What defines a generation?
Major events like the Depression and war define the people experiencing them. New discoveries and devices change people’s lifestyles, from the wheel eons past to electricity, the telephone, radio, TV, and automobiles in the modern era. Social movements transform society - the Renaissance and the Reformation, and more recently women’s suffrage, the civil rights movement, and…
Rock and Roll!
That might seem somewhat dramatic, but rock and roll coincided with a tumultuous era in our country’s history. The music played a part in 20th century social upheavals and influenced the lifestyles, fashions, opinions and language of a generation.
Rock and roll defined the era and the youth experiencing it-the generation christened the baby boomers. My generation.
One of the ways the music spread across the country before the advent of split second social media blasts was via the newish invention infiltrating American homes – television.
On August 5, 1957, American Bandstand premiered on TV screens across America.
Originally a local Philadelphia show, an ambitious 26-year-old named Dick Clark convinced ABC to expand the show’s audience. Initially a two-hour program airing Monday through Friday, over the years the network cutback to 1-½ hours, then to half an hour, and finally broadcast a one hour Saturday afternoon show. Live the first few years, the network videotaped programs by 1963. Dick Clark hosted American Bandstand from July 9, 1956 to the final 1989 show.
Bandstand promoted the hottest hits, introduced new artists, and (usually) at least one big name appeared on each show to personally pitch their latest record.
The first song played on that first show was Jerry Lee Lewis’ Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.
Various bands made their debut on American Bandstand, the appearance catapulting them to national fame and fortune – among them the Jackson Five, Sonny and Cher, Aerosmith, Prince.
Teenagers around the country loved seeing their idols sing (actually lip-sync), and scrutinized the teens dancing the afternoon away. Viewers imitated the dancers in an attempt to learn the latest steps, and studied the fashions and hairstyles.
By 1959, 20 million people – teenagers – tuned into the show. Not yet a teenager and not yet steeped in the youth culture of the times, I watched occasionally, although usually lost out to Mom and Dad in fights over who was going to view a show on the one TV in the house. Therefore I must admit, in the spirit of full disclosure, I was not an avid fan or regular viewer.
Boomers grew up singing along with the TV show, the radio and their own 45s, one song on each side of the record, although we usually played only one of the songs. My record player, a birthday gift one year-I don’t remember which year-allowed me to listen to favorites all the time. I no longer impatiently waited for a fave song to play on the radio.
Money was scarce in my family during the 1960s, and my record collection was meager – except during the few months I worked in the record department of a local department store. After my short retail stint my collection quickly became dated. I could not afford to buy records as I moved on to college and additional dollar-deprived years.
The music shadows my junior high and high school experience. Hub and I listen to a collection of CDs we keep in the car to entertain us on trips. Much of the music produces eye-rolls from younger folks, especially the grandkids. Nowadays young people are exposed to a wide variety of music, but years ago we all grew up listening to the same shows, vinyl 45s and 33-1/3’s. The music, the artists, the bands are part of the fabric of our lives, our personal history. Favorite songs, concerts attended, significant occasions where a particular song played, the event and the music commingle in our minds. We listen, sing along, reminisce and remember.
A note of nostalgia to end this blast from the past - the American Bandstand theme song.