Dick Clark, RIP: A Bandstand-Sized Tribute
To honor Dick Clark, the rock-and-roll-on-TV titan who passed away this week at 82, a number of Rhapsody editors have collected their own tributes and remembrances. They're compiled below.
The Man Who Helped Define "Rock 'n' Roll'
"'Cause they'll be rockin' on Bandstand, Philadelphia, PA" -- Chuck Berry, 1958
"Hello Johnny? You alright, feeling okay? Would you like the audience here, or in their seats again?" -- Dick Clark, 1980
American Bandstand had moved its filming base from Philly to L.A. in 1964, a long time before I ever saw it. In fact, I'm fairly certain I only tuned in religiously (noonish on Saturdays, if I remember right) for a couple years -- basically 1979 and 1980, the first years I got totally obsessive about music. Pretty sure it was the first place my ears ever noticed AC/DC, during a rate-a-record segment. Anyway, I definitely had it on May 17, 1980, when Public Image Ltd. bizarrely came on to do "Poptones" and "Careering," and John Lydon only intermittently lip-synched (supposedly in part because he'd forgotten the lyrics), then broke ranks and penetrated the fourth wall into the crowd of well-scrubbed young people in their suburban mall-disco finery (and one mysterious couple in matching St. Louis Cardinals uniforms, and a few stray new wavers), and started chatting up girls, then pulling and pushing kids -- one by one and then in bunches -- down to the stage, where they all wound up getting down to PiL's way-out-there and beautiful dubbed-and-Krauted death-disco.
Give or take Funky Four Plus One on Saturday Night Live a year later, no music performance I've seen on television since has topped it. And by the looks of things, even if deep down he was seething, Dick Clark kept his cool throughout, letting the rest of the dancers invade the stage at Lydon's request between songs, and even calling Jah Wobble (excuse me, "THE Jah Wobble") just plain "Wobble" when he introduced the musicians.
After all, it was just another band. There'd been hundreds before, there'd be hundreds after, and Dick would still be there after the vast majority were long gone. But Paul Revere and The Raiders, say -- who were the main house band on Where the Action Is, a show that Clark hosted for a couple years in the mid '60s -- were more his speed. He wrote the liner notes to their 1966 album Just Like Us, and this rave says so much: "Paul himself was clearly a solid, sensible young man with an iron grip on the group's direction. He had no boring, complicated 'hang ups' about labels or images or eccentric musical values and had decided that they were to be a first-class professional, middle-of-the-road rock team who would give full-blooded, full-value entertainment to the fans who paid money at the box office." Rebellion, schmebellion! And thing is, I care at least as much about Paul Revere and The Raiders' music as Public Image Ltd.'s
Dick Clark was the guy who figured out, once and for all, how to take a musical genre that frightened grown-ups and turn it clean-cut and wholesome -- to change rock 'n' roll back into something that pop had been before rock 'n' roll messed everything up. "Bandstand" itself is such a '40s-sounding, swing-era word. Yet consciously or inadvertently but surely entrepreneurially, Clark managed to racially integrate teenagers on TV, prove rock 'n' roll's staying power in the medium, and define the concept of Top 40 regardless. Pop music has never been the same since, in so many ways -- especially in Philadelphia, where you can pretty easily draw a line from pre-fab teen idols Frankie Avalon and Fabian and Bobby Rydell all the way to the Fresh Prince and Boyz II Men and The Hooters and the The Dead Milkmen (in Philly, even the punks are wimps!). It's hard to think of a major U.S. city with a less threatening musical legacy, and Dick Clark had more to do with that than anybody ever since 1957, probably not coincidentally the same year that Philadelphians Danny & The Juniors turned rock 'n' roll cute and fake with "At the Hop."
The turn-of-the-'60s teen-idol years -- with the superstars of the '50s dead or in jail or in the Army, the Beatles not yet landed, and girls next door like Connie Francis and Annette Funicello also benefiting hugely from the void -- were when Dick Clark was really the king of pop, and that era still gets a lot of guff. But lots of great rock 'n' roll was made then regardless; search for Dion and The Belmonts Bandstand clips on YouTube if you doubt me. The artist said to have performed on Bandstand more than anybody else, Freddie "Boom Boom" Cannon (110 appearances, apparently), was a truly wild rocker, a bridge between Bo Diddley and, well, Paul Revere and The Raiders even if his sport jackets did look like his Massachusetts mom bought them. His 1965 smash "Action" was the theme for Where the Action Is, which booked lots of garage punks like the The Music Machine and ? & The Mysterians, plus everybody from the The Shangri-Las to Otis Redding to Charlie Rich. Most likely, at least years before his doddering New Year's Eve trot-outs turned downright depressing to watch, Dick Clark knew rock 'n' roll when he heard it.
And it's worth mentioning, too, that "rating records" is what people like me just happen do for a living. I'm not sure whether anybody had been doing that on TV before the dancers on Bandstand, but they certainly popularized it. So maybe rock critics are yet another thing to credit (or, if you prefer, blame) Dick Clark for. (Interesting coincidence: He died at 82 on April 18, the same day Robert Christgau, the Dean of American Rock Critics and the world's most venerable record-rater -- turned 70.) Decades down the line, trust me -- it's still hard to come up with a more high-grade justification than "it's got a good beat and you can dance to it." [Chuck Eddy]
Eighties Babes of American Bandstand
Click here to listen to my Eighties Babes Of American Bandstand playlist.
