Friday, April 20, 2012

It's Got a Good Beat ~ You Can Dance To It

American Bandstand wasn't exactly before my time, but it was more of another era; more my sisters' time than mine, mostly.

Beginning in 1957 (when I was two, mind you), American Bandstand was broadcast every weekday afternoon, up until 1963, when it was moved to Saturdays.

I vaguely remember my older sister rushing downstairs every day, after she'd changed out of her school dress, to tune the big old Motorola in the living room (or "front room", as we called it) to ABC.  My sister and I had an understanding; she would ignore me unless she was ticked off at me about something, and I would stay out of her way.  She was 10 years older than me, so we didn't exactly have a lot of shared experiences.

In our two-story farmhouse, we had a long (to me) flight of wooden stairs leading down from the kids' rooms upstairs to the kitchen; and halfway down, there was a cross-hatched vent in the wall, where I could sit, mid-flight, and peer into the living room, and watch the TV, if I had a mind to.  Or, I could spy on people.  Whichever I chose.

So, since I didn't want to bother my sister (heaven forbid!), I'd sometimes sit on that staircase and watch American Bandstand through the big ol' vent in the wall.  But I was always stealthy like that.

The things I remember most about Bandstand back then were the dancers.  All the kids could really dance.  Dancing apparently was big back then.  Even the guys were good dancers, at least the ones on Bandstand.  People don't really dance anymore, do they?   And you know guys don't dance anymore, and haven't since the 1970's, unless they were some kind of disco freak of nature, or John Travolta.  Guys kind of awkwardly swing their arms and shuffle their feet, if forced onto the dance floor by some wedding emergency or what-not.

But, back then, the guys were good dancers!  They could keep up with the girls, who naturally love to dance.  Girls will dance anywhere, anytime.  By themselves, in a group; doesn't matter.  Two girls can be walking down the street, and if one of them starts dancing (for no reason), the other one will fall right in line, as if the whole thing had been choreographed.  I was walking past someone's desk at work today, and a song from Grease was wafting out of their radio.  I almost stopped in my tracks and started busting some of my famous "Grease" moves right then and there.  Girls are different.

But here, on American Bandstand, in the late fifties, the guys knew all the cool dances.  The.....stroll?  The....jitterbug?  Sorry, I'm not an expert on the 1950's.  Whatever it was they did back then, though, the guys could do.

Granted, Dick chose the best dancers out of the audience, so it was kind of a setup deal, but I imagine the kids didn't even venture to attend the live broadcast if they didn't already know that they could hold their own against the competition.

One thing that Dick did, in order to save money, was to have all his guests lip synch their songs.  I, even at age 3 or 5 or 7 or whatever, realized this.  That was because, (a) I knew all the records by heart, and I knew that nobody could recreate them so faithfully, and (b) the artists tended to mess up sometimes.  (You'd think they would have had the recordings memorized, wouldn't you?  Didn't they even listen to their own records?)

Here's one guy, though, who didn't lip synch, and there's no need to wonder why.  One could not keep a Killer down:

 By 1963, when AB had moved to Saturdays, I was a bit more cognizant of what was going on, music-wise.  The one and only act I can honestly say I remember seeing on American Bandstand was the Beach Boys.  Maybe those matching striped shirts got stuck in my mind.

Gee, do you think the guys are lip synching here?

And by the mid-sixties, the dance moves had changed.  We were long past the twist, which is just a stupid, stupid dance, but fun for little kids to do!

When you think about the twist, it is basically a lazy dance.  I mean, a geriatric old man could do the twist in his kitchen, just reaching to get a box of Raisin Bran out of the cupboard.  No offense to Chubby Checker, because I suppose new dance moves were hard to invent.

But in the mid-sixties, we were so much groovier.  I mean, we had the frug, and we had the jerk.  The jerk is a fun, funny dance to watch someone do.  There is really only a certain tempo that one can do the jerk to, but back then, kids would try to do it to any type of song, even a ballad.  The jerk didn't lend itself well to ballads.

We also had the mashed potato (a variation of the twist, without the arm motions), the pony, the watusi.

If I was to invent a dance move, I'd call mine the "head bob".  It's a variation of the jerk, but you only have to bob your head up and down, while keeping the rest of your body motionless.  It's an easy dance to learn, but that's the beauty of it.  And it works with ballads, too.  Unlike the jerk.

The cool thing about all these new sixties dances was that one could do them alone.  Thus began the self-centeredness of the baby boomers.

Aside from the dancers and the lip synch-ers, my two favorite segments of American Bandstand were the countdown and the rate-a-record.

The countdown was always climactic.  "Oh, I HOPE my very favorite song is at the top of the charts this week!  Oh, it is!  P.S. I Love You, by the Beatles!  Scrreeeeem!"

I loved how Dick would slide the covering away from each number, to reveal the songs from 10 to 1.  He'd pull the first 6 or 7 away really quickly, because nobody really cared about those anyway; until he got to the big moment (simulated drum roll) ~ the number one song of the week!

We cared about that stuff, like it mattered, but I guess it did matter back then.  It's like rooting for your hometown sports team, perhaps.  You just wanted your team to win!  And it had better not be those gross Rolling Stones, beating out John, Paul, George, etc.!

Of course, what American Bandstand will always be known for is the rate-a-record segment.  Dick would pull a guy and a gal out of the audience to stand next to him behind the....ledge?  and carefully consider whether they liked song A or song B better, and what rating they would give to each song.  77 always seemed like a popular number.  65 for the second place winner.

"Why do you like song A the best?"

"Well, it's got a good beat.  You can dance to it."

Dick could have just as well said, "Here are the Conga Drum Drummers and their new song, 'Boom Crash Boom', and the kids on the....podium?  would have said, "I like this one!  It's got a good beat; you can dance to it."

Kids are so susceptible to a good beat.  That's why they'd like my new dance, the Head Bob!  I'm going to film a video of it, and it will take off like wildfire!

In conclusion, I never saw this performance "live" (ha), but I found it on YouTube, and it's my very favorite lip-synching song rendition from American Bandstand.  Because it's so excruciatingly painful to watch.

Van Morrison wasn't, apparently, all "down" with the whole lip-synching spiel.  Remind me, though, if I ever chance to see Van Morrison in concert, pray that it's performed in the round.  Because apparently, Van likes to stare at things behind him a lot.

On a more serious note, let me say that Dick Clark did not just host and produce American Bandstand.  He also was in charge of the best pure game show ever, the $10,000 Pyramid.  You know, one of those game shows where one actually had to think.

More personally, Dick Clark also loved country music.

There's lots of YouTube videos to be found of Dick Clark interviewing country stars, and he actually knew them, and knew about them.  Maybe it was all research, but I don't think it was.  Then again, Dick Clark was always comfortable, and interested, in talking to any artist about their music.


I think maybe that describes Dick Clark the best.

We always felt comfortable around Dick Clark.  He ushered in a whole lot of musical eras, and we accepted all of them, maybe because Dick let us know that they were all all right.

Dick Clark was one of the good guys.  I give him a 99.  Point 9.

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