BRILL BUILDING ERA

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Introduction

Rock historians tend to view the 1959-1963 period as an interregnum linking the classic rock ‘n’ roll of the mid-1950s, a genre—according to popular legend—that was dominated by the likes of Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, and Buddy Holly, and the vibrant British Invasion, which was to spur the American Renaissance and ultimately, the voyage of discovery that was progressive rock. The material served up by Tin Pan Alley-styled songwriters (largely based in Manhattan), combined with the controlling instincts of major label executives, cast a pall of orthodoxy on the made-to-order product lines—most notably, teen idols, novelty songs, a kaleidoscopic array of dances, girl groups, and instrumentals—geared to teen consumption. Calculated image and artiface—all wrapped in a safely bland package—was substituted for the spontaneity and edgy rebelliousness of the pioneering rockers who—at the onset of the 1960s—were either dead or out of the picture, whether pursuing other vocations (Presley, the U.S. Army; Little Richard, preaching) or in disgrace (Lewis banned from the mass media after marrying his thirteen-year-old second cousin, Berry in jail for violating the Mann Act).

In truth, however, this period as considerably more than the so-called Dark Ages of rock history. Some genuinely excellent music was produced, both nationally by the majors and regionally by smaller record companies. Although often embracing indescribably bad performers such as Fabian and Annette Funicello (hyped by American Bandstand, Hollywood beach flicks, and robotic DJs), teens continued by confound the cultural taste-makers by embracing unheralded gems-in-the-rough (e.g., the Hollywood Argyles’ "Alley-Oop") and works of uncompromising genius (e.g., Phil Spector’s Wall-of-Sound productions). A rapid succession of dynamic new styles arose—commercial folk, surf music, and soul—with important implications for the future evolution of pop music.

Furthermore, the eras serving as chronological bookends were not as musically scintillating as sometimes portrayed by revisionist historians and the media. Much of the best rockabilly, R&B, and doo-wop music of the 1950s was rarely heard on the radio or covered by the mass media, much less available in record stores. In contrast with the politically correct oldies programs of the present day—dedicated to playing the original versions of seminal hits—1950s broadcasts were dominated by the pallid covers served up by the powerful majors, particularly RCA, Columbia, Decca, Mercury, and Capitol. And many of British acts popular stateside in 1964-1965 were offering up lame rehashes of early rock ‘n’ roll classics. Likewise, the passage of time has obscured the proliferation of instantly disposable fluff released by the Bachelors, the Hullabaloos, and Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas.