On the ratings scale, Dick Clark and 'Bandstand' get a 98
BY MIKE JONES Associate Editor
Sunday, April 22, 2012
4/22/12 at 3:38 AM
The news of the death of Dick Clark last week brought back a flood of memories to me as it did millions of my fellow baby boomers.
Clark, the Dorian Gray of television, never looked his age until he suffered a stroke in 2004. He died at 82.
Clark's "Bandstand," which he inherited from another disc jockey in Philadelphia, started as a popular regional show and became a national hit when it debuted on the networks in 1957. There, it became "American Bandstand" and history was in the making. It ran until 1987.
I was 8 in 1957. We were in the middle of the Elvis phenomenon. I tried to comb my hair like Elvis (and my older brother did) with absolutely no success. I sang Elvis songs in my first-grade class. The teacher coaxed me into it. I was painfully shy and she used my performing in front of the class as a way to help me. It helped.
Every afternoon, I would race home the four blocks from school to tune into "American Bandstand." School was dismissed at 3 p.m. and "Bandstand" started at 3:30 p.m. I made it home in plenty of time, but it took about five minutes for the RCA black-and-white tube TV to "warm up." I know that means nothing to anyone born after 1965 or so but in the old days the tubes on the TV had to warm up before the picture would come through. Then you had to adjust the set, which meant twisting a few knobs and maybe even turning the outside antenna if someone in the family had dared to watch another network. So, after all that, the 3:30 deadline was often missed by a few minutes.
With Mom and Dad at work and if my brother was delayed somehow after school, I had the house and the show to myself. I'll admit this now because I'm sure there are those of you out there who share the same secret: I would dance with one of the cute girls on the show whose stand-in was a sofa pillow.
When I was about 12 a friend of my brother's, Glenda Nichols, who was four years older than I, cute and fortunately short, taught me to slow dance. Elvis' "One Night With You" remains one of my favorite of his songs, for reasons that must be obvious.
Dick Clark introduced me and millions of other kids - and their parents - to the rock 'n' roll generation. Many experts credit Clark with legitimizing the genre and easing parents' fears. He was non-threatening and after the scandals surrounding rock 'n' roll in the 1950s, parents were pleased to have such a clean-cut young man entertaining their kids.
All I cared about then, however, was listening to the music, watching the kids dance, trying to guess the rating that would be given to a new song and seeing rock 'n' roll stars "perform" their hits.
The performers had to lip-sync and the performances were often sterilized to pass network censors. For an example, Google "Stagger Lee" by Lloyd Price and listen to the lyrics. He had to rewrite those words - too much violence and, oh, my, gambling - in order to perform it on the show. The rewritten lyrics were pretty goofy.
On the other hand, "Bandstand," under Clark's direction, was one of the first TV shows to integrate. Not only did he have black performers appearing on the same stage as whites, but eventually the kids in the audience and on the dance floor mingled.
"The Nat King Cole Show" was the first black show to air on a national network. I watched it, too. But it was only a 15-minute program and as much as I liked Cole, and still do, he didn't connect with teenagers like "Bandstand" and Clark did.
"Bandstand" allowed me to see the singers who I had only heard on the radio or on 45s. Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Platters, those Philly cats such as Bobby Rydell and Frankie Avalon - they all showed up on "Bandstand" in the 1950s and '60s.
It's where I began my lifelong quest to become Jackie Wilson. There was no one cooler. He was smooth, suave and handsome with a magnificent singing voice, a great hairdo and moves like I had never seen. When I first saw James Brown and Michael Jackson, I thought of Jackie Wilson. When he sang "Lonely Teardrops" and placed his hand aside his mouth and sang "heeey, hey," I figured there was no need to try to be anything other than Jackie Wilson.
Turns out, there was only one Jackie Wilson. But I might still try to bust a Jackie move, other than splits, on occasion. Thank goodness for Aleve.
One of "Bandstand's" more popular segments was song rating. Clark would choose two audience members and each ranked two records on a scale of 35 to 98. The two scores were averaged and the voters were asked to explain why they voted the way they did. The most popular, or at least most remembered, answer: "It's got a good beat and you can dance to it."
Ask any boomer. If they weren't sheltered or of some whacky faith, I'll bet they each have a favorite "American Bandstand" memory. And I'll bet a bunch of them danced with a sofa pillow if they'll admit it.
I stopped watching the show by the time I hit high school. But I can't and don't want to forget those many hours in front of that black and white RCA, thanks to Dick Clark and the gang.
That leaves only one thing to do: Let's stroll.
Original Print Headline: Dick Clark: a 98
Mike Jones, 918-581-8332
Journalists look at memorabilia from "American Bandstand" host Dick Clark at the Enterprise Center Wednesday in Philadelphia. Dick Clark, the ever-youthful television host and producer who helped bring rock 'n' roll into the mainstream on "American Bandstand" and rang in the New Year for the masses at Times Square, died at 82. ALEX BRANDON/Associated Press