrote with another author. This radio program would also sell recordings of its shows, some of which involved Clark interviews with, and/or features on, current and former music stars. By 1986, he left Mutual Broadcasting to host another show, Countdown America. In the 1990s, Clark hosted U.S. Music Survey, which he continued hosting up until 2004, when he suffered a stroke. Although he recovered partially from his stroke, his public appearances since that time have been limited.

 

Bandstand Acquired

     In June 2007, Daniel Snyder, owner of the Washington Redskins professional football team and Six Flags amusement parks, and also a partner with Tom Cruise in a film venture, announced the purchase of Dick Clark Productions for $175 million. In the deal, Snyder became the owner of American Bandstand‘s entire library of televised dance shows stretching over 30-plus years. In addition, Snyder is also acquiring other Dick Clark assets, including the New Year’s Rockin’ Eve broadcast from Times Square, the Golden Globe Awards show, the American Music Awards, the Academy of Country Music Awards, and the Family Television Awards. In 2007, Dan Snyder, owner of the Washington Redskins, acquired Dick Clark Productions for $175 million including Band- stand‘s 30-year library of TV shows. The Dick Clark properties also include the Bloopers television shows and Fox’s popular reality TV show, So You Think You Can Dance. Snyder, who will take over as chairman of Dick Clark Productions, said in a press release, “This was a rare opportunity to acquire a powerhouse portfolio and grow it in new directions.” It was not entirely clear at the time of the deal’s announcement, exactly what Snyder would do with the American Bandstand material, other than mention of possibly using it visually on television screens throughout Six Flags amusement parks while patrons were standing on line.

     Today, the legacy of American Bandstand is alive and well, and can be found in various venues, including the internet, You Tube, and various fan web sites.  There are also a number of books on Dick Clark and the show, including Clark’s 1976 autobiography written with Richard Robinson, and a 1997 volume authored by John A. Jackson entitled,  American Bandstand: Dick Clark and the Making of a Rock ‘n’ Roll Empire.

Other Bandstand stories at this website include, “Bandstand Performers, 1957;” “Bandstand Performers, 1963;” and “At The Hop, 1957-1958.”  Thanks for visiting — and please consider supporting this website. Thank you. - Jack Doyle.

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Date Posted:  25 March 2008
Last Update:  8 September 2014
Comments to:  jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “American Bandstand, 1956-2007,”
PopHistoryDig.com, March 25, 2008.

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Sources, Links & Additional Information

John Jackson's 1997 book on Dick Clark and American Bandstand.
John Jackson's 1997 book on Dick Clark and American Bandstand.
Dick Clark’s 1976 autobiography written with Richard Robinson.
Dick Clark’s 1976 autobiography written with Richard Robinson.

“Challenging the Giants,” Newsweek, December 23, 1957, p. 70.

“Drive, Talent, Hits, Clark Help Make Philly the Hottest,” Billboard, March 10, 1958, p. 4.

“Dick Clark – New Rage of the Teenagers,” New York Times, March 16, 1958, Section 2, p. 13.

“Tall, That’s All,” Time, Monday, April 14, 1958.

“TV Bandstand: Teenagers’ Favorite,” Look, vol. 22. May 13, 1958, pp. 69-72.

“Newest Music for a New Generation: Rock ‘n’ Roll Rolls On ‘n’ On,” Life, December 22, 1958, pp. 37-43.

“America’s Favorite Bandstander” (Dick Clark cover story), Look, November 24, 1959.

“Facing the Music,” Time, Monday, November 30,1959.

“Teen-Agers’ Dreamboat,” New York Times, March 5, 1960.

Arnold Shaw, The Rockin’ ’50s: The Decade That Transformed the Pop Music Scene, New York: Hawthorn Books, 1974.

Dick Clark and Richard Robinson, Rock, Roll & Remember, Thomas Y. Crowell, Publisher, 1976.

Robert Stephen Spitz, Rock, Roll & Remember, Book Review, New York Times, October 24, 1976.

Michael Shore with Dick Clark, The History of American Bandstand, New York: Ballantine Books, 1985.

“Clark Around the Clock,” Newsweek, August 18, 1986, pp. 26-27.

Summary of the National Register of Historic Places Nomination for American Bandstand building, WFIL and WHYY studios, 4548 Market St., Philadelphia., Pennsylvania, July 28, 1986.

“American Bandstand” and “Dick Clark,” The Museum of American Broadcast Communications.

Dick Clark,” The Radio Hall of Fame.

Ginia Bellafante, “Ultrasuede Is Funny – VH-1’s Reruns of American Bandstand Prove the Hootie Network Can Outwit MTV,” Time, Monday, April 22, 1996.

John A. Jackson, American Bandstand: Dick Clark and the Making of a Rock ‘n’ Roll Empire, New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Fred Goodman, “Roll Over, Beethoven: How Dick Clark Taught American Parents not to be Afraid of Rock-and-Roll and Made a Fortune in the Process,” Dick Clark and the Making of a Rock ‘n’ Roll Empire, Book Review, New York Times, October 26, 1997.

Richard Corliss, “Philly Fifties: Rock ‘n Radio,” Saturday, July 14, 2001.

Hank Bordowitz, Turning Points in Rock and Roll, Citadel Press, 2004.

Thomas Heath and Howard Schneider, “Snyder Adds A TV Icon To His Empire, “Washington Post, Wednesday, June 20, 2007, P. D-1.

Ken Emerson, “The Spin on ‘Bandstand” – Music, TV and Popular Culture Learned to Swing to the Beat of a Different Drummer: Big Bucks,” Los Angeles Times, August 5, 2007.

