It’s September 1956 – Elvis Is Number One – Your Friends Keep Telling You Rock N’ Roll Is A Fad – You Know Better – Past Daily Weekend Pop Chronicles.
WHBQ-Memphis – Wink Martindale – September 1956 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
It’s hard to imagine 1956 – hard to imagine a time, some sixty-four years ago, when Rock n’ Roll was considered a fad, that it would never last, that it was a gimmick and that you, as a teenager, would grow out of it.
Now of course that’s a fond memory, part of a time that no longer exists – a time you are either relieved is over or nostalgic to go back to, especially on days like today and years like this one. Rock n’ Roll stayed and it grew and it went from being a minor entity in the grand scheme of music to the predominant one – it became the music that defined a generation and continues to define generations after it, with each new genre, phase and nuance.
Rock n’ Roll from the days of Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins and Chuck Berry is a glimmer in a deep-distant past. It’s almost impossible to put the feet of 2020 in the shoes of 1956 and know what it felt like – when it was all new and each time a record came out was different and anticipated – it was music you never heard before. You were far from jaded, you were hungry for more; you couldn’t get enough.
And so the powers that be cautioned you it was a fad, it would never last. The songs were too simplistic, the lyrics juvenile or lurid, charged with innuendo and questionable morals – it wasn’t music that brought out the best in you (whatever that “best” was supposed to be) – it was not safe. Worse than being fad, it was destined to corrupt you.
Luckily, the vast majority didn’t listen, didn’t take the doomsday scenarios seriously, took the caution with a tiny grain of salt.
Radio – the small town stations or the stations that were of limited power, had a hard time competing with the major networks of the day. But Even some of the larger stations, like WHBQ in Memphis, saw the vast untapped power of Teenage America, and became pioneers in breaking down the color lines in music (music was segregated then too) and bringing this new and exiting genre to a wider and larger audience, realizing early on that youth was a huge consumer base.
Wink Martindale, who in later years became a prominent national TV personality as well as disc jockey, was one of the first to see the potential in Elvis Presley. Along with station-mate Dewey Phillips, brought Elvis to the attention of a wider audience and help kick Elvis mania into gear.
Here is a half-hour excerpt from one of Martindale’s shows from September 1956 over WHBQ in Memphis – a little choppy in places but loaded with history, words from Elvis himself and legions of teenage fans. The recording is listed as being from August, but checking out various mentions, September is more logical.
Imagine you are there – you’re hearing this for the first time – it’s 1956.
Enjoy the ride.