Ignored Obscured Restored
This is the second installment of my series on Rock music in movies. The first covered Rock music in 50s films. Today’s post explores the movies of the early 60s.
At the close of the 50s, the great explosion of creative talent in Rock ‘n Roll was against the ropes. Elvis was in the Army and out of the recording (and film) studio; Chuck Berry was in trouble with the law for a violation of the Mann Act for transporting a 14-year old girl across state lines; Jerry Lee Lewis was fending off a PR nightmare for marrying his 13-year old cousin (once removed) before the divorce from his second wife was final; controversy swirled around Little Richard’s ambiguous sexuality: a plane crash took the life of Buddy Holly.
What filled the void? On the radio, it was bland covers of R&B songs by the likes of Pat Boone. On-screen we were treated to a slew of beach movies (Beach Party, Bikini Beach, Muscle Beach Party, Surf Party) and “twist” dance movies (Don’t Knock the Twist, Hey, Let’s Twist).
There were a few highlights though, both involving my first crush – Ann-Margret.
In 1963 she starred in the film version of Bye Bye Birdie. Birdie told the story of a rock star (Conrad Birdie) that was being drafted into the Army. The gold lamé wearing Birdie was loosely inspired by Elvis Presley. High school Birdie fan Kim MacAfee (Margret) wins a contest that will have her meet and be kissed by the star on the Ed Sullivan Show.
The theme song “Bye Bye Birdie” is sung by Margret at the beginning of the movie and is reprised at the end. In the first version, Margret plays up her youthful, girlish charm. By the end of the show, Kim is a mature woman, and her performance vamps it up! Watch the video and you’ll see what I mean!
A year later, Margret was starring with Presley himself in Viva Las Vegas – one of a handful of Presley movies that holds up.
The terrific title song – written by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman – rocks. It has been covered by artists as diverse as Dead Kennedys, Nina Hagen, Stray Cats, and ZZ Top.
Enjoy… until next week.