Over Easy:The Hits Just Keep on Coming
Living here on the outskirts of Cleveland Ohio, the location of The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, I thought it appropriate to do at least one diary of this subject and the radio format that brought it to the forefront. There is a lot of confusion on this. The music genre Rock & Roll is not the same as the radio format Top 40. Rock and Roll is a term used to describe a type of music often attributed to Allen Freed who played this type of music on his radio show. From wikipedia:
Rock and roll (often written as rock & roll or rock ‘n’ roll) is a genre of popular music that originated and evolved in the United States during the late 1940s and early 1950s, primarily from a combination of predominantly African-American genres such as blues, boogie woogie, jump blues, jazz, and gospel music, together with Western swing and country music. Though elements of rock and roll can be heard in blues records from the 1920s and in country records of the 1930s, the genre did not acquire its name until the 1950s.
The term “rock and roll” now has at least two different meanings, both in common usage: referring to the first wave of music that originated in the US in the 1950s and would later develop into the more encompassing international style known as “rock music“, and as a term simply synonymous with the rock music and culture in the broad sense. For the purpose of differentiation, this article deals with the first definition.
In the earliest rock and roll styles of the late 1940s and early 1950s, either the piano or saxophone was often the lead instrument, but these were generally replaced or supplemented by guitar in the middle to late 1950s. The beat is essentially a blues rhythm with an accentuated backbeat, the latter almost always provided by a snare drum. Classic rock and roll is usually played with one or two electric guitars (one lead, one rhythm), a string bass or (after the mid-1950s) an electric bass guitar, and a drum kit. Beyond simply a musical style, rock and roll, as seen in movies and on television, influenced lifestyles, fashion, attitudes, and language. In addition, rock and roll may have contributed to the civil rights movement because both African-American and white American teens enjoyed the music. It went on to spawn various genres, often without the initially characteristic backbeat, that are now more commonly called simply “rock music” or “rock”.
The term actually predating the use by Freed.
The term “rock and roll” now has at least two different meanings, both in common usage. The American Heritage Dictionary and the Merriam-Webster Dictionary both define rock and roll as synonymous with rock music. Encyclopædia Britannica, on the other hand, regards it as the music that originated in the mid-1950s and later developed “into the more encompassing international style known as rock music”.
The phrase “rocking and rolling” originally described the movement of a ship on the ocean, but was used by the early twentieth century, both to describe the spiritual fervor of black church rituals and as a sexual analogy. Various gospel, blues and swing recordings used the phrase before it became used more frequently – but still intermittently – in the 1940s, on recordings and in reviews of what became known as “rhythm and blues” music aimed at a black audience.
In 1934, the song “Rock and Roll” by Boswell Sisters appeared in the film Transatlantic Merry-Go-Round. In 1942, Billboard magazine columnist Maurie Orodenker started to use the term “rock-and-roll” to describe upbeat recordings such as “Rock Me” bySister Rosetta Tharpe. By 1943, the “Rock and Roll Inn” in South Merchantville, New Jersey, was established as a music venue. In 1951, Cleveland, Ohio disc jockey Alan Freed began playing this music style while popularizing the phrase to describe it.
The term “Top 40” for a radio format appeared in 1951. The Top 40, whether surveyed by a radio station or a publication, was a list of songs that shared only the common characteristic of being newly released. Its introduction coincided with a transition from the old ten-inch shellac 78 rpm record format for single “pop” recordings to the seven-inch vinyl 45 rpm format, introduced in 1949, which was outselling it by 1954 and soon replaced it completely. The Top 40 thereafter became a survey of the popularity of 45 rpm singles and their airplay on the radio. Some nationally syndicated radio shows, like American Top 40, would feature a countdown of the forty highest ranked songs on a particular music or entertainment publication. Although such publications might list more than 40 charted hits, such as the Billboard Hot 100, time constraints allowed for the airing of only forty songs; hence, the term “top 40” gradually became part of the vernacular associated with popular music.
By the late 1980s and the early 1990s, the 45 rpm record would decrease in popularity and other means would be used to evaluate the popularity of new songs, such as cassette-single, CD single, and digital MP3/AAC sales (plus radio airplay). Some disc jockeys of Top 40 and similar format programs have been implicated in various payola scandals.
