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Sex, Drugs & Rock ‘n’ Roll

The Evolution of an American Youth Culture


Douglas Brode

Sex, Drugs, & Rock ‘n’ Roll analyzes the cultural, political, and social revolution that took place in the U.S. (and in time the world) after World War II, crystalizing between 1955 and 1970. During this era, the concept of the American teenager first came into being, significantly altering the relationship between young people and adults.
As the entertainment industries came to realize that a youth market existed, providers of music and movies began to create products specifically for them. While Big Beat music and exploitation films may have initially been targeted for a marginalized audience, during the following decade and a half, such offerings gradually become mainstream, even as the first generation of American teenagers came of age. As a result the so-called youth culture overtook and consumed the primary American culture, as records and films once considered revolutionary transformed into a nostalgia movement, and much of what had been thought of as radical came to be perceived as conservative in a drastically altered social context.
In this book Douglas Brode offers the first full analysis of how an American youth culture evolved.
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Chapter 2. Shake, Rattle and Rock: The Big Beat on the Big Screen


← 20 | 21 → ·2·


The Big Beat on the Big Screen

“Rock ‘n’ roll is here to stay.It will never die.It’ll never go away,Though I don’t know why.”

—Danny (Rapp) and the Juniors, 1958

For teenagers who swarmed into theatres on March 21, 1956 to catch the first film specifically tailored for them, a sense of déjà vu set in as the opening credits rolled, accompanied by “Rock Around the Clock,” precisely as in Blackboard Jungle. What followed, though, disappointed the target audience: A conventional romance involving forty-ish band manager Steve Hollis (Johnny Johnston) and Corinne Talbot (Alix Talton), a mature musical agent. Together, Steve believes, they can propel Bill Haley and the Comets to superstardom. Cautious, she prefers to stick with fast-fading Big Bands. Melodramatic complications ensue as Steve falls in love with a dancer, Lisa (Lisa Gaye), whose wild gyrations accompany the band’s performances; Corinne, who covets Steve, seethes. As Lisa has just turned 22, there are no lead teen characters in what was over-hyped as the first 1950s Youth Film.

Reasons for this were multitude. Rock Around the Clock (Fred F. Sears) was the product of a major studio, Columbia. Headed up by Harry Cohn ← 21 | 22 → (1891–1958), released two years before his passing, here was an old man’s notion of what a youth-exploitation flick should be. Involved in the production of such important A-movies as Picnic (Joshua Logan,...

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