How the Beatles Destroyed Rock 'n' Roll: An Alternative History of American Popular Music

By Elijah Wald | Go to book overview

13
ROCK THE JOINT

They’ve called it a lot of things since King Oliver brought it up the Mississippi from New
Orleans—this peculiarly American music that moved from the levees to Carnegie Hall.
Mostly, I guess, it’s been called jazz, but there were those days of the early 30s when the term
was swing. Today they tell me the music of this half-century decade is known as rhythm
and blues.

THE LOS ANGELES TIMES, 1954

On Monday, July 14, 1952, Paul Whiteman was presenting his TV Teen Club, a weekly amateur contest on Philadelphia’s ABC television affiliate. It was more than thirty years since the erstwhile King of Jazz had swept the country with his dance orchestrations, and he had weathered the decades better than most of his peers. He had bailed out of the touring band business toward the end of 1942 and taken over as director of music for NBC’s Blue Network, which shortly became the American Broadcasting Company. In 1947, he became one of the first coast-to-coast disc jockeys as host of the Paul Whiteman Club,1 and in 1948, when ABC expanded into television, he conducted a performance of Rhapsody in Blue on the inaugural telecast, then began hosting the TV Teen Club the following spring.

The Teen Club was a weekly talent contest: One surviving show includes a jazz clarinetist, a kid soloing on ocarina, a tap dancer, a gymnast, and a gangly guitarist in cowboy duds, and the audience picked a winner with the aid of an applause meter. This particular afternoon, after a little banter with his female cohost, Whiteman yielded the stage to a local sixteen-year-old named Charlie Gracie. Gracie played an introductory riff on electric guitar, hit a stop-time chord, and began to sing:

We’re gonna tear down the mailbox, rip up the floor,
Beat down the windows, and knock down the door,
We’re gonna rock, baby, rock this joint!
We’re gonna rock, yes, rock this joint!
We’re gonna rock, we’re gonna rock this joint tonight!2

In hindsight, it seems like a classic culture clash—the old king hearing the shock of the new. And to add to the sense of foreshadowed revolution, the Teen Club’s

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How the Beatles Destroyed Rock 'n' Roll: An Alternative History of American Popular Music
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - Amateurs and Executants 13
  • 2 - The Ragtime Life 25
  • 3 - Everybody’s Doin’ It 36
  • 4 - Alexander’s Got a Jazz Band Now 49
  • 5 - Cake Eaters and Hooch Drinkers 60
  • 6 - The King of Jazz 71
  • 7 - The Record, the Song, and the Radio 84
  • 8 - Sons of Whiteman 97
  • 9 - Swing That Music 111
  • 10 - Technology and Its DisContents 126
  • 11 - Walking Floors and Jumpin’ Jive 138
  • 12 - Selling the American Ballad 150
  • 13 - Rock the Joint 166
  • 14 - Big Records for Adults 184
  • 15 - Teen Idyll 199
  • 16 - Twisting Girls Change the World 213
  • 17 - Say You Want a Revolution… 230
  • Epilogue - The Rock Blot and the Disco Diagram 248
  • Notes 255
  • Bibliography 281
  • Index 291
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