Rock and contemporary music are part of our cinematic culture but it wasn’t always like that.
Here are a few visual reminders of when early rock music first made inroads in motion pictures.
Also included are some YouTube links to original theatrical trailers…
(This is not a complete list but rather some of the films that stood out)
Released by MGM in early 1955 BLACKBOARD JUNGLE
was the very first movie to feature rock ‘n’ roll.
Here’s a YouTube link to its original trailer showing how
the movie depicted the rebellious youth culture in an inner-city school forging a social revolution and featuring on its soundtrack (We’re Gonna) ROCK AROUND THE CLOCK
by Bill Haley & His Comets.
Originally released in 1954, Bill Haley’s Decca single (We’re Gonna) ROCK AROUND THE CLOCK sold well over a million copies and following its breakout success on the “Blackboard Jungle” soundtrack, Columbia Pictures rushed this lightweight picture into production starring the aforementioned Bill Haley along with fellow musical performers The Platters and Freddie Bell & The Bellboys plus the DJ Alan Freed.
Trailer: Rock Around The Clo
THE GIRL CAN’T HELP IT (20th Century Fox: 1956) A big studio movie in CinemaScope and color and starring major actors. Jayne Mansfield provided her breathtaking curves and musical performances included BE-BOP-A-LULA by Gene Vincent & His Blue Caps, BLUE MONDAY by Fats Domino, SHE’S GOT IT by Little Richard, TWENTY FLIGHT ROCK by Eddie Cochran & CRY ME A RIVER by Julie London plus the title song sung by Little Richard.
And then came Elvis Presley who’d rocked and gyrated in ’56 on TV’s ‘Dorsey Brothers Stage Show’, the ‘Milton Berle Show’ and ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’. His next stop, Hollywood…
His other early films included LOVING YOU (Paramount: 1957) which included another of Elvis’s chart toppers (Let Me Be Your) TEDDY BEAR and the superior JAILHOUSE ROCK (MGM: 1957)
The latter’s title song was outstanding alongside TREAT ME NICE and (You’re So Square) BABY I DON’T CARE.
Elvis vehicles continued with KING CREOLE (Paramount: 1958) and G.I. BLUES (Paramount: 1960).
In addition to ROCK AROUND THE CLOCK, DJ Alan Freed was featured in ROCK, ROCK, ROCK!(Distributors Corporation: 1956), DON’T KNOCK THE ROCK (Columbia: 1956) plus both MISTER ROCK AND ROLL and GO, JOHNNY GO! (see below). Particularly for audiences outside the U.S., these films gave rare glimpses of certain rock & pop stars. In ROCK, ROCK, ROCK!, Tuesday Weld’s vocals were dubbed by Connie Francis.
DON’T KNOCK THE ROCK (Columbia: 1956)
was a kind of sequel to ROCK AROUND THE CLOCK
and its highlights were Little Richard performing
TUTTI FRUTTI and LONG TALL SALLY.
SHAKE, RATTLE AND ROCK! (American Int’l: 1956) memorably featured Fats Domino (as the lobby card pictured on the right shows). and also Joe Turner. It was a forgettable picture but it did include Fats performing his hits AIN’T THAT A SHAME and I’M IN LOVE AGAIN.
MISTER ROCK AND ROLL (Paramount) and JAMBOREE
(Warner Bros) were both released in 1957. The latter is also known as DISC JOCKEY JAMBOREE and among the real-life DJ’s who were briefly seen were Dick Clark, Jocko Henderson, Robin Seymour and Britain’s Jack Payne plus Joe Smith who later became a major American record company executive.
ROCK AROUND THE WORLD (American International: 1957) was the American release of the flimsy British biopic THE TOMMY STEELE STORY featuring not only Tommy himself but also Humphrey Lyttleton and The Chas McDevitt Skiffle Group featuring Nancy Whiskey; Songs included Tommy’s #1 UK hit SINGING THE BLUES. Tommy Steele was Britain’s first rock ‘n’ roll star and in ’58, he starred in a second musical film THE DUKE WORE JEANS.
HIGH SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL (MGM: 1958) Rioting school kids, hot rods and drugs but most importantly the title song performed by Jerry Lee Lewis and his pumping piano ‘Boppin’ at the high school hop’.
EXPRESSO BONGO (British Lion: 1959): Val Guest’s satirical British film set in London’s Soho district and featuring red-hot teen rock star Cliff Richard whose songs included the hit A VOICE IN THE WILDERNESS.
Prior to that film, Cliff made his screen debut in the drama SERIOUS CHARGE (Eros: 1959) in which he performed one of his first massive-selling singles LIVING DOLL, although in a very different arrangement. SERIOUS CHARGE was released here under the title A TOUCH OF HELL.
JAZZ ON A SUMMER’S DAY (Galaxy Attractions: 1959)
Bert Stern’s documentary of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival.
Performers include Louis Armstrong, Gerry Mulligan, Mahalia Jackson, Anita O’Day plus Chuck Berry who rocked on the Newport bandstand singing SWEET LITTLE SIXTEEN. Concert documentaries went on to become milestones in rock movie history beginning with
D.A Pennebaker’s 1968 film “Monterey Pop”.
As in all my postings, the titles listed above are personal choices
and are in no way intended as a definitive collection of the genre.
Personal footnote: ‘Celluloid Rock’ was the title of a British book that Philip Jenkinson and I wrote chronicling the emergence of rock music in cinema up until 1974 when our tome was published.
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