Music and Television – American Bandstand

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Music has been prevalent on television since TV was invented. Some iconic moments in music have occurred on TV – the Beatles’ and Elvis Presley’s appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show; the launching of MTV; Prince’s Superbowl halftime performance; hundreds of artist’s performances on Saturday Night Live; memorable award show performances – TV and music go hand-in-hand. This post is the first in a series where I will feature how television has helped shape music. First installment – American Bandstand.

American Bandstand was a performance show where popular music acts would perform (actually, lip-sync) their latest hits, while teenagers in the studio audience would dance to the music. The show originated in 1952 in Philadelphia on WFIL Channel 6, at 3:30 pm, hosted by Bob Horn. Originally, it was named Bandstand. Horn hosted until 1956, when he was fired after a drunk-driving arrest. Dick Clark assumed the role as host, and he continued until the show ended in 1989.

In 1957, WFIL pitched the show to ABC, suggesting that it could be successful nationally. ABC agreed and the name changed to American Bandstand. The show was broadcast live. Originally was 90 minutes in length. By 1959, it had a national audience of 20 million viewers. In 1961, the length of the show was shortened to 60 minutes, and the following year, 30 minutes. In 1963, 5 shows were videotaped together on Saturday morning, and then split into 30 minute episodes for airing the following week. Finally, later in 1963, the show was moved to a one hour Saturday afternoon airing, where it remained until 1989.

In 1964, the show was moved from Philadelphia to Los Angeles. Three one hour shows were videotaped on Saturday, and three shows taped on Sunday, every 6 weeks. It was shown in black-and-white until 1967, when it moved permanently to color.

Late in its run, ratings were declining. Many shows were pre-empted in favor of college football games. Eventually ABC dropped the show – it briefly ran in syndication (primarily shown on NBC stations), and finally on USA Network for 26 weeks, with Clark as producer and David Hirsch as host. The last show was October 7, 1989 – the final performing act was The Cover Girls.

The show was famous for the “Rate-a-Record” segment. Clark would play 2 records, and then have 2 audience members rate the records on a scale of 35 to 98. Clark then would ask the raters to justify their scores.

Here are some other American Bandstand fun facts:

  • Around 3,000 episodes were aired.
  • The artist with the most appearances was Freddy Cannon, with 110.
  • Many artists made their television debuts on the show – including Prince, Aerosmith, Sonny and Cher, and The Jackson 5. Many more had their first national exposure thanks to the show – examples are Johnny Cash, The Beach Boys, Stevie Wonder, Simon and Garfunkel, Buddy Holly, Sam Cooke, Fats Domino and Chubby Checker.
  • 784 different musical acts appeared on the show. There were over 10,000 live performances.
  • The theme music to the show was Bandstand Boogie. Several versions were used – the most used version was a rendition by Barry Manilow.

It’s safe to say the Dick Clark enabled the careers of thousands of artists, and that he was key in making music what it is today. There are a lot of clips on YouTube – if you have time, you may want to spend a few hours watching them. Watch this clip of 2 songs by The Jackson 5, from 1970, including Clark’s interview with a very young Michael Jackson.




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