Becky Krystal, “Dick Clark, Host of ‘American Bandstand,’ Dies at 82,” Washington Post, April 18, 2012.

Matthew F. Delmont, The Nicest Kids in Town: American Bandstand, Rock ‘n’ Roll, and the Struggle for Civil Rights in 1950s Philadelphia, Berkeley: University of California Press, February 2012.

Matthew F. Delmont, “The America of ‘Bandstand’,” Washington Post, Sunday, April 22, 2012, p. B-2.

Democracy Now, “Despite Rep for Integration, TV’s Iconic ‘American Bandstand’ Kept Black Teens Off Its Stage,” YouTube.com, Mar 2, 2012.

Alex Alvarez, “DJ ‘Cousin Brucie’ Recalls Dick Clark’s Commitment To Racial Integration: ‘If We Don’t Go All Together, We Go Out’,” Mediaite.com, April 19th, 2012.

John Liberty, “Dick Clark Remembered: the Velvelettes Say Icon Defended Them in Segregated South, Share Memories of 1964 Tour,” Mlive.com, April 20, 2012.

A documentary film entitled The Wages of Spin, focuses on the history of American Bandstand, the 1950s payola scandal, and Dick Clark.  A preview clip from that documentary is available at YouTube and additional information is found at Character Driven Films.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Selling Janis Joplin”
1995

Cover photo of Janis Joplin on a 1972 album
Cover photo of Janis Joplin on a 1972 album
     In 1995, Mercedes-Benz, the German luxury car maker, used a song by ‘60s rocker and blues singer Janis Joplin in one of its TV ads.  The Joplin tune — which includes the famous refrain, “Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz” — was used by Mercedes to push a new line of sedans.  At first, the use of the song — which Joplin intended as a sarcastic piece on the pursuit of material happiness — seemed a risky if not an odd marketing strategy for the conservative German automaker.  Yet there was a method to Mercedes’ madness, and it involved the “maturing” Baby Boomer market.  First, consider Ms. Joplin and the times that helped produce the music.

     Janis Lyn Joplin was born in Port Arthur, Texas on January 19, 1943.  By most accounts, she loved her home and family, but Joplin was an unhappy soul in Port Arthur, especially as a high school teenager.  By then she had been singing folk music and blues locally.  She later made her way to California and into the 1960s’ music and Hippie scene in San Francisco. In 1966, she teamed up with a band named Big Brother & The Holding Company, and at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival she captured national attention with a stunning blues performance of “Ball and Chain.”  A first album by Joplin and her group, titled Big Brother & The Holding Company, was re-released following the Monterey Pop Festival.  The next album, Cheap Thrills, topped the charts in 1968. Joplin then moved on to a solo act, producing another album in 1969 with the Kozmic Blues Band which included one of her famous tunes, “Try (Just a Little Bit Harder)”.

Music Player
Janis Joplin – “Mercedes Benz”

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

 

     Joplin’s personal life, meanwhile, was  troubled, with drug addiction, alcoholism, and unhappy personal relationships.  Still, by 1970, her musical stars seemed to be aligning with a new group of musicians backing here — the Full Tilt Boogie Band.  She had also made a new attempt at beating her drug habit.  In 1970, Joplin and her group produced the album, Pearl, which included the songs “Mercedes Benz,” “Get It While You Can,” and “Me and Bobby McGee.”  But tragically, Joplin relapsed into drug use and died of an overdosed in October 1970.  Her newly-made album had yet to go to market.  But four months after her death, Pearl topped the album charts for nine weeks, and “Me and Bobby McGee” became a No.1 single in 1971 and one of her biggest hits.

Mercedes Benz

Joplin: “I’d like to do a song of great social
and political import. It goes like this:”

Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?
My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends.
Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends,
So Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz ? 
Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a color TV ?
Dialing For Dollars is trying to find me.
I wait for delivery each day until three,
So oh Lord, won’t you buy me a color TV ?
 
Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a night on the town ?
I’m counting on you, Lord, please don’t let me down.
Prove that you love me and buy the next round,
Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a night on the town ?
Everybody!
Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz ?
My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends,
Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends,
So oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz ?
(giggle) That’s it!

     The “Mercedes Benz” song in that album was something of a playful throw-away at the time.  It was written by Joplin with Kansas-born Beatnick poet Michael McClue and recorded in a style that was pure Joplinesque, complete with giggle at the end.   Joplin can be heard on the version above tallking in the studio, saying she could do the song in “one take,” which she did.  The point of her tune — befitting the 1960s’ values around her — was to mock the notion that happiness could be found through material things. Joplin recorded the song a capella, with lyrics that made her message pretty transparent, along with her sarcastic on-air introduction (see sidebar).

 

25 Years Later

     Nearly 25 years later, with Joplin safely in a better place, Mercedes-Benz struck a deal to use the song with Janis’ step-sister.  Mercedes then had a marketing problem.  It’s line of upscale vehicles were perceived as stuffy — cars that only rich “suits” would buy.  The average age of its buyers was getting older, a problem for the future.  And the competition was tougher too.  The Japanese, with their own new lines of luxury cars, were eating into Mercedes’ turf.  So Mercedes decided to work on its image, seeking to dispel the reputation that its cars were only for rich older guys.  The New York-based ad agency Lowe & Partners/SMS, known for work on brands such as Grey Poupon mustard, was brought in to help overhaul Mercedes’ sedate image.  “The median age of Mercedes buyers is 51,” said veteran adman Marvin Sloves, then chairman of Lowe & Partners/SMS, who explained that Mercedes needed to begin talking to a whole new generation. “I don’t know the generational names,” he said.  “Whatever every-one calls people 35 to 45 who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s is the generation we are targeting.”  That’s when they made the TV ad using the Joplin tune.

