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

By Elijah Wald | Go to book overview

16
TWISTING GIRLS CHANGE THE WORLD

The Twist, superseding the Hula Hoop, burst upon the scene like a nuclear explosion, send-
ing its fallout of rhythm into the Minds and Bodies of the people… . They came from every
level of society, writhing pitifully though gamely about the floor, feeling exhilarating and
soothing new sensations, release from some unknown prison in which their Bodies had been
encased, a sense of freedom they had never known before.

ELDRIDGE CLEAVER, MINISTER OF INFORMATION
OF THE BLACK PANTHER PARTY, 1968

At the dawn of the 1960s the basic American dance was still the fox-trot, with its more exuberant offspring, the Lindy or jitterbug, which in some quarters had been renamed the rock ’n’ roll. Horn and reed sections were giving way to honking saxes and electric guitars, but teenagers were still paired up in one another’s arms doing pretty much the same range of steps that their parents—or at least their parents’ friskier peers—had done. In some areas, though, the old patterns were beginning to break. The popularity of black and Southern musical styles was a spur to new ways of moving, and as a 1958 book called Dance, Teens put it:

The rock ’n’ roll danced in Shreveport, La. or San Antonio, Texas (where the “shine”
or solo position is stressed) differs in certain aspects from the rock ’n’ roll danced
in Brooklyn, N.Y. or Los Angeles, Calif. (where the “closed” or together position is
stressed). However, more and more teens prefer to dance SOLO because it prevents
them from stepping on each other’s feet (“Ouch!”)… . While dancing SOLO, the
boy’s and girl’s footwork will often vary. This is no cause for worry since the footwork
doesn’t have to coincide! It’s this correct difference that appeals and automatically
rules out the old answers, “I can’t dance your way,” or “You’re too good for me,” or
“Ouch!”1

It was not just a matter of solo dances; there were also group dances, line dances, and just plain silly dances. Television had made it possible to spread a new dance as quickly as a new song, and by 1957 Dick Clark had realized that one of his show’s greatest appeals was that it instantly provided teens across the country with the latest steps. The first American Bandstand dance contest was held that year and drew almost 750,000 letters, and soon each televised competition was getting

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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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