Hello and welcome to Deep Tracks in Rock History, the show that gives you the whole, chronological history of rock music, from its earliest roots, to its latest developments, all delivered to you in adorable little podcast-size chunks. I’m your luminous host, Doug “They-Call-Me-Mister-Tibbs!” McCulloch. I am back from my break and this episode officially launches Season 2 of Deep Tracks.

Today’s Ludicrous Lyrics come from…

We left off in rock’s story talking about the development of electric blues in Chicago with artists like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Elmore James and Bo Diddley. And remember, Bo Diddley was an artist who is seen as being part of the first generation of rockers as much as he’s seen as a rhythm & blues artist. So he really straddled both worlds and is a good example of one of those liminal artists who had embodied that transitional style of music that was swirling around at that time as rock was clawing its way out of the underground circuit and coming to be known to a broader audience. (That was a long sentence…)

Over the next several episodes we’ll be talking about some of the big names of early rock, like Chuck Berry, Bill Haley, Fats Domino, Little Richard, and of course Elvis Presley. But these artists really need to be understood within the context of their world at the time. So, like we did with episodes 5 and 6, this episode is going to do a little more world-building. And in fact, in order to do that, I’m going to hop forward a little bit in our timeline and skip over the birth of rock, and then in subsequent episodes we’ll go back in time and look specifically at rock’s birth. So, for this episode, we’re gonna focus on three movies that came out during the 1950s that were a commentary and influence on, and a reflection of, youth culture and the perceptions surrounding it.

But before all that, I’m going to tell you about the first and only time I’ve ever been crowd-surfing.

In 1998, when I was 19, I went to an annual rockabilly music festival called Hootenanny at Oak Canyon Ranch in Silverado, California. I remember three of my favorite bands at that time were performing that year: Social Distortion, Reverend Horton Heat, and the Cramps. I actually searched around on the internet and was able to find the set list from that year that I went. In fact, I’ll link the website in the show notes because it comes from a site called “,” in which you can search just about any festival from any year, and see what the set list was. It’s a cool way to relive some old days if you ever want to go back and try to remember who played at some of your favorite shows. Anyway, it was kind of fun looking over the setlist for Hootenanny 1998. It includes a lot of artists sort of forgot about, like Supersuckers, The Paladins, Top Jimmy, X, along with some others that I vaguely remember but don’t think I ever really listened to any of their stuff.

Anyway, this story takes place during Reverend Horton Heat’s set. Now, if you don’t know anything about Reverend Horton Heat, they are a brand of rockabilly that’s punk-influenced—dubbed “psychobilly”—and they did amazing live shows. They have this bit where the stand-up bass player will lay his bass on its side while still playing and then the front man stands up on the bass while still shredding on his Gretsch (the same guitar brand used by Bo Diddley, you might remember) and it’s this moment in the show where the audience always just absolutely explodes in excitement. In fact, the audio in the background you just heard is from a YouTube video I found of them doing this very thing in a recent concert—although, it doesn’t sound like the audience is going nearly as crazy about it as I remember in their shows back in the ‘90s. But let’s face it, their audience is probably a bunch of people like me: middle-aged, exhausted, and pining after halcyon days before bad backs and irritable bowels.

But! All of this is a long way to get to the point of this story!

If I remember correctly, it was during their song “Psychobilly Freakout,” that I was standing there with my girlfriend and some other friends, rocking out to the music, until the moment when Jim stood on Jimbo’s bass, suddenly these random strangers nearby grabbed me and hoisted me up and just sort of shoved me out on top of the crowd. Next thing I knew, I was crowd-surfing, my hands in the air, screaming in excitement, thinking to myself, “This is so punk rock!” Actually, I was probably thinking, “Whoa, watch where you’re grabbing!” But still, it was one of my more epic experiences at a live show.

