Thursday, April 29, 2010

Forgotten Music, AMERICAN BANDSTAND



I am going to suggest here that the first reality show premiered back in the late fifties and was called American Bandstand. I came to the show a few years later. Probably around 1960-61. At that time, American Bandstand was on the air for ninety minutes a day and a national show. What made it special for me was that it took place in Philadelphia (my hometown) and the possibility of being on the show was never far from my mind.

Bandstand began as a local program in Philadelphia on October 7, 1952. Back then it was hosted by Bob Horn and was called Bob Horn's Bandstand. In July of 1956, the show got a new host 26 year old, Dick Clark. ABC picked the show up, and it was renamed American Bandstand.

Dick Clark, 26 years old at the time, was conservative in dress and manner (as were the students who appeared on the show every day; nice dresses required for the girls; suits and ties for the boys). 'American Bandstand' soon became a major stop for such acts as Jerry Lee, and became a showcase for new talent, including Frankie Avalon, Bobby Darin, Connie Francis, Fabian and others. (Two of the biggest hitmakers during the late 50’s never appeared on "Bandstand"--Elvis Presley didn’t need the show; Rick Nelson was already a TV presence on his family’s sitcom 'The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet'.) Another popular feature was Rate A Record, with teens giving the latest 45 RPM song a score ranging from 35 to 98. (Not that the teens were always perceptive. In 1963, Clark played a song that was a hit in Europe but was going nowhere in the US at the time. Without exception, the 'Rate A Record' panel gave mediocre scores to She Loves You by The Beatles.) (From an online source)

Today, it may seem like the reason kids watched the show was to be introduced to new songs and to see/hear favorite singers/groups. But the primary reason, my friends and I watched the show was to follow the romances of the couples who were regularly on the show. To see who Carmen was dancing with. To see what kind of dance someone had just invented and to learn it. To see if Dick Clark let his disdain for most of the kids show. To see if someone was dancing closer than the producers allowed. It was all about the people, the personalities.

Not that we didn’t enjoy Frankie Avalon or Fabian or Connie Francis. But their performances were fairly static compare to what came later on MTV, plus they generally lip-synched their songs. It is said that B.B. King was the only performer not to mime his song.

Musicians to make their TV debut on American Bandstand include Linda Ronstadt, Madonna, Janet Jackson, Cyndi Lauper. You can see a lot of stuff about American Bandstand online. As you might expect. Just don't tell me that Arlene and Kenny are not still an item.

Check out the other memories of forgotten music at Scott D. Parker's blog.

25 comments:

the walking man said...

I think the first "reality" show I ever saw was when Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald.

pattinase (abbott) said...

But didn't it look faked, Mark. It seemed like those cops set him out there for Ruby's gun.

Anonymous said...

Patti - Oh, I remember watching American Bandstand! It's interesting that you mention it as the first "reality" show, and I can see your point. I think one of the things that's interesting now is to look back and see, through those old episodes, how culture, fashion, etc., changed over the years...

Bill Crider said...

I was watching the first afternoon it hit national TV, and I was there many afternoons later on. Great stuff.

Deb said...

In the early-to-mid 1970s, I'd watch "American Bandstand" and "Soul Train" back-to-back on Saturday afternoons.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Soul Train had better dancers and probably better music.

George said...

I used to rush home from school to watch AMERICAN BANDSTAND. I loved the "Rate the Song" feature: "I'll give it an 8 because I like the beat."

Ed Gorman said...

Great post, Patti. I really liked your line about Dick Clark's contempt for teenagers. He was always too unctuous for my taste. A little unctuous you can live with but on the unc scale he was way over the top.

Perplexio said...

Didn't Ritchie Valens also appear on American Bandstand not long before his ill-fated flight with Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper?

Richard R. said...

I watched it, and pretty much from the beginning. Here in SoCal, it didn't take long for other shows to compete: Hullabaloo, Shivaree, Dance Party. At least one of those - I can't remember which - was produced locally so, like you Patti, we thought about maybe going on the show. Never tried, though, because we didn't think we were good enough dancers.

Being a guy, I watched mostly for two things: see the people who sang the music, and see new dance steps and try to learn them. These shows were where I (tried) to learn the Mashed Potato, The Fly, The Fish, and of course The Twist, which was the easiest of all.

I didn't care much about the dancers, they mostly looked pretty dorky since they had so many rules about how they danced, what they wore, what they said, etc.

Charles Gramlich said...

You know, I think you're right about it being the first reality show. Never really thought of it that way.

pattinase (abbott) said...

It was very well-known throughout Philly that once the camera was off, Clark never spoke to the kids. Just had his makeup touched up and such.
My friend Karen and I practiced those dance steps everyday in a space the size of a shower floor. There are a lot of sites that list all the people who appeared on AB. Practically everyone except Elvis and Ricky. Even celebrities who were not really singers.
Did they ever not mention the "beat" George. Not the most discriminating listeners. Not all music needed to be danced to.

Todd Mason said...

Amd a band from my Honolulu high school get their only national exposure on AB in '80 or '81...I remember the juror kids gave it a 50 and an 85, and that the (rather inane) song was called "Things to Do," but damned if I can remember the name of the band. Middle-aged moements.

I'd suggest that QUEEN FOR A DAY and such might've been ahead of AB in the unreality sweeps, but you make a good case.

Todd Mason said...

And what space were you and your friend using that was so tight, Patti? Self-restricted, or was the tv in an odd place?

pattinase (abbott) said...

We lived in a row house in Philly. In Karen's basement was a ping pong table and her stepfather's Jack Lelanne (sp?) exercise equipment, which left a space of about 4 x 6 for dancing. Even today I can dance up a storm without moving an inch.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Oh, god. Queen for a Day, was there ever a more depressing show.

Fred Blosser said...

Our local TV station in Charleston, WV, had a home-grown version of "Bandstand" called "Record Hop," hosted by Dick Reid. Mostly kids dancing to records, but occasionally there would be a local act like Eddie Seacrist and His Rollin' Rockets.

Todd Mason said...

Rick--THE LLOYD THAXTON SHOW was definitely LA-based. Was SHIVAREE?

Todd Mason said...

At least one version of SHIVAREE was based in, of all places, Maine.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Local tv must have been a lot more common. I thought cable might go that route, but it didn't.
What is the origin of Shivaree-it sounds like something from summer camp.

Deb said...

I always thought a shivaree was the custom of a large group of family and friends standing outside the home of a newlywed couple (usually on their wedding night) making a lot of noise.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I think I remember that from the Waltons.

Todd Mason said...

Merriam-Webster Online agrees:

Etymology: modification of French charivari — more at charivari
Date: 1843
: a noisy mock serenade to a newly married couple

— shivaree transitive verb

The Maine-based series was devoted to country, folk and similar music...more an imitation of HOOTENANNY, I suspect...

Anonymous said...

I'd forgotten about the Lloyd Thaxton Show. I thought maybe it was Hullabaloo that was L.A based, but then I recall Wink Martindale was the host, and I think he was national...

Paul D. Brazill said...

It's something I only know from American films. I think that maybe Ready, Steady, Go was the English version?