Janis Joplin on a 1976 Rolling Stone cover.
Janis Joplin on a 1976 Rolling Stone cover.

     The TV spot became known in the industry as the “Janis ad,” and was designed to soften Boomers’ perception of the Mercedes brand by making it seem less stuffy and more approachable.  Mercedes and their admen wanted to show that Mercedes cars could be accessible and fun for younger, successful professionals.

     “Mercedes is making a concerted effort to attract nontraditional buyers,” observed Ray Serafin, in February 1995 for Advertising Age.  “They’re looking to the future when they’re going to be bringing some different vehicles to the market.  They’ve got a sport utility vehicle, to be made in Alabama, coming out in a couple of years, and also a smaller urban type vehicle.  So they’re looking at freshening up their image.”  Mercedes was also trying to convince Boomers that despite its luxury image, its new line of C-Class and E-Class vehicles in the $32,000 to $40,000 range, were really good, economical buys.  So the Janis TV spot ran with those models.

     “The campaign revolves around establishing relevancy,” explained Donna Boland, director of public relations for Mercedes-Benz of North America.”The Janis ad fits within that nostalgia mode. It evokes the memories of the ’60s and brings back a good feeling…”  Time magazine ranked the Janis ad as the 8th best in 1995.  “Sure, sure, it prostitutes the spirit of the 1960s,” said Time in a year-end review of ads, “but the finest car ad of late achieves perfect-pitch simplicity.“The Janis ad fits within that nostalgia mode. It evokes the memories of the ’60s and brings back a good feeling . . .”
     - Donna Boland, Mercedes-Benz
  A new model E-class coasts toward us on the TV screen.  The only sound we hear is Joplin belting her classic Mercedes Benz.”

     “We’ve been asked why we didn’t use it before, because it seems so natural,” said Boland of the song.  “The reason is that the people who really appreciated that music are only now in the right income bracket for our product.”  Lee Garfinkel, Lowe & Partners/SMS chief creative officer, explained, “We couldn’t have used this song 25 years ago.  Our target audience knows that, and that’s one of the reasons it works so well in the strategy.”  A few years after the ad had run,  in 1998, Mercedes’ Michael Jackson, then about to become CEO, looked back on the Janis ad and the intent of the campaign in an interview with Brandweek:

. . .Certainly, ‘Janis’ spurred a great deal of conversation internally, as well as through the dealer organization and even customers.  But you have to go back to the original plan.  The purpose of the brand campaign was to, yes, launch the C-Class and a value story [ i.e., a good buy], but it was a first step in defining Mercedes-Benz in a new way.  And the single goal of ‘Janis’ was to communicate that something is changing at Mercedes.  Open your mind.  We didn’t say how we were changing, or what the meaning was.  It was simply a signal that change was taking place.  And it was absolutely the most effective TV commercial that we could have run at that time. It achieved the objective of [getting people thinking], “Hey, something changed at Mercedes while I wasn’t looking.” 

          But what about the fact that Joplin intended the song as a critique of the very thing the ad was now being used for?  “These lyrics are certainly among the best known in the rock world,” said Mercedes’ Donna Boland, acknowledging when the ad first came out that there were people upset with it.   “. . . There’s always going to be people who are going to dissect something like this . . . “[W]hat’s most annoying about the use of Joplin’s song is the fact that she is dead, and the integrity of her art is all that she has left. Joplin didn’t really want to help sell a damn Mercedes.”
            – Dean Bakopoulos, 1996
[B]ut I think most of our buyers will understand that we’re harkening back to the ’60s as a whole.” Janis’ fans, however, weren’t so understanding.

     While using the Janis ad may well have proved a clever re-casting of a calcifying corporate image — and Mercedes’ sales did increase in the first few years following the Janis ad –it also provoked outrage among music fans and others who felt it a transgression on the emotional connection to the music and the artist’s intent.  Among the critics was Dean Bakopoulos writing for the Michigan Daily after he saw the ad in 1996.  “What’s most annoying about the use of Joplin’s song,” wrote Bakopoulos, “is the fact that she is dead, and the integrity of her art is all that she has left.  Joplin didn’t really want to help sell a damn Mercedes.”  But the use of ad, he explained, underscored a bigger issue.  “There’s a business culture and an artist culture at work in America,” Bakopoulos wrote, “. . . and they don’t fit together.  When their paths cross it comes off as vulgar, disrespectful,” Bakopoulos also offered this:

…What the folks who designed the ad want you to believe is the antithesis to Joplin’s song.  They want you to believe that a Mercedes Benz is a reward for all your hard work.  But what they really mean is the following:  Mercedes Benz is a sign that says, “Look at you.  Look at me.  Look at my car.  Look at your car.  Look at my car, again.  Ha, ha, sucker!  That’s what you get for getting a stupid liberal arts degree.”  Mercedes Benz is a sign that you’ve kissed enough ass, lost enough friends and stabbed enough backs to make six figures a year. Well, congratulations….

Early 1970s’ single cover.
Early 1970s’ single cover.
     Another critic, Lael Ewy, writing in EastWesterly Review, offered the view that the Mercedes ad actually “makes fun of the song, saying, in essence, ‘Remember back when we were idealistic and thought materialism was bad?  How foolish we were!'”  Continues Ewy:  “In other words, this is advertising critiquing art, advertising embracing, and indeed celebrating, superficiality and dumbness.  It is, in other words, meant to make the viewer more comfortable in having sold out. . .  The ad says it’s o.k. to be a capitalist pig since the Mercedes Benz company gave you permission to do so.  It makes palatable a difficult problem in social ethics at the personal level.”

     Mercedes-Benz, meanwhile — at least in the afterglow of their corporate makeover using Janis Joplin and other strategies — did well in the sales department.  By late 1996, the launch of their new E-Class sedan targeting 40-plus Baby Boomers with Janis’s help seemed to be paying off.  In fact, during the first eight months of 1996, the entire Mercedes-Benz line — C-Class, E-Class, S-Class, SL-Class and 600 Series — saw a U.S. sales jump of 19.3% to 58,486 vehicles.  And the growth continued in following years, with the targeted baby boomers also helping to seed the launch of other new lines such as Mercedes-Benz’ new “cute ute,” as it was called, its M-Class SUV.  The Janis message, in fact, rubbed off on other car dealers.

 

Ruthless People rip

More Use of Janis

     In 1999, a print ad for one of Ford’s new Lincoln LS luxury sports sedans used a headline next to a photograph of one of the Lincolns that read:  “Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a . . . My, my, my, what have we here?”  The familiar verse from the Joplin song was seen as helpful attention getter.  Using the verse this way, explained Dave Allen, a senior VP at Young & Rubicam in Irvine, Calif., “allows us to competitively position the Lincoln LS in a smart, surprising way.”  Defending the song’s continuing ironic use to sell cars, Allen explained:

Mercedes logo
Mercedes logo
“‘The satire and the little bit of irony are part of a strategy to make ourselves more relevant to consumers today by ‘de-starching’ ourselves.”  Executives at Lowe, the ad agency that originally did the Janis ad, took Ford’s copy-cat behavior as a complement.  “Obviously, they’ve noticed something that was effective in the past and are attempting to recycle it,” said Gary Goldsmith, vice chairman and executive creative director at Lowe.  Mercedes, for its part, also returned to the Joplin song a decade after its first use.  In 2006-07, another version of the Mercedes-Benz TV ad, using the same Joplin tune, began appearing on the web.  In this version,  the viewer is positioned inside the car as a back-seat passenger looking out at the world through the front windshield.  As the car rides silently along through daytime and night-time scenes in rural and urban settings, Joplin is heard crooning her a capella tune with no other sound apparent.  As the music plays, the camera fixes on the scenes rolling by, centered over the hoodline and the familiar Mercedes-Benz logo hood-ornament, giving the feel of a gunsight viewfinder. 

 

Joplin’s Legacy    

     It is not known, of course, what Janis Joplin might have thought about all of this.  But in one sense, some of the airing of her name and her song in the “Mercedes” ads may have brought more people to her music and also to learn about her life.  And there is a fair amount of material in print and other media about her.  In 1973, she was the subject of a feature documentary film, Janis, and there have also been several TV documentaries made about her, including one in VH-1’s “Legends” series.

Greatest Hits album, 1996 version.
Greatest Hits album, 1996 version.
  The 1979 film, The Rose, starring Bette Midler, was allegedly based on Joplin’s life.  There is also Janis, With Janis Joplin, released by MCA Home Video in June 1987.  Other films on Joplin are also being planned. In the summer of 2001, the musical play Love, Janis won acclaim and played to packed houses Off Broadway in New York, but only for a brief run.

     Joplin’s music, meanwhile, has also had a steady following.  A number of her albums have gone gold, platinum, and triple-platinum.  Her Greatest Hits album, first released in 1973, and is still popular in the Billboard catalog.  The boxed set, Janis, was received with wide acclaim when it was released in 1993.  In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked Joplin at #46 on their 50 Greatest Artists of All Time.  In 2005 she was awarded posthumously a Lifetime Achievement Grammy.

     Also at this website is “Joplin’s Shooting Star, 1966-1970,” which covers more of her career with three song samples and a number of photos.  Other story choices can be found at the Annals of Music category page or the Home Page.  Thanks for visiting – and please consider supporting this website.  Thank you. - Jack Doyle

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Date Posted:  10 March 2008
Last Update:  20 April 2013
Comments to:   
jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “Selling Janis Joplin, 1995,”
PopHistoryDig.com, March 10,2008.

____________________________


  

Sources, Links & Additional Information

Richie Unterberger, “Janis Joplin,” All Music Guide.

Bill Sizemore, “Advertisers Put ‘ Big Chill’ on Boomers,” The Virginian-Pilot, Friday, February 24, 1995, p. D-

Associated Press, “Please, Don’t Tell Bobby McGee Advertising: a Janis Joplin Tune Is Reborn in a Mercedes Commercial,”San Jose Mercury News (CA), March 11, 1995, p. D-1.

Marli Murphy, “Is Janis Joplin Laughing From Her Grave or Rolling in It? Who knows? But It is Strange to Hear Her Shilling for Mercedes,” The Kansas City Star, May 29, 1995, p. D-2.

Stuart Elliott, “Middle Age Catches Up With the Me Generation; Getting the Message To Aging Consumers,” New York Times, January 2, 1996.

“Best of 1995,” Time, Monday, December 25, 1995.

David Kiley,  “Benz in the Road,” Brandweek, October 26, 1998.

“Mercedes Benz” (song), Wikipedia.org.

Dean Bakopoulos, The Michigan Daily, 1996.

Lael Ewy,  “Moulin Rouge, the Erasure of History, and the Disneyfication of the Avant Garde,” East Westerly Review, Issue 7,  PostModernVillage.com, Fall 2001.

Lowe & Partners/SMS, “Mercedes Facts”.

Patricia Winters Lauro, “Joplin’s Song In Use Again,” The Media Business: Advertising, New York Times, August 20, 1999.

Jim Burt, “On Chrysler’s Daimler Gambit: You Can’t Please Everyone with Every Ad – and You Shouldn’t Try,” TheCarConnection.com, July 29, 2002.

