Ignored Obscured Restored
For a very long time, I’ve been ruminating on the idea to write a series of posts that address the subject of Rock music in films. It has taken me a long time to deal with the subject because it is better suited to long-form journalism, or even a book, than a 500-word blog post essay. So, I’ve decided to attack it with a series of articles, perhaps by decade. This is the first in the series, covering the ‘50s. This has become timelier since the passing of Little Richard last week.
Any discussion of Rock music in film must start with Blackboard Jungle (1955). The movie’s plot centers around a high school teacher that tries to educate at an inner-city, all boy’s school, many of whose students are juvenile delinquents. The only rock ‘n roll recording used in the movie was Bill Haley and the Comets’ “Rock Around the Clock.” But it was used to great effect over the opening credits and into the first scene.
It is often credited for starting the rebellious teenage revolution of the ‘50s and kickstarted the popularity of rock ‘n roll itself.
The Girl Can’t Help It (1956) was a comedy starring the sexy Jayne Mansfield. But it also provided a showcase for some of the best early rock ‘n rollers, such as Fats Domino, Little Richard, Eddie Cochran, the Platters, and Gene Vincent.
Here’s the title song, by Little Richard.
A week after The Girl Can’t Help It was released, another youth-oriented film ended the year with a bang! Rock! Rock! Rock! (1956) came out just before the holidays. Wikipedia describes the flick “as an early jukebox musical featuring performances by established rock and roll singers of the era, including Chuck Berry, LaVern Baker, Teddy Randazzo, the Moonglows, the Flamingos, and The Teenagers with Frankie Lymon as lead singer.” The movie didn’t have much of a plot, but it did feature 21 performances of songs by those artists, and others (The Johnny Burnette Trio, Connie Francis).
Chuck Berry killed it with “You Can’t Catch Me.”
How can we address rock ‘n roll in ‘50s films without mentioning The King’s best flick – Jailhouse Rock (1957). This movie, starring Elvis Presley, is a vehicle for his songs but also has a strong storyline (unlike most of his ‘60s films that have very weak screenplays). The title song is a classic! But the movie also includes the great Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller penned “(You’re So Square) Baby I Don’t Care.”
This song is so good that it has been covered by countless artists, not the least of which include The Beatles, Buddy Holly, Joni Mitchell, Queen, Bryan Ferry, and Hüsker Dü.
Other films from the ‘50s with notable rock ‘n roll soundtracks include Shake Rattle and Rock, Jamboree, The Big Beat, Hot Rod Gang, and Go, Johnny, Go! Check ‘em out.
Stay tuned for the next installment of Rock Music in Films.
Enjoy… until next week.