Of course, the term “epic” is relative in this case. Much, much crazier stuff has happened to plenty of other people at rock concerts. I mean, honestly, considering how often I went to shows at both local and larger venues, when I was younger, it’s a minor miracle that I don’t have crazier stories to tell. Part of me regrets that, although, as we’ll all see when we cover the Altamont Speedway free concert in 1969 and the pathetic dumpster fire that was Woodstock 1999, sometimes having crazier concert stories to tell can be a bad thing….

But, as a quick example, involuntary crowd-surfing is nothing compared to this story my wife’s brother, Jason, shared with me. This is what he texted me about a show he was performing at one time:

[Jason’s story]

Since its birth as a genre, rock and roll has been associated with wild behavior. It has also been traditionally associated with a youthful audience. Part of this is because rock was born in the same time period that youth culture first emerged. Many people don’t realize this but the term “teenager” wasn’t even invented until the 1940s. And it wasn’t like some sort of “grassroots” term that sprang up from colloquial usage. It was created by marketing and advertising execs as a label for what was at that time a brand new niche market: the youth market.

You see, after World War II, the U.S. was crushing it, economically. During the war, in addition to selling weapons, the United States had loaned tons of money to their European allies—particularly Great Britain. After the war, those allies began paying all that money back. The war had also mobilized the U.S. in industrializing, and the country found itself able to step in and dominate numerous markets that had been left wide open by other, war-torn countries.

This led to the post-war economic boom. Families had more disposable income. And more household income meant that more youth had allowances or had bigger allowances. And kids with money to burn was like chum to those marketing sharks who smelled opportunity a mile away. Thus, for the first time in U.S. history, you had items marketed directly to youth—or, as they would come to be called: “teenagers.”

Clothes, of course, were a major commodity being marketed to teens, but bigger than that was entertainment: specifically, movies and music. Financially empowered youth could go to record shops to buy the latest hit singles, or local soda shops to feed coins to the juke box, or the movie theater to catch a matinee.

When MGM released a movie that combined both music and a movie aimed at youth culture, it would change everything. It would also solidify, in the minds of many Americans in the 1950s, the connection between rock music and bad behavior.

In late March/early April of 1955, national news in the U.S. was filled with stories of youth rioting at the screenings of a newly released movie entitled, Blackboard Jungle. The riot stories linked to it went from everything as mild as stories of teens dancing in the aisle, to more extreme ones like busting up the concessions stands to steal popcorn and candy, to even what is probably the most random allegation of a riot supposedly linked to the movie: a gang of girls burning down a barn (even though there is nothing even remotely like “barn burning” in the movie). There were a lot of reasons given for why these riots happened in connection with this movie, but the biggest reason was, Blackboard Jungle was the first movie to feature a rock-n-roll song in its soundtrack.

Now, before we go on, however, let me give you a synopsis of the film:

Blackboard Jungle is sort of the O.G. version of Stand and Deliver, or Dangerous Minds—it’s basically the genesis of the cliché, “new-teacher-arrives-at-underfunded-school-and-impacts-lives-of-ill-behaved-students” story trope. Glenn Ford plays Richard Dadier: an English teacher, fresh out of college, who gets a gig teaching at an all-boys school in the bad part of town where he’s seeking to “Dead Poets Society a bunch of rough and tumble hooligans. The movie takes the delinquent students’ behaviors to nearly hyperbolic levels as they beat up teachers in dark alleys, catcall the attractive librarian in a student assembly, attempt to rape said librarian, and absolutely trash another teacher’s prized record collection right in front of his face as he stares on in impotent horror. It’s based on a book written by Evan Hunter who himself was a teacher for a brief time before quitting and writing his book.

