Academic journal article Music, Sound and the Moving Image

Look! It's Rock'n'roll! How Television Participated in Shaping the Visual Genre Conventions of Popular Music

Academic journal article Music, Sound and the Moving Image

Look! It's Rock'n'roll! How Television Participated in Shaping the Visual Genre Conventions of Popular Music

Article excerpt

Popular Music and Television

In 1957 the first television programme to be concerned solely with popular music, The Record Parade, was broadcast on Danish television. While most Danish entertainment programmes at the time either transmitted or re-created dance hall and variety music live in the television studio, The Record Parade was produced specifically for television, and the aim of the show was to produce musical entertainment for the whole family within a broad musical repertoire. In an attempt to transform the (at that time) more popular medium of radio's record presentations into television programmes, the relation between music and moving images was at the core of the programme, and the visuals came to play a decisive role in the understanding of the performances on the show. Its variety in music genres makes the programme an interesting example to study in order to locate tendencies within their musical visualization. Through an analysis of these performances I discuss how the audiovisual stagings of popular songs on The Record Parade both set specific parameters in the aesthetics of music television and took part in the development and reinforcement of audiovisual performance conventions.

While the mass media have become integral to the study of popular music, the role of television has more or less been rejected as without interest or even as antithetical to the ideology of rock, as the punch line once formulated by the rock sociologist Simon Frith suggests: 'The effect of fitting rock'n'roll into a medium like television is to make it safe, to deprive it of some of its significance - an undifferentiated audience can't be a rock audience' (1983: 153). But, as Sarah Thornton points out, 'there is, in fact, no opposition between subcultures and the media, except for a dogged ideological one' (1995: 116). How youth cultures have positioned the mass media has tended to obscure how the media have been instrumental in the formation of youth culture (ibid: 121). As a means of understanding how different genres within popular music historically have been defined and positioned against each other, television archives provide access to audiovisual performances as they were presented to ordinary people in everyday life, and archival research and the study of everyday media programming have recently provided useful methods in the discussion of both media and cultural history (see Andersson & Curtin, 2002).

With both taking the 1950s as their starting point, rock culture and television broadcasting have intersected, and as John Hill (1991), Norma Coates (2007), and others have argued, television played an important role in the early development of rock'n'roll.1 Most importantly, television widely disseminated this new music and made rock'n'roll acceptable for a family audience by adopting it into the format of existing variety shows (see also Mundy 1999: 184; Fryer 1997: 160).2 At the same time different programme formats underlined the (primarily generational) split between the insiders and outsiders of rock culture. This could, as John Hill argues, appear in the way a programme made sense of music verbally, as in the case of the BBC's version of Juke Box Jury (1959-1967), where a 'hardly well-qualified' panel of guests passed awkward judgment on pop music, thereby confirming to the youth audience that adults did not understand their music (Hill 1991: 102). Also the choice of televisual aesthetics could make certain programmes more or less incomprehensible for viewers without previous knowledge of the music culture in question (Frith 2002). From around 1968 and through the 1970s, concert programmes were the predominant format for presenting popular music on Danish television, and having bands playing live in the television studio to a studio audience had a similar effect, presenting music through a mode of address understandable to those who already knew and appreciated the music in question, and thereby reiterating the generational and ideological distinctions already in play (see Lindelof 2004). …

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