As a child growing up in the '80s, there was no escaping Dick Clark. He was family, a cathode-ray avatar who, like some wayward uncle, set up camp in every living room in America. After school it was, of course, American Bandstand time. Then, during primetime once a week, he and Johnny Carson sidekick Ed McMahon unloaded TV's Bloopers & Practical Jokes. And when a kid pretended to be too sick to go to school he helped pass the time with the wonderfully inane The $10,000 Pyramid; he even helped the country celebrate the new year with Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve.
But let's return to American Bandstand. The one specific thing I will always remember are the girls -- all those cute, cute girls. I was awfully young, so it wasn't lust or super-sexy thoughts or anything like that. Yet I knew something special was happening as I watched The Go-Go's bop about the stage to "Our Lips Are Sealed" or, a few years later, innocent Debbie Gibson coo "Only in My Dreams." My faves were most definitely The Bangles -- that's because I really liked Beatles-type pop at the time. They seemed really sophisticated, especially the guitarist with the long, brown curly hair and impish smile, Susanna Hoffs (she also drove the boys wild in the schlock flick The Allnighter). Of course, I can't overlook Cyndi Lauper. She was totally over the top with that electric orange-red hair -- what a weird pop star for a little dork to be digging. Plus, she hung with wrestlers!
It's kind of wild how Clark helped navigate teenage America through all these awakenings. And he did it for multiple generations. Not only was he an indelible part of my childhood, but also the childhoods of my parents, my brother, my uncle, my aunt, my friends, my friends' parents and so on and so on -- into infinity! Clark kept his finger on the pulse of pop culture, to say the very least. He was as big an icon as Elvis, MJ, Marilyn and Jimmy Dean. Not only that, he was MTV, Twitter, Simon Cowell and Facebook all wrapped into one little man who never seemed to grow old.
America just doesn't produce individuals like Dick Clark anymore. Thanks for the memories. [Justin Farrar]
Don't Forget His Game-Show Prowess
Dick Clark was a major figure in the world of pop music, but I never watched American Bandstand when I was growing up. I don't know why, I just wasn't interested. But the various iterations of the Pyramid shows? I couldn't get enough of those. They show at least The $100,000 Pyramid on the Game Show Network now, but it used to be on somewhere between The Price Is Right (which I thought was dumb), a pre-Pat Sajak/Chuck Woolery-hosted Wheel of Fortune (my mother and I were pretty good at this) and, later in the day, Joker's Wild (at one point you faced the Devil!) and the best game show ever: Match Game. As far as game-show hosts go, Dick Clark is in the Pantheon alongside Gene Rayburn, Sajak and Bob Eubanks (he of The Newlywed Game). The Pyramids were great shows, and Clark's easy-going demeanor and ability to be funny on his feet were a big part of it. Also, $100,000 was a ton of money when I was a kid -- people would really freak out when they won, and you could tell he was really psyched for them.
He also produced and hosted the first "blooper" shows on TV, which later became a real phenomenon with the America's Funniest Home Video craze in the '90s. Clark's shows -- Bloopers and then later Bloopers & Practical Jokes, both co-hosted with Ed McMahon -- were mostly made up of news anchors saying hilarious stuff by accident and sitcom actors flubbing their lines. It may be difficult to imagine today, but these two ideas were howlingly funny in the '80s. Bloopers only existed on vinyl before this, and seeing celebrities out of character was straight-up fascinating.
That's how I know Dick Clark. I used to jump around the living room freaking out whenever I saw a preview for a new Bloopers special. Really, whether the guy was bringing people music, giving them money or producing a show that made them laugh until they cried, it's obvious that making people happy is what made him happy. [Mike McGuirk]
The Many Phases of Dick Clark
Three distinct memories came to mind when I heard about Dick Clark passing away. I grew up watching American Bandstand on TV. Back then, unless you had cable -- and only rich people had it back then -- American Bandstand and Soul Train were the only weekly music shows on the air. (In a tragic bit of coincidence, Soul Train founder Don Cornelius passed away earlier this year.) They used to program American Bandstand at 11 a.m., and Soul Train at noon, so you could watch them back-to-back. (Or was it 10 and 11? My memory is fuzzy.)
I remember when Madonna performed "Holiday" on American Bandstand, and my sister and I were surprised to see that she was white. This was before "Lucky Star," the first Madonna video that got widespread airplay, so when we heard "Holiday" on our radio station, we thought she was black. Then, when Dick Clark interviewed her, she revealed another shocker: She said she didn't go to college! We couldn't imagine it.
My second memory is much less romantic. Long after I attended -- and dropped out of -- college, I saw Michael Moore's documentary Bowling for Columbine. Remember the section where Moore indicts Dick Clark's American Bandstand Grill restaurants for underpaying its workers, and then when Moore ambushes Clark's SUV with questions, his security team hurriedly slams the door and drives off?
The final one is a bit sad. In 2008, my sister and I watched New Year's Rockin' Eve and saw a frail Dick Clark, still recovering from a 2004 stroke, wish the audience a merry New Year in a slurred, barely recognizable voice. "Wow," is all we could say. We agreed that he should retire. Still, his passing seemed unimaginable. Dick Clark had been a presence through most of my media-consuming life. [Mosi Reeves]