The Great Lost Soundtrack Album of 50s Rock ©JCMarion
A lot of you may recall the 1978 motion picture called "American Hot Wax". It was purported to be the story of Alan Freed and his fight against the establishment to present Rock & Roll as a viable musical form to the youth of America. The story line of the picture was true enough with pressure from station management, the political establishment, and the constant presence of bribes (payola) to play certain records on the radio show. It was also terribly inaccurate as far as musical history goes (for instance it is 1959 and LaVern Baker comes in for an audition !). However, the story is aimed in the right direction. Tim McIntyre remains an unknown, but does a creditable job as Alan Freed conveying lonliness and insecurity in the middle of the three ring circus he hosted. There is always a bottle within reach to ease the pain of success. Two of his staff are played by a young Jay Leno and his girlfriend is the one and only Fran Drescher, years before The Nanny. If you can find the film on video or on cable it is well worthwhile. For true rock fans there are interesting references to The Gladiolas original version of "Little Darlin'", Jackie Wilson, and "Blue Valentine" by The Solitaires.
Now we come to the object of this article-the soundtrack album from the movie. The climactic scene was the First Anniversary Rock & Roll show at the Brooklyn Paramount theater (in 1959-I told you it was historically inaccurate !). The album presents the live show in its entirety. The movie has snippets of some performances, some lasting only a few seconds onscreen. The soundtrack has the entire show complete with howling audience and on stage intros and banter by McIntyre (Freed). What is most interesting is the lineup of performers. Mixed in with true artists such as Chuck Berry, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis, are bogus acts created especially for the film that represent styles of music or individual acts of years gone by. Unbelieveably, this concept works.After a PA intro of Freed, the band launches into a screaming sax driven jump tune very much like the real thing back in 1955. After some welcoming remarks over the driving band, the first act is announced. They are the made for the movie White vocal quartet called The Planetones, led by real life singer Kenny Vance. They do a great version of Danny & The Juniors "Rock and Roll Is Here To Stay", complete with a parade through the audience. Next are the movie's Black girl group (from Bayonne New Jersey !) The Delights. Their home state reminds one of The Shirelles, and they cover The Bobbettes "Mr. Lee" and do a great version of the Chantels "Maybe". All bases are touched. A combination Clyde McPhatter, Johnny Otis, and Dee Clark performer slinging a mean guitar is cleverly named Clark Otis. He does a rockin version of Clark's "Hey Little Girl (in the High School Sweater)". To add realism Chuck Berry comes out and does a risque version of "Reelin And Rockin" and segues right into Roll Over Beethoven". There is continuous byplay by Freed throughout the show and this adds to the performances. Screamin Jay Hawkins does a manic take of "I Put A Spell On You" after a great opening and intro by Freed ("You may have seen a hearse out front tonight. It belongs to a friend of mine from Cleveland !" ). Two more movie creations come next-the very Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers like group called The Chesterfields do "Why Do Fools Fall In Love" and the Coasters "Baby That Is Rock & Roll". Their accompanying songwriter reminds one of Carol King, but if you're older she is Deborah Chessler of the Orioles legend. A group called Tommy & The Tulips do a perfect take of "Mr. Blue" by The Fleetwoods and the stage is set for the closer by the Killer-Jerry Lee Lewis. The one-two "Whole Lotta Shakin'" and "Great Balls of Fire" may have been the last truly frantic blast by the Ferriday Flash. This was the kind of thunder Sun Records unleashed on us all in 1956. The album and the stage show end with Freed asking what this music is called and Jerry Lee and the assembled multitudes roaring back their answer - Rock and Roll ! !
The album is in the context of the stage show in its entirety so some musical moments from the film are not here. These include The Chesterfields learning "The ABC's of Love", Frankie Ford (the real) doing "Sea Cruise" in the recording studio, a group (from The Bronx) singing "I Wonder Why" on the streetcorner, The Planetones getting the right echo in the bathroom on "Teenager In Love", the movie LaVerne auditioning "Tweedle Dee", and Tommy & The Tulips backstage practice on "Come Softly To Me". Then there is the search for the right riff on "Come Go With Me" and on and on. A great film musically speaking. It was interesting to see Artie Ripp, a well known record plugger of days gone by playing Artie, a record plugger ! I found a casette tape of the soundtrack years later in a bargain bin, and I have never seen it since. If you can find it, jump on it. It is one of the more interesting and unique collections of rock history you will ever find.
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