Sunday, August 10, 2014

All Shook Up: How Rock 'N' Roll Changed America by Glenn C. Altschuler

This volume chronicles the rise of the musical phenomenon, Rock and Roll of the 1950's and how it meshed with concurrent social trends of civil unrest, disobedience and the 'generation gap' of the coming turbulent times of the 1960's.  Prof. Altschuler explains that the genre of Rock and Roll reflects the emerging unrest of post WWII youth, a more affluent youth completely distinct from its veteran, depression era experienced parents.

Sex, race relations, and rebellion comprised the elements of Rock and Roll according to the author.  Mr. Altschuler explained a social evolution unfolds with Rock and Roll.  Rock and Rock originated in the Black community, known as Rhythm and Blues and implied explicit sexual expression in the music. It attracted young white males and Sam Phillips of Sun Records commented "if I had a white boy to sing these songs, I'd make a billion.."  Elvis Presley presented himself and became the transition bringing Black music to a craving white crowd.  Elvis' blatant sexual gyrations during his performances struck a chord with audiences: girls screamed desire for him, boys craved to be like him and parents were reviled, feared and were shaken by him.

Little Richard and Chuck Berry, black artists enthused audiences with their clearly sensual movements, yet threatened the status quo of segregation by appealing to mixed crowds.  Buddy Holly played at the famed Apollo theater in the Black section of New York's Harlem with many in the audience expecting to see a black artist yet were shocked at seeing a white one!  Jerry Lee Lewis pounded on the piano even with his feet evoking almost violent orgiastic experiences.  Rock and Roll manifested a breakout of the social and sexual repression of the 1940's and early 1950's.

By end of the '50s music producers cropped, edited and sanitized Rock and Roll so that mainstream vehicles and venues like American Bandstand with Dick Clark, The Steve Allen Show and the perennial powerhouse, The Ed Sullivan Show could exhibit Rock and Roll headliners without fear of negative repercussions.  Even Elvis Presley's agent Tom Parker understood the need for sanitizing Rock and Roll.  He forced Elvis to take a hiatus from singing and made movies that sanitized his image. Into the early '60s, Rock and Roll became dominated by innocuous love and romance songs by the smash English group the Beatles.  The only American groups to come close were Dianna Ross and the Supremes also singing about love and the adolescent group, the Beach Boys singing about surfing.

The book also discusses the corruption in the music industry.  It highlights the rise of and fall of pioneering DJ from Cleveland, Alan Freed taking money to spin records.  It shows the shrewd business sense of Dick Clark staying clear of getting caught, although it seems clear from the evidence that Clark benefited from music producers in the form of at least gifts and travels.

Rock and Roll seems to have met the test of time.  Well into the 1980's, Bruce Springsteen fooled the political spectrum with his "Born in the USA" by waving an American flag.  Conservative and liberal pundits alike identified with the song to represent an authentic truly American composition.  As a result, one may come to believe that Rock and Roll is here to stay!

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