“Mercedes Benz” by Janis Joplin in video/commercial with a Mercedes driving through rural and urban parts of America, produced by the DNA Production Co., Director – Keir McFarlane, Adcode: benz.drive.68.

Robert Shelton, “Janis Joplin Is Climbing Fast In the Heady Rock Firmament; Singer Makes Her New York Debut With Big Brother & the Holding Company,” New York Times, Monday, February 19, 1968, p. 51.

Mike Jahn, “Janis Joplin Gives A Rousing Display Of Blues and Rock,” New York Times, Saturday, December 20, 1969, p. 36.

Reuters, “Janis Joplin Dies; Rock Star Was 27,” New York Times, Monday, October 5, 1970, p. 1.

Don Heckman, “Janis: She Was Reaching for Musical Maturity,” New York Times, Sunday, May 21, 1972, Arts & Liesure, p. D-30.

Janis, MCA Home Video, Directed and edited by Howard Alk and Seaton Findlay, 1987, 96 minutes.

Janet Maslin, “A Prim Little Girl,” (Review of film, Janis), New York Times, June 7, 1987.

____________________________________




“Elvis On The Road”
1955-56

Elvis Presley performing in 1956.
Elvis Presley performing in 1956.
      Elvis Presley in the mid-1950s, before he became a fully-known national rock ’n roll star, was constantly on the road. During 1955 and 1956, Elvis and his band performed widely, especially in the south, making numerous personal appearances, from high schools to county fairs. His 1955 itinerary, reprinted below, reveals an unyielding schedule of nearly daily performances.  Elvis and his band were a hard-working, ever-on-the-move group of performers. Still, at that time, Elvis Presley was essentially a regional phenome- non, known primarily in the south.  Elvis would not appear on national television until January 1956 — first on The Dorsey Brothers Stage Show, and later in September 1956, on the Ed Sullivan Show.  Although he would have great success with RCA Records in 1956, it was his August 1955 release of “I Forgot To Remember To Forget”  with Sun Studios of Memphis, Tennessee that first made Elvis a nationally-known country  music star.  That single, which also had “Mystery Train” on its B side, rose to No. 1 on the Country & Western charts in February 1956. 

A young Elvis Presley performing, early 1950s.
A young Elvis Presley performing, early 1950s.
     Elvis Presley’s first  No. 1 pop hit on the Billboard charts, “Heartbreak Hotel,” came on May 3rd, 1956.  A month earlier he had performed the song on The Milton Berle Show on national TV with an estimated 25 percent of the U.S. population watching.  By then he had moved to RCA Records.

     Yet in 1955, before the first crush of national fame, Elvis and his band were on the road constantly, also doing radio shows and some regional television, such as Louisiana Hayride. His 1955 schedule was truly grueling, and 1956 was similar, plus more recording sessions.  The torrid pace did take a toll.  On February 23rd, 1956, after a performance in Jacksonville, Florida, Presley collapsed from exhaustion and was rushed to a hospital.  He was 21 years old.

     What follows below is the 1955 day-by-day performance itinerary of Elvis Presley and his band as they traveled across the U.S.A., with location and venue listed in most cases.  The series of “record sleeves” shown in the right-hand column are all bootleg editions — i.e., composites made by fans in later years using the RCA and Sun logos with Elvis photos from the 1950s.  They are used here only as photographic illustrations to accompany the issue date of the 1955 Elvis songs indicated.