Most pop historians point to a bar in Omaha NE as the origin of the Top 40 radio format, where Todd Storz and his program director, while waiting for a girl friend to get off work, noticed the customers were playing the same songs over and over on the jukebox. Noting the songs played and and acquiring the information from the jukeboxes themselves, then surveying the record shops for which records were selling the most, he came up with a list of about 30 songs to be played on his radio stations. This alone caused an increase in ratings and listeners.
Gordon McLendon did this on his radio stations and added jingles and promotions. The PAMS jingles so often heard on many radio station – WLS, WABC, KAAY etc – originated in the studios of KLIF in DALLAS.
By the early 1960s nearly every major and even a few minor markets had at least one Top 40 radio station. The music was not of any particular genre, it was what was the most popular in that area. So a Top 40 radio station in Texas would have a very different play list than one in Ohio or Florida or California or Colorado. The major powerhouse stations like WLS, WABC, KAAY could be heard all over the east coast, each had their own distinct sound and playlist.
At the same time radio DJs went from just people playing records to radio personalities. With each having their own format for their “show” and their own on air schtick. However they all had one thing in common, the shows and music and station itself were aimed at one particular demographic: the young teenage or slightly older listener. The 12 to 22 age group. The patter included High School sports and dances and other events. The DJs would host these dances and concerts etc.
But as these stations became more prosperous as well as their owners, the playlists became softer and less diverse. Elvis and Little Richard and Fats Domino and Chuck Berry were being replaced by Ricky Nelson, The Beach Boys and Bobby Vinton. The the girl groups. The music had to be wholesome and unoffensive. No sexual innuendo.
The a group from the UK came on the music scene. A group whose influences came from the R&B and Jazz and Gospel greats of the past and in little over a year took the country by storm. Giving popular music in general and what had become known as Rock a new start. The Beatles. Which culminated in what is called The British Invasion.
One week after The Beatles entered the Hot 100 for the first time, Dusty Springfield, having launched a solo career after her participation in The Springfields, became the next British act to reach the Hot 100, with “I Only Want to Be with You“, which fell just short of the top 10. She soon followed up with several other hits, becoming what AllMusic described as “the finest white soul singer of her era.” On the Hot 100, Dusty’s solo career lasted almost as long, albeit with little more than one quarter of the hits, as The Beatles’ group career before their breakup.
During the next two years or so, Peter and Gordon, The Animals, Manfred Mann, Petula Clark,Freddie and the Dreamers, Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders,Herman’s Hermits,The Rolling Stones,The Dave Clark Five,The Troggs,Donovan, and Lulu in 1967, would have one or more number one singles in the US. Other Invasion acts included The Searchers,Billy J. Kramer,The Bachelors,Chad & Jeremy,Gerry and the Pacemakers,The Honeycombs,Them(and later its lead singer, Van Morrison), Tom Jones,The Yardbirds (whose guitarist Jimmy Page would later form Led Zeppelin),The Spencer Davis Group, The Small Faces, and numerous others. The Kinks, although considered part of the Invasion, initially failed to capitalize on their success in the US after their first three hits reached the Hot 100’s top 10 (in part due to a ban by the American Federation of Musicians) before resurfacing in 1970 with “Lola” and in 1983 with their biggest hit, “Come Dancing“.
On May 8, 1965, the British Commonwealth came closer than it ever had or would to a clean sweep of a weekly Hot 100s Top 10, lacking only a hit at number two instead of “Count Me In” by the US group Gary Lewis & the Playboys. That same year, half of the 26 Billboard Hot 100 chart toppers (counting The Beatles’ “I Feel Fine” carrying over from 1964) belonged to British acts. The British trend would continue into 1966 and beyond. British Invasion acts also dominated the music charts at home in the United Kingdom.
British Invasion artists played in styles now categorized either as blues-based rock music or as guitar-driven rock/pop. A second wave of the invasion occurred featuring acts such as The Who,The Zombies, and The Hollies, which were influenced by the invasion’s pop side and US rock music.
Breathing new life into American pop music, which by the mid 1960s was stagnating. Top 40 radio embraced this musical change but it was also to be its undoing. The new groups and music that was more edgy and the political and social environment changing as well. Along with their listener demographics growing up and out of the music of their past would spell the demise of the Top 40 radio format. FM radio which had been an also ran and virtually ignored was now being manned by you people. At college radio stations and small local stations at first, then in the larger markets. Play music that no AM Top 40 station would touch. Early Bob Dylan and the longer pieces by Iron Butterfly. Anti war music by Country Joe McDonald and Phil Ochs. Social commentary by Janis Ian and others. And listeners began flocking to it and away from AM Top 40.