WINS – Alan Freed – March 23, 1955 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
Take a look at the photo above you. Those are 16 and 17 year old kids – they are in high school. They are (for the most part) happy, and the year is 1955. Take a closer look – you will see the faces of your parents, your grand-parents or maybe even your great grandparents in that photograph. These kids will become part of a revolution – the revolution in society, in youth and in music. They will help set into motion a dramatic change in who we are, how we think and what we dance to. These kids are the cutting edge, but at the time they had no idea – they simply like Rock and they like the freedom it brings with it. Not all of them – gazing at the photo you pick out possibly one or two who won’t like Rock n’ Roll. Who, like their parents, are convinced it’s society all gone wrong – the music is crazy and the people who like it even crazier. Yeah, there’s a few of those. They will hang on to their Les and Larry Elgart albums, or maybe become part of the Folk Music revolution; the one just around the corner. But this is 1955; a turning point. The point where Rock stopped being called Race Music – stopped being (for the most part) confined to rural towns and communities in the South – playing music you couldn’t find at your local record store – or you could, but you’d have to ask for it. All that would start to change.
And it was guys like Alan Freed who got the ball rolling. Freed was not the only one, but he was one of the most visible. Between him and the others, and those kids in the photograph, and millions of others, music changed.
It didn’t happen overnight and it wasn’t instantly embraced by everyone. Films, TV and Magazines were fairly bursting with stories of delinquents – good kids gone bad. The music being the catalyst for drugs, alcohol abuse and an outbreak in teen pregnancies. Like everything in Pop Culture; the scandals and sordid bits get blown out of proportion and pundits wag their fingers, blaming everything from Communists to a loss of family values for the epic turn of events.
And naturally, the earth didn’t stop – life went on and the popularity of Rock grew and ten years later it was in the midst of another revolution – another revolution in music and society. By 1965, 1955 paled by comparison – and by 1970, 1955 was the object of wistful nostalgia.
And those kids in the photo got older.
To get some idea of the newness of Rock in the 50s, have a listen to this hour of the Alan Freed program, as it was broadcast over WINS in New York City on March 23, 1955. It might be impossible to put yourself in that time-frame, placing yourself somewhere in that photograph of kids and imagine you’re hearing Ruth Brown for the first time and Elvis Presley hasn’t happened quite yet. But try.
Brave new world, indeed.