Elvis Presley-1955
Appearances & Performances
 

January-1955
Jan 1: Eagles Hall, Houston, TX
Jan 4: Odessa High School, Odessa, TX
Jan 5: City Auditorium, San Angelo, TX
Jan 6: Fair Park Coliseum, Lubbock, TX
Jan 7: Midland High School, Midland, TX
Jan 8: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
Jan 11: High School, New Boston, TX
Jan 12: Civic Auditorium, Clarksdale, MS
Jan 13: Catholic Club, Helena, AR
Jan 14: Futrell High School, Marianna, AR
Jan 17: N.E. Miss Com. Colg., Booneville, MS
Jan 18: Alcorn Co. Courthse Hall, Corinth, MS
Jan 19: Sheffield Com. Center, Sheffield, AL
Jan 20: Leachville High School, Leachville, AL
Jan 21: National Guard Armory, Sikeston, MO
Jan 22: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
Jan 24: Humble Oil Rec. Hall, Hawkins, TX
Jan 25: Mayfair Bldg. Fairgrounds, Tyler, TX
Jan 26: Rural Electric Admin. Bldg, Gilmer, TX
Jan 27: Reo Palm Isle Club, Longview, TX
Jan 28: Gaston High School, Joinerville, TX
February-1955
Feb 4: Golden Cadillac Club, New Orleans, LA
Feb 5: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
Feb 6: Ellis Auditorium, Memphis, TN
Feb 7: Ripley High School, Ripley, MS
Feb 10: Alpine High School, Alpine, TX
Feb 11: Carlsbad Sports Arena, Carlsbad, NM
Feb 12: American Legion Hall, Carlsbad, NM
Feb 13: Fair Park Coliseum, Lubbock, TX
Feb 13: Cotton Club, Lubbock, TX
Feb 14: No. Junior H. S., Roswell, NM
Feb 15: Fair Park Auditorium, Abilene, TX
Feb 16: Odessa Senior H.S., Odessa, TX
Feb 17: City Auditorium, San Angelo, TX
Feb 18: W. Monroe H.S., West Monroe, LA
Feb 19: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
Feb 20: Robinson Aud., Little Rock, AR
Feb 21: City Hall, Camden, AR
Feb 22: City Hall, Hope, AR
Feb 23: Pine Bluff H.S., Pine Bluff, AR
Feb 24: So. Side Elem. School, Bastrop, LA
Feb 25: Municipal Aud., Texarkana, AR
Feb 26: Circle Theatre, Cleveland, OH
March-1955
March 2: Newport Armory, Newport, AR
March 2: Porky’s Rooftop Club, Newport, AR
March 4: DeKalb High School, DeKalb, TX
March 5: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
March 7: City Auditorium, Paris, TN
March 8: Catholic Club, Helena, AR
March 9: Poplar Bluff Armory, Poplar Bluff, MO
March 10: Civic Auditorium, Clarksdale, MS
March 11: J. Thompson Arena, Alexandria, LA
March 12: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
Mar 19: G. Rolle White Colsm., College Sta., TX
March 19: Eagles Hall, Houston, TX
March 20: Magnolia Gardens, Houston, TX
March 20: Cook’s Hoedown Club, Houston, TX
March 21: Parkin High School, Parkin, AR
March 25: Dermott High School, Dermott, AR
March 26: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
March 28: Big Creek H.S., Big Creek, MS
March 29: Tocopola H.S., Tocopola, MS
March 30: High School, El Dorado, AR
March 31: Reo Palm Isle Club, Longview, TX
April-1955
April 1: Ector County Aud., Odessa, TX
April 2: Municipal Auditorium, Houston, TX
April 7: Corinth Co. Courthouse, Corinth, MS
April 8: B&B Club, Glober, MO
April 9: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
April 10: Magnolia Gardens, Houston, TX
April 10: Cook’s Hoedown Club, Houston, TX
April 13: Breckenridge H.S., Breckenridge, TX
April 14: Owl Park, Gainesville, TX
April 15: Stamford High School, Stamford, TX
April 15: Roundup Hall, Stamford, TX
April 16: Sportatorium, Dallas, TX
April 16: Roundup Club, Dallas, TX
April 19: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
April 20: American Legion Hut, Grenada, MS
April 22: Arkansas Mun. Stadium, Texarkana, AR
April 23: Heart O’ Texas Coliseum, Waco, TX
April 24: Magnolia Gardens, Houston, TX
April 24: Cook’s Hoedown Club, Houston, TX
April 25: M-B Corral Club, Wichita Falls, TX
April 25: Texas High School, Seymour, TX
April 26: City Auditorium, Big Spring, TX
April 27: American Legion Hall, Hobbs, NM
April 29: Cotton Club, Lubbock, TX
April 30: High School, Gladewater, TX
May-1955
May 1: Municipal Aud., New Orleans, LA
May 2: Baton Rouge H.S., Baton Rouge, LA
May 4: Ladd Stadium, Mobile, AL
May 5: Ladd Stadium, Mobile, AL
May 7: Peabody Aud., Daytona Beach, FL
May 8: Ft. Homer Hesterly Armory, Tampa, FL
May 9: City Auditorium, Fort Myers, FL
May 10: Southeastern Pavilion, Ocala, FL
May 11: Municipal Auditorium, Orlando, FL
May 12: GatorBowl Bseball Pk., Jacksonville, FL
May 13: GatorBowl Bseball Pk., Jacksonville, FL
May 14: Shrine Auditorium, New Bern, NC
May 15: Norfolk City Auditorium, Norfolk, VA
May 16: Mosque Theater, Richmond, VA
May 17: City Auditorium, Asheville, NC
May 18: American Legion Aud., Roanoke, VA
May 19: Memorial Auditorium, Raleigh, NC
May 20: KOCA Radio, Kilgore, TX
May 21: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
May 22: Magnolia Gardens, Houston, TX
May 22: Cook’s Hoedown Club, Houston, TX
May 25: American Legion Hall, Meridian, MS
May 26: Meridian Jun. College, Meridian, MS
May 28: Sportatorium, Dallas, TX
May 29: North Side Colsm., Fort Worth, TX
May 29: Sportatorium, Dallas, TX
May 31: High School, Midland, TX
June-1955
June 1: Guymon High School, Guymon, OK
June 3: J. Connelley Pontiac, Lubbock, TX
June 3: Fair Park Coliseum, Lubbock, TX
June 4: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
June 5: Hope Fair Park, Hope, AR
June 8: Municipal Auditorium, Sweetwater, TX
June 10: Am. Legion Hall, Breckenridge, TX
June 11: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
June 14: Bruce High School, Bruce, MS
June 15: Belden High School, Belden, MS
June 17: Roundup Hall, Stamford, TX
June 18: Sportatorium, Dallas, TX
June 19: Magnolia Gardens, Houston, TX
June 19: Cook’s Hoedown Club, Houston, TX
June 20: City Auditorium, Beaumont, TX
June 21: City Auditorium, Beaumont, TX
June 23: McMahon Mem. Aud., Lawton, OK
June 23: Southern Club, Lawton, OK
June 24: Altus, OK
June 25: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
June 26: Slavonian Lodge Aud., Biloxi, MS
June 27: Keesler AFB, Biloxi, MS
June 28: Keesler AFB, Biloxi, MS
June 29: C. Gordon’s Radio Ranch, Mobile, AL
June 30: C. Gordon’s Radio Ranch, Mobile, AL
July-1955
July 1: Casino Club, Plaquemines, LA
July 2: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
July 3: Hoedown Club, Corpus Christi, TX
July 4: City Recreation Hall, Stephenville, TX
July 4: Hodges Park, DeLeon, TX
July 4: Soldiers & Sailors Hall, Brownwood, TX
July 20: Cape Arena, Cape Girardeau, MO
July 21: Silver Moon Club, Newport, AR
July 25: City Auditorium, Fort Myers, FL
July 26: Municipal Auditorium, Orlando, FL
July 27: Municipal Auditorium, Orlando, FL
July 28: Gator Stadium Park, Jacksonville, FL
July 29: Gator Stadium Park, Jacksonville, FL
July 30: Peabody Aud., Daytona Beach, FL
July 31: Ft. Homer Hesterly Armory, Tampa, FL
August-1955
August 1: Tupelo Fairgrounds, Tupelo, MS
August 2: Sheffield Center, Muscle Shoals, AL
August 3: Robinson Auditorium, Little Rock, AR
August 4: Municipal Auditorium, Camden, AR
August 5: Overton Park Shell, Memphis, TN
August 6: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
August 7: Magnolia Gardens, Houston, TX
August 7: Cook’s Hoedown Club, Houston, TX
August 8: Mayfair Building, Tyler, TX
August 9: Rodeo Arena, Henderson, TX
August 10: Bear Stadium, Gladewater, TX
August 11: Reo Palm Isle Club, Longview, TX
August 12: Driller Park, Kilgore, TX
August 13: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
August 20: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
August 22: Spudder Park, Wichita Falls, TX
August 23: Saddle Club, Bryan, TX
August 24: Davy Crockett H.S., Conroe, TX
August 25: Sportcenter, Austin, TX
August 26: Gonzales Baseball Pk., Gonzales, TX
August 27: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
September-1955
Sept 1: Pontchartrain Bch, New Orleans, LA
Sept 2: Arkansas Mun. Stad., Texarkana, AR
Sept 3: Sportatorium, Dallas, TX
Sept 3: Roundup Club, Dallas, TX
Sept 5: St. Francis Co. Fair, Forrest City, AR
Sept 6: Bono High School, Bono, AR
Sept 7: Nat’l Guard Armory, Sikeston, AR
Sept 8: Municipal Aud., Clarksdale, MS
Sept 9: McComb H.S., McComb, MS
Sept 10: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
Sept 11: Municipal Aud., Norfolk, VA
Sept 12: Municipal Aud., Norfolk, VA
Sept 13: Shrine Auditorium, New Bern, NC
Sept 14: Fleming Stadium, Wilson, NC
Sept 15: Am. Legion Aud., Roanoke, VA
Sept 16: City Auditorium, Asheville, NC
Sept 17: Thomasville H.S., Thomasville, NC
Sept 18: WRVA Theater, Richmond, VA
Sept 19: WRVA Theater, Richmond, VA
Sept 20: Danville Fairgrounds, Danville, VA
Sept 21: Memorial Auditorium, Raleigh, NC
Sept 22: Civic Auditorium, Kingsport, TN
Sept 24: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
Sept 26: Gilmer Junior H.S., Gilmer, TX
Sept 28: B&B Club, Gobler, MO
October-1955
Oct 1: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
Oct 3: G. Rolle White Colsm., College Sta., TX
Oct 4: Boys Club, Paris, TX
Oct 5: City Auditorium, Greenville, TX
Oct 6: S.W. Texas St Univ., San Marcos, TX
Oct 6: Skyline Club, Austin, TX
Oct 8: City Auditorium, Houston, TX
Oct 10: Soldiers-Sailors Hall, Brownwood, TX
Oct 11: Fair Park Auditorium, Abilene, TX
Oct 12: Midland High School, Midland, TX
Oct 13: Municipal Auditorium, Amarillo, TX
Oct 14: Odessa High School, Odessa, TX
Oct 11: Fair Park Auditorium, Lubbock, TX
Oct 15: Cotton Club, Lubbock, TX
Oct 16: Mun. Aud., Oklahoma City, OK
Oct 17: Memorial Aud., El Dorado, AR
Oct 19: Circle Theatre, Cleveland, OH
Oct 20: Brooklyn H.S., Cleveland, OH
Oct 20: St. Michaels’ Hall, Cleveland, OH
Oct 21: Missouri Theatre, St. Louis, MO
Oct 22: Missouri Theatre, St. Louis, MO
Oct 23: Missouri Theatre, St. Louis, MO
Oct 24: Silver Moon Club, Newport, AR
Oct 25: Houston Armory, Houston, MS
Oct 26: Greater Gulf States Fair, Prichard, AL
Oct 28: C.Gordon’s Radio Ranch, Mobile, AL
Oct 29: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
November-1955
November 5: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
November 6: Community House, Biloxi, MS
November 7: Keesler AFB, Biloxi, MS
November 8: Keesler AFB, Biloxi, MS
November 12: Carthage Milling Co., Carthage, TX
November 12: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
November 13: Ellis Auditorium, Memphis, TN
November 14: Forrest City H. S., Forrest City, AR
November 15: Community Center, Sheffield, AL
November 16: City Auditorium, Camden, AR
November 17: Municipal Aud., Texarkana, AR
November 18: Reo Palm Isle Club, Longview, TX
November 19: Gladewater H.S., Gladewater, TX
November 25: W. Wilson Jun.H.S., P. Arthur, TX
November 26: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
November 29: Mosque Theater, Richmond, VA
December-1955
December 2: Atlanta Sports Arena, Atlanta, GA
December 3: State Coliseum, Montgomery, AL
December 4: Lyric Theater, Indianapolis, IN
December 5: Lyric Theater, Indianapolis, IN
December 6: Lyric Theater, Indianapolis, IN
December 7: Lyric Theater, Indianapolis, IN
December 8: Rialto Theater, Louisville, KY
December 9: Swifton High School, Swifton, AR
December 9: B&I Club, Swifton, AR
December 10: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
December 12: Nat’l Guard Armory, Amory, MS
December 17: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
December 19: Ellis Auditorium, Memphis, TN
December 31: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA

