Ch. 8: The Plan to Mainstream Rock ‘n’ Roll


The battle plan chosen by the entertainment conglomerate had four parts.

First, redefine the sound while maintaining the terminology. In response to the growing interest in rhythm and blues or “rock ‘n’ roll” as it was being billed by Alan Freed and other independent deejays, the major corporations attempted to re-craft the gritty sounds of rock ‘n’ roll into attempts at sanitized mainstream respectability. Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti” and Fats Domino’s “Ain’t That a Shame” were both covered by clean-cut pop singer Pat Boone; The Chord’s “Sh-Boom” was covered by an all-white group called The Crewcuts; and the music industry attempted to flood the radio, television and record stores with white, disinfected teen pop-idols to replace the wild and sexual white and black renegades who were polluting the minds of the nation’s teens.

Pat Boone covers “Tutti Fruitti” on Canadian television, 1957

Second, substitute new rock ‘n’ roll icons for the independent mavericks. Teen idols like Paul Anka, Frankie Avalon, Fabian and Ricky Nelson were recorded and promoted as a cleaner version of the original rock singers. While they certainly did experience success in the late ‘50s and very early ‘60s, these teen idols were pleasant but plastic imitations of the genuine articles. Although the lyrics gave lip service homage to rock ‘n’ roll, their presentation and musical package were as far from the originals as plastic fruit is from a Golden Delicious apple. In a schmoozing voice with disinfected instrumental behind him, Fabian sang:

“Turn me loose, Turn me loose, I say.
Gonna rock and roll as long as the band’s gonna play.”

Fabian, “Turn Me Loose” on American Bandstand, 1958

The sounds of the teen idols were augmented by their appearance in movies, such as Frankie Avalon’s numerous Beach Blanket movies. Further exposure came for the teen idols by way of national television programs like “American Bandstand” which was hosted by Philadelphia deejay Dick Clark.

The third part of the plan was to sign away the best new singers and groups from the independent labels. Elvis left Sun Records for RCA. Bill Haley and the Everly Brothers signed with Warner Brothers Records. Carl Perkins left Sun for Columbia Records. Few of the small labels, Chess and Atlantic being two of the exceptions, survived.

While creating sanitized “cover” records, developing teen idols and signing away the better rock ‘n ‘ roll artists were all part of a corporate business plan, the fourth action, while legal, was definitely underhanded.

The major record companies, radio and television stations were all members of a music industry organization known as ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers). Formed in 1914, its primary purpose was to ensure the payment of royalties from the music industry to the composers, performers and creators of books and music. In the 1950s that payment was most likely in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

While the major companies dealt with ASCAP, the smaller record labels and independent radio stations subscribed to BMI (Broadcast Music International), a less expensive non-profit organization. This jealousy between the two organizations, ASCAP and BMI, led to a retaliation by ASCAP against the smaller labels and radio stations in the court system. The money being generated by the music being created by the rock ‘n’ roll industry was not being funneled into ASCAP, rather, the smaller, younger and less constricting BMI.

At first, it was a $150 million antitrust suit against BMI in 1953; then a 1956 investigation on the relationship between BMI and radio stations by a U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Anti-trust. This was followed in 1958 by an attempt to pass a law in Congress preventing radio station owners from holding stock in the BMI corporation.

While all these attempts failed, the final thrust, legal prosecution, was somewhat more successful.

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Study Units

An Overview

Ch. 1: Understanding Pitch

Ch. 2: Understanding Musical Pulse

Ch. 3: Understanding Volume

Ch. 4: Understanding Tone

Ch. 5: Understanding Melody

Ch. 6: Understanding Harmony

Ch. 7: Understanding Rhythm

Ch. 8: Understanding Bass

Ch. 9: Understanding Countermelody

Ch. 10: Understanding Structure

Ch. 11: Understanding Instrumentation

Ch. 12: Understanding Tempo

An Overview

Ch. 1: 19th Century: Pre-Foster

Ch. 2: Folk Music by the People

Ch. 3: Popular Music in its Infancy

Ch. 4: Stephen Foster – “Father of American Popular Music”

Ch. 5: The Importance of Stephen Foster

Ch. 6: Scott Joplin – “King of Ragtime”

Ch. 7: The Player Piano – Automated Music

Ch. 8: John Philip Sousa – “The March King”

Ch. 9: John Philip Sousa – Recording Artist and Activist

An Overview

Ch. 1: John Lomax – Recording American Roots Music

Ch. 2: Woody Guthrie – “Father of Modern American Folk Music”

Ch. 3: Leadbelly & Pete Seeger: End of the First Wave

Ch. 4: The Kingston Trio – Beginning of the Second Wave

Ch. 5: Joan Baez – “First Lady of Folk Music”

Ch. 6: Peter, Paul & Mary – Balancing the Message

Ch. 7: Robert Zimmerman – The Beginning of an American Icon

Ch. 8: Dylan in New York City

Ch. 9: Dylan after Newport

Ch. 10: The Importance of Dylan

Ch. 11: Folk Music in the 21st Century

An Overview

Ch. 1: The Roots of Country

Ch. 2: Bristol Beginnings

Ch. 3: The Grand Ole Opry

Ch. 4: Cowboys and the Movies

Ch. 5: Western Swing

Ch. 6: Bluegrass: Hillbilly on Caffeine

Ch. 7: Honky-tonk: Merging Two into One

Ch. 8: The Nashville Sound: Country-Pop

Ch. 9: Rockabilly – Country meets R&B

Ch. 10: Country Feminists Find Their Voice

Ch. 11: The Bakersfield Sound

Ch. 12: Austin “Outlaw” Country

Ch. 13: Neo-Traditionalists at the end of the 20th Century

Ch. 14: Mainstreaming Country in the ‘90s

Ch. 15: Redesigning Country in the 21st Century

An Overview

Ch. 1: What is Jazz?

Ch. 2: Before It Was Jazz

Ch. 3: Jazz is Born!

Ch. 4: Early Jazz Musicians

Ch. 5: Louis Armstrong

Ch. 6: Chicago and Harlem – Hub of 1920s Jazz

Ch. 7: Big Band – Jazz Swing!

Ch. 8: Big Band Musicians and Singers

Ch. 9: Jump Blues and Bop

Ch. 10: Cool Jazz

Ch. 11: Hard Bop

Ch. 12: Free Jazz – Breaking the Rules

Ch. 13: Fusion – The Jazz-Rock-Funk Experience

Ch. 14: Third Stream and World Jazz

Ch. 15: New Age & Smooth Jazz

Ch. 16: Summary – Jazz Lives!

An Overview

Ch. 1: Blues – The Granddaddy of American Popular Music

Ch. 2: Where Did the Blues Come From?

Ch. 3: What Are the Blues?

Ch. 4: How to Build the Blues

Ch. 5: Classic Blues – The Early Years

Ch. 6: Delta Blues – Authentic Beginnings

Ch. 7: Blues in the City – Migration and Power

Ch. 8: Blues in Britain – Redefining the Masters

Ch. 9: Contemporary Blues – Maturity and Respect

Ch. 10: The Relevancy of the Blues Today

Ch. 1: Timelines, Cultures & Technology

Ch. 2: Pre-Rock Influences

Ch. 3: Rock is Born!

Ch. 4: Rock is Named

Ch. 5: Doo-Wop

Ch. 6: Independent Record Labels

Ch. 7: Technology Shapes Rock ‘n’ Roll

Ch. 8: The Plan to Mainstream Rock ‘n’ Roll

Ch. 9: Payola – Rock ‘n’ Roll’s First Scandal

Ch. 1: Crafting Sound in the Studio/Producers and Hit Songs

Ch. 2: West Coast Sound: Beach, Surf, and Teens

Ch. 3: The British Invasion: Two Prongs – Pop & Blues

Ch. 4: Motown and the Development of a Black Pop-Rock Sound

Ch. 5: Soul Music: Gospel and R&B in the Deep South

Ch. 6: The Sounds of Bubble Gum Pop-Rock

Ch. 7: The Arrival of Folk-Rock

Ch. 8: Psychedelic Rock ‘n’ Roll

Ch. 9: Early Guitar Gods of Rock

Ch. 10: Rock Festivals: The Rise and Fall of Music, Peace, and Love

Ch. 11: Anti-Woodstock and Shock Rock Movements

Ch. 1: Technological Breakthroughs

Ch. 2: Electronic Dance Music

Ch. 3: Hip-Hop & Rap – An Introduction

Ch. 4: The Beginnings of Rap

Ch. 5: Old School Rap – Up From the Streets

Ch. 6: Rap’s Golden Age

Ch. 7: East Coast – Political Rap

Ch. 8: West Coast – Gangsta Rap

Ch. 9: The Fragmentation of Rap – Pop, Party & More

Ch. 10: Further Fragmentation – Different Directions

Ch. 11: The Importance of Rap

Ch. 1: Musical Stage Productions in America before the 1800s

Ch. 2: Minstrel Shows and Melodramas

Ch. 3: Stage Presentations in the Late 19th Century

Ch. 4: Early 20th Century: Revues and Operettas

Ch. 5: The Arrival of the Modern American Musical

Ch. 6: Great Partnerships in Book-Musicals

Ch. 7: Musical Theatre Composers in the mid-Century

Ch. 8: Fresh Voices on the Stage in the 1960s

Ch. 9: Two Dominant Forces at the End of the Century

Ch. 10: New Voices at the End of the Century

Ch. 11: New Voices, New Sounds in the New Century

Ch. 12: Musical Theatre Glossary

Ch. 13: Is it “Theatre” or “Theater”?

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