THE TEEN IDOLS

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The teen idol phenomenon cut across the entire American popular culture spectrum, embracing the music business, television, radio, Hollywood films, comic books, fan magazines, and general merchandising tie-ins. In all of these media, the formula consisted of selling products associated with photogenic, well-mannered young people (generally ranging in age from early teens to the mid-twenties) to teenage consumers. The process had the implicit blessing of parents and other authority figures given the alternative; that American youth would fall under the influence of more rebellious cultural icons, including juvenile delinquents feared to inhabit the street corners of every 1950s town and, of course, rock 'n' roll stars.

The first wave of rock 'n' rollers had put both parents and record industry executives on the defensive. The wild performing antics of black and white musicians alike seemed to hint at a wide array of antisocial behaviors. While Elvis Presley—hep cat clothes and surly looks, notwithstanding--was soon being portrayed by the media as a likeable mama's boy, the extra-musical escapades of many rock 'n' roll artists soon confirmed the worst fears of adult moralists. Jerry Lee Lewis defiantly defended his marriage to a thirteen-year-old second cousin, and Chuck Berry was convicted of a violation of the Mann Act for transporting an under-aged girl across a state line. Even the Platters, purveyors of smooth group ballads, were embroiled in a sex and drugs scandal.

 

The major record companies, outflanked by smaller independent labels in signing early rock 'n' roll stars, saw an opportunity to create and promote a new musical trend in which they controlled the talent. This strategy had initially failed when calypso failed to catch on beyond a brief flurry of hits in early 1957. However, with the loss of many early rock stars due to legal problems, military service, religious convictions (Little Richard entered the seminary in 1958), fatal accidents (e.g., Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, the Big Bopper, Eddie Cochran), mishaps which disrupted career momentum (e.g., Gene Vincent, Carl Perkins), and the failure to find quality song material for follow-up recordings, the industry-wide push of teen idol surrogates caught on in a big way.

The ingredients of a teen idol recording included an attractive (usually white, conservatively attired, and well groomed) young media star singing simple lyrics about typically middle-class teen concerns. Given the fact that many idols couldn't really sing, the sugary pop arrangements—exhibiting a mere trace of the big beat—took on even greater importance. Many of the singers were already stars in another medium (usually TV or movies), thereby virtually assuring the success of promotional efforts on the part of the record labels. Nevertheless, stories of teen idols literally discovered on their front porches (Fabian Forte) abounded in fan publications. If the combined forces of the industry (label promotion, trade ads, and exposure on both radio playlists and American Bandstand) were marshalled on behalf of a young performer (no matter how lame), anything was possible. The formula consistently worked from the late 1950s up to the mid-1960s. By then, the onslaught of British Invasion artists (many of whom were cleverly market in teen idol fashion), followed by changing cultural mores, rendered the image anachronistic,

 

Top Artists and Their Recordings

Paul Anka--"Diana" (1957); "You Are My Destiny" (1958); "Crazy Love"/"Let the Bells Keep Ringing" (1958); "My Heart Sings" (1958/9); "Lonely Boy" (1959); "Put Your Head on My Shoulder" (1959); "It's Time to Cry" (1959/60); "Puppy Love" (1960); "My Home Town" (1960); "Summer's Gone" (1960); "The Story of My Love" (1961); "Tonight My Love, Tonight" (1961); "Dance On, Little Girl" (1961); "Love Me Warm and Tender" (1962); "A Steel Guitar and a Glass of Wine" (1962); "Eso Beso (That Kiss)" (1962)

Annette--"Tall Paul" (1959); "First Name Initial" (!959/60); "O Dio Mio" (1960); "Pineapple Princess" (1960)

Frankie Avalon--"Dede Dinah" (1958); "Ginger Bread" (1958); "I'll Wait For You" (1958); "Venus" (1959); "Bobby Sox to Stockings"/"A Boy Without a Girl" (1959); "Just Ask Your Heart" (1959); "Why" (1959/60)

Donnie Brooks--"Mission Bell" (1960)

Johnny Burnette--"Dreamin'" (1960); "You're Sixteen" (1960); "Little Boy Sad" (1961); "God, Country and My Baby" (1961)

Buzz Clifford--"Baby Sittin' Boogie" (1961)

Mike Clifford--"Close to Cathy" (1962)

Johnny Crawford--"Cindy's Birthday" (1962); "Your Nose Is Gonna Grow" (1962); "Rumors" (1962); "Proud" (1963)

James Darren--"Goodbye Cruel World" (1961); "Her Royal Majesty" (1962); "Conscience" (1962)

Shelley Fabares--"Johnny Angel" (1962)

Fabian--"Turn Me Loose" (1959); "Tiger" (1959); "Hound Dog Man"/"This Friendly World" (1959)

Hayley Mills--"Let's Get Together" (1961)

Rick Nelson--"I'm Walking"/"A Teenager's Romance" (1957); "You're My One and Only Love" (1957); "Be-Bop Baby" (1957); "Stood Up"/"Waitin’ in School" (1957/8); "Believe What You Say"/"My Bucket's Got a Hole in It" (1958); "Poor Little Fool" (1958); "Lonesome Town"/"I Got a Feeling" (1958); "Never Be Anyone Else But You"/"It's Late" (1959); "Just a Little Too Much"/"Sweeter Than You" (1959); "I Wanna Be Loved" (1959); "Young Emotions" (1960); "Travelin' Man"/"Hello Mary Lou" (1961); "A Wonder Like You"/"Everlovin'" (1961); "Young World" (1962); "Teen Age Idol" (1962); "It's Up to You" (1962/3); "Fools Rush In" (1963); "For You" (1963/4)

Paul Petersen--"She Can't Find Her Keys" (1962); "My Dad" (1962/3)

Ray Peterson--"Tell Laura I Love Her" (1960); "Corinna, Corinna" (1960/1)

Gene Pitney--"Town Without Pity" (1961/2); "(The Man Who Shot) Liberty Valence" (1962); "Only Love Can Break a Heart" (1962); "Half Heaven--Half Heartache" (1962/3); "Mecca" (1963); "Twenty-Four Hours From Tulsa" (1963); "It Hurts to Be in Love" (1964); "I'm Gonna Be Strong" (1964); "Last Chance to Turn Around" (1965); "She's a Heartbreaker" (1968)

Bobby Rydell--"Kissin' Time" (1959); "We Got Love" (1959); "Wild One"/"Little Bitty Girl" (1960); "Swingin' School"/"Ding-A-Ling" (1960); "Volare" (1960); "Sway" (1960); "Good Time Baby" (1961); "I've Got Bonnie" (1962); "I'll Never Dance Again" (1962); "The Cha-Cha-Cha" (1962); "Wildwood Days" (1963); "Forget Him" (1963/4)

Linda Scott--"I've Told Every Little Star" (1961); "Don't Bet Money Honey" (1961); "I Don't Know Why" (1961)

Bobby Vee--"Devil or Angel" (1960); Rubber Ball" (1960/1); "Take Good Care of My Baby" (1961); Run to Him (1961); "Please Don't Ask About Barbara" (1962); "Sharing You" (1962); "Punish Her" (1962); "The Night Has a Thousand Eyes" (1962/3); "Charm" (1963); "Come Back When You Grow Up" (1967)