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American bandstand: Dick Clark and the making of a rock 'n' roll empire by John A. Jackson. Oxford UP, 1998.

ISBN 0 19 5093232

American Bandstand

 

To most British popular music fans, with the exception of a few rock and roll aficianados, the name of Dick Clark means nothing. Yet, for the best part of four decades, from the mid-50s, he was one of the most powerful arbiters of teenage pop music tastes in the USA; his network TV show was watched by millions of youngsters. He could make (and perhaps just as importantly break) stars. "Bandstand", as it was originally called, began as a local television show in 1952 in Philadelphia, an important town whose musical tastes were often mirrored by the nation. It had an eclectic mix of musical performers from Mario Lanza and the Four Aces to the under-rated rock and roller, Charlie Gracie. And the TV show quickly took off. It helped that there was a large high school next door to the studio whose students were only too ready to be part of the live audience. In 1957 Dick Clark became the host, the show was renamed "American Bandstand" and networked across the USA…and Clark never looked back. Almost all of America’s new teen performers (and a few older ones) clamoured to lip-synch their would-be hits on the show, and Clark could create new dance fads overnight. He himself survived the payola scandals of the 50s and 60s to become one of the USA’s most powerful businessmen. Jackson has researched his material well, and writes vividly. Certainly students of the US media will find this a valuable book though popular music fans will find it interesting but less useful. They should turn to Jackson’s 1991 volume on Clark’s fellow DJ, Alan Freed: Big Beat Heat - Alan Freed and the early years of rock and roil (Schirmer Books, New York). Freed was a gutsier DJ who actually liked rock and roll and did a lot for the Black performers who gave much to the genre. Freed, however, did get caught up in scandals and his career came to an ignominious end - a very different story to Clark’s, but ultimately more exciting. Graham A. Smith Order this book Today!

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