Elvis songs released by Sun Records, January 1955, in 78 and 45 rpm versions. Record sleeve is a bootleg edition.
Elvis songs released by Sun Records, January 1955, in 78 and 45 rpm versions. Record sleeve is a bootleg edition.

Promoter “Colonel” Tom Parker first takes notice of Presley’s name after Texarkana DJ “Uncle Dudley” reports on the crowd frenzy at Elvis’ January 11, 1955 show.

 

Elvis songs released by Sun Records, April 1955, in 78 and 45 rpm versions. Record sleeve is a bootleg edition.
Elvis songs released by Sun Records, April 1955, in 78 and 45 rpm versions. Record sleeve is a bootleg edition.

On March 23rd, 1955, Elvis and his band auditioned for Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts show in New York but were rejected.

 

Elvis songs released by Sun Records, August 1955, in 78 and 45 rpm versions. Record sleeve is a bootleg edition.
Elvis songs released by Sun Records, August 1955, in 78 and 45 rpm versions. Record sleeve is a bootleg edition.

At the Jacksonville, Florida show on May 13, 1955, Elvis tells the girls in the 14,000-plus crowd that he’ll “see [them] backstage,” causing a riot. The incident convinces Colonel Parker about Elvis’ popularity.

Elvis during concert at Tampa, FL's Ft. Homer Hesterly Armory on July 31, 1955  (photo believed to be that of W. Red Robertson).
Elvis during concert at Tampa, FL's Ft. Homer Hesterly Armory on July 31, 1955 (photo believed to be that of W. Red Robertson).

Elvis songs released by RCA Records, Dec 1955, in 78 and 45 rpm versions. Record sleeve is a bootleg edition.
Elvis songs released by RCA Records, Dec 1955, in 78 and 45 rpm versions. Record sleeve is a bootleg edition.

By late summer 1955, Colonel Parker had taken control of Presley’s career. On Nov. 21st he negotiated a deal with RCA to acquire Elvis’ Sun Studios contract for $35,000 (roughly $275,000 in 2007).

Elvis songs released by RCA Records, Dec 1955, in 78 and 45 rpm versions. Record sleeve is a bootleg edition.
Elvis songs released by RCA Records, Dec 1955, in 78 and 45 rpm versions. Record sleeve is a bootleg edition.

On November 10th, 1955, in his Nashville hotel room, songwriter Mae Axton plays Elvis a demo of a song she’d co-written called “Heartbreak Hotel.”
 

Elvis songs released by RCA Records, Dec 1955, in 78 and 45 rpm versions. Record sleeve is a bootleg edition.
Elvis songs released by RCA Records, Dec 1955, in 78 and 45 rpm versions. Record sleeve is a bootleg edition.

Elvis songs released by RCA Records, Dec 1955, in 78 and 45 rpm versions. Record sleeve is a bootleg edition.
Elvis songs released by RCA Records, Dec 1955, in 78 and 45 rpm versions. Record sleeve is a bootleg edition.

Elvis songs released by RCA Records, Dec 1955, in 78 and 45 rpm versions. Record sleeve is a bootleg edition.
Elvis songs released by RCA Records, Dec 1955, in 78 and 45 rpm versions. Record sleeve is a bootleg edition.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Elvis performing before capacity crowd at the Mississippi-Alabama Fairgrounds, Tupelo, MS, September 26, 1956.
Elvis performing before capacity crowd at the Mississippi-Alabama Fairgrounds, Tupelo, MS, September 26, 1956.

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Date Posted:  31 March 2008
Last Update:   1 September 2010
Comments to: jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “Elvis on the Road, 1955-1956,”
PopHistoryDig.com, March 31, 2008.

_____________________________




 

Sources, Links & Additional Information


A 45 rpm single of Elvis Presley’s August 1955 Sun Studios recording of 'I Forgot To Remember To Forget,' the song that first made Elvis a nationally-known country music star, prior to his popular rock ’n roll fame.
A 45 rpm single of Elvis Presley’s August 1955 Sun Studios recording of 'I Forgot To Remember To Forget,' the song that first made Elvis a nationally-known country music star, prior to his popular rock ’n roll fame.
Sun Records' 1955 45rpm recording of Elvis Presley's "Mystery Train."
Sun Records' 1955 45rpm recording of Elvis Presley's "Mystery Train."

Hank Bordowitz, Turning Points in Rock and Roll, Citadel Press,2004.

Peter Guralnick, “Elvis Presley,” in Anthony De Curtis and James Henke (eds), The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll, Random House, New York, 1992, pp. 21-36.

Robert Fontenot, “Your Guide to Oldies Music–The History of Elvis: 1955,” About. com.

Elvis discography and record sleevesSergent. com.au.

“Teeners’ Hero,”Time, May 14, 1956.

“Sweet Music,” Time, October 8, 1956.

Louis M. Kohlmeier, Wall Street Journal, (front-page story on Elvis), December 31, 1956.

Stephen Holden, “Pop View; a Hillbilly Who Wove a Rock-and-Roll Spell,” The New York Times, July 19, 1987.

“Elvis Presley,” in Holly George-Warren and Patricia Romanowski (eds), The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, Rolling Stone Press, New York, 3rd Edition, 2001, pp. 774-778.

“Elvis Presley,” Wikipedia.org.


For a more detailed look at Elvis Presley performances and other activities in the 1953-55 period see, for example, Elvis PresleyMusic.com.

Greg Williams, “Forever Elvis,”Tampa Tribune, originally published, August 16, 2002.

Ace Collins, Untold Gold: The Stories Behind Elvis’s #1 Hits, Chicago Review Press, 2005.












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