Rock 'n' Roll America
Trust BBC4 to come up with a music series that gets to the heart of its subject. Rock 'n' Roll America, the first of a three part series, made a good stab at presenting the beginnings of the music that has influenced pop music for the last 60 years, with loads of original footage from the fifties and contributions from artists who were around at the beginning.
It's a huge subject to cover, but it started at the right place: New Orleans, with Allen Toussaint and Deacon John talking about the J and M Studio and Cosimo Matassa, with early film of a smiling Fats Domino who probably did more than anyone to break down segregation among American youth in the mid fifties. Deacon John, sporting a bow tie, visited the Dewdrop Inn, where many of the early New Orleans music pioneers played, pointing out where the stage would have been. At least the place still exists: I thought that Katrina might have destroyed it.
Alan Freed got a mention, but the programme focused on the black influences that led to rock and roll, including Rocket 88 (no mention of Ike Turner I noticed) and doowop, with the Spaniels singing Goodnight Sweetheart. The influence of radio and the juke box was covered and there was splendid footage of Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers. The rebellious element of the times was covered with clips of Marlon Brando in The Wild Ones and Glenn Ford in Blackboard Jungle, as well as the impact of Bill Haley and the Comets..
Sam Phillips and the rise of Elvis was covered as was the emergence of Little Richard, who turned everything
The rise of Chuck Berry - the 'Shakespeare of rock and roll' - ended this fascinating and well produced show. Chuck brought a new approach to rock and roll, with intelligent lyrics. He also sang about smart cars at a time when most young blacks would not have the chance of owning one.
Next week's show, called Whole Lotta Shakin', continues the story and I will be looking out for it, plus the third show Be My Baby which continues the story to the emergence of the Beatles. Tonight's programme was followed by the movie Rock Around The Clock and there's more good stuff to comeon BBC4 over the next few weeks. There are also several programmes on BBC Radio 6 coming up, including features of Jerry Lee and Bo Diddley, and it's not too late to catch some of the recent Ronnie Spector programmes on doowop and the beginnings of soul, which are excellent. Well done the BBC.