The story focuses primarily on the relationship between Dadier and one student in particular: Greg Miller, played by Sidney Poitier. And yes, that’s why I used the Mr. Tibbs bit for my nickname in this episode: that was my nod to Poitier’s famous role as Virgil Tibbs in In the Heat of the Night [Tibbs clip]. Poitier’s character, Miller, is kind of seen as the de facto leader of the students and Dadier feels that if he can somehow reach Miller, he can reach the rest of the students. Things are rocky at first, of course. In fact, on Dadier’s first day, while introducing himself to his students and writing his name on the board—which is spelled D-A-D-I-E-R—a student throws a baseball at the blackboard, knocking out a circular piece of it where the “e” and the “r” were in “Dadier,” making it look like it says “Dadio.” The students begin chanting “Mr. Daddy-O!” [play clip] and, according to Wikipedia, this was supposedly the origin of the famous 1950s slang-term, “Daddy-O” [Back to the Future clip of Marty saying “dad, dad, daddy-o”]. However, the term was already in regular usage at the time Blackboard Jungle came out. In fact, it’s used quite a bit in another movie I’m going to talk about in just a moment that came out two years prior to Blackboard Jungle. In Wikipedia’s defense, the line in the article where it asserts that this is the origin of the slang term “daddy-o” has the “citation needed” tag at the end of the sentence. But still, it goes to show you should always be careful about trusting any statements in Wikipedia—or any other second-hand source, for that matter—where there is no citation to back them up. (Sorry, that was the college professor in me coming out.)

But moving on! Eventually, Dadier wins Miller over and Miller even defends Dadier against a couple of the yet-unreformed students who try to stab Dadier at the end of the movie.

Now, there’s a lot to unpack with this movie. It was released amidst a national scare over juvenile delinquency that had overtaken the Post-War United States. And it wasn’t the only one: Blackboard Jungle is part of a sort of “trifecta” of movies that I’ll be discussing in this episode. The first of these was The Wild One, starring Marlon Brando, released in 1953; then Blackboard Jungle was released in March of 1955; and then finally there was Rebel Without a Cause, starring James Dean, released in October of 1955.

Now, this episode will spend most of its time focusing on Blackboard Jungle, but I want to take a few minutes to give brief synopses of these other two movies as well because I want to do some comparing and contrasting with them during my discussion of Blackboard Jungle.

So! First, The Wild One: it was basically the original outlaw biker gang movie. In fact, the Scooby-Doo reboot in the early 2010s, Mystery Incorporated, did a sort of spoof of it in their episode entitled “The Wild Brood” in which a bunch of outlaw biker orcs (who of course turn out to be humans dressed in orc costumes) come into Crystal Cove and stir things up a bit—not the least of which involves Daphne being enamored with the gang leader which sends Fred into sort of a tailspin of jealousy [play clip]. Notice the music in the background, along with the biker gang leader’s tone of voice and choice of words that they are also channeling a sort of “Beatnik” vibe in the episode. I’m not going to talk too much more about Beatniks right now since we’ll be revisiting that movement in a later episode and I don’t want this one to become too convoluted, but in short, the Beatniks can be seen as the original counter-culture movement. In fact, the hippy movement of the 1960s initially used Beatnik thinkers and artists of the 1950s as their inspiration. Many of the cliches surrounding beatniks involve artsy jazz music with bongo percussion and speaking in highly symbolic language that’s meant to question accepted social norms or paradigms. They were also seen as the poster children for a younger generation questioning the older generation.

Now, I’m using this Scooby-Doo clip because it does a great job of encapsulating—in a very broad sense—what the The Wild One was ultimately about: total rejection of current social norms by a jaded group of youths bereft of direction or purpose.

The movie was based on Frank Rooney’s short story, “Cyclist’s Raid.” It follows the story of biker gang leader, Johnny Strabler—played by Marlon Brando—who basically rides around from town to town causing trouble. The protagonist—Brando’s character—is not even remotely likeable and barely redeemable. The only signs he ever shows of any humanity are only when he’s trying to woo the café owner’s daughter, Kathie—the girl he’s “in lust” with. But the writers wrote him this way on purpose. Johnny’s a biker gang leader and a symbol of the cynical, post-war generation. In fact, there’s a famous exchange between Johnny and a girl named Mildred in which she asks him, “What are you rebelling against?” [play clip?] And he answers, “What have ya got?” [play clip?]

So, that line of course is meant to capture the listless angst of an aimless youth. And speaking of listless youth, this now brings us to Rebel Without a Cause.

This synopsis will be a bit longer than The Wild One’s. This is the movie that would immortalize James Dean. Before Rebel Without a Cause, he had starred in East of Eden, which had been released just six months prior in April of 1955 (one month after Blackboard Jungle) and his role in East of Eden would earn him a posthumous nomination for Best Actor. I say “posthumous” because, tragically, he died in a car accident just one month before the release of Rebel Without a Cause. Despite the brevity of his career, however, he retains a spot alongside other 1950s icons like Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley. In fact, just the other day I saw a t-shirt for sale with his image on it at one of those sketchy mall booths that also sell those shirts with black-and-white images of the Little Mermaid with face tattoos, which…I’m not sure has anything to do with what I’m talking about, but there you have it.

Like Marlon Brando’s character in The Wild One, James Dean’s character is not very likeable and the movie basically leaves you feeling like there’s no one to root for. Of course, I’m not saying every movie absolutely needs “white hats” and “black hats,” but both The Wild One and Rebel Without a Cause sought to make sure their protagonists were not something to be aspired to, but rather shunned or even pitied.

For example, Dean’s character—Jim Stark—has the thinnest skin of anyone you’ve ever seen, taking every negative comment thrown his way as the deepest slight to his honor. Part of the point of this, of course, is to reinforce the idea that he struggles with making friends and makes himself an easy target for bullies—although, to be fair to Jim Stark, those bullies were constantly on the prowl for some new crime against humanity to commit. Seriously, the bullies in Rebel Without a Cause were practically on par with those ridiculously over-the-top bullies in the Shazam movie who purposely hit crippled kids with their car. The problem with Jim Stark, however, is that even when he’s given the opportunity to ignore bullies and avoid confrontation, he never takes it, displaying a Marty McFly-esque paranoia with being called “chicken.” [clip?]

Jim Stark’s likeability takes a further hit when he beats up his own father. Now, to be fair, it’s also a moment in which he’s seeking some sort of redemption. You see, the reason for this son-on-dad violence is because Jim is feeling guilty for his part in the death of one of the bullies who’d been picking on him. In order to “defend his honor,” Jim had agreed to participate in a “chickie run” with this bully, which ended in the bully going over a cliff in his car when his jacket got caught on the door handle and he couldn’t get out in time. Jim wants to do the right thing and turn himself in to the police, but Jim’s mom wants to do what their family has always done when Jim has gotten into trouble: move to another town and start over again. When Jim’s father won’t stand up to his mother and insist on them going to the police, that is when Jim, in a fit of rage, starts wailing on his dad.

But there are layers to that scene. Jim isn’t hitting his dad simply because he’s mad at this parents for, in essence, aiding and abetting his delinquent behavior; but more than that, Jim is angry with his father for being, in Jim’s view, emasculated. There’s an earlier scene where Jim encounters his dad picking up some broken dinnerware he’d dropped while bringing dinner to the mom, who was on bedrest. The dad is wearing an apron and jokes about how Jim’s mom will be upset if she sees the mess and he’d better clean it up. Jim goes from concerned son to fuming misogynist in the blink of an eye. I say “misogynist” because the reason Jim has no respect for his father is because he sees the man as being a “pushover” who is under the thumb of a domineering wife—Jim’s mom. In fact, the whole movie has this weird undertone of Jim having some sort of hatred for his mother. Like, for example, there’s an even earlier scene, near the beginning of the movie, in which Jim Stark says to a police officer regarding his father: “If he had guts to knock mom cold once…” [clip]

Now, the point of the relationship that Jim Stark has with his parents—as well as the relationships the other leading characters have with their parents—is to indict bad parenting as the cause of juvenile delinquency. So, in the case of Jim Stark, his parents are too indulgent and too concerned with things like career and society. The other two leads have other issues with their parents, like, for example, Jim’s love interest has a domineering father—a sort of mirror to Jim Stark’s mother—who actually slaps his daughter at one point for giving him a kiss on the cheek because he believes it inappropriate for a