Thursday, January 10, 2008

The 1950s on BBC Four

'Lonnie Donegan was as important as Elvis Presley'. Discuss. This was the view of music writer C P Lee on tonight's BBC Four programme on pop music in the 1950s - part of its pop music series. Influential in his way as he undoubtedly was in the UK, this is a fairly ludicrous statement, but the analysis of the 50s scene was mildly interesting. The programme featured clips of Eddie Cochran, Bill Haley, Bo Diddley, Fats Domino and Little Richard among others, as well as some of the tame stuff that preceded rock and roll. Joe Brown rightly commented that the genuine rock and roll of Little Richard killed skiffle stone dead. Ray Charles, arguably the father of soul music, was, he said, underground music beloved of musicians but unknown to the public at the time. And Chuck Berry was under rated, particularly with regard to his lyrics. Of course we all know this, but it's unusual to hear our music discussed in sensible terms.
Earlier the series showed an original edition of 6-5 Special. This was the UK's first pop programme, and what rubbish it was, featuring middle of the road ballad singers, trad jazz and Don Lang, a poor copyist. Pete Murray and Freddie Mills hosted, and they were completely lacking in credibility, but we knew no better back in 1957. Perhaps the best act was the Deep River Boys, now almost totally forgotten but then probably the only black act receiving any exposure in the UK.
What the two programmes showed was the enormous gap between genuine rock and roll in the US and the tame, pathetic imitations that existed in the UK at the time. Joe Brown clearly idolised Eddie Cochran (as well as exposing Gene Vincent's shortcomings), but who can argue with him? If he had lived, who knows what he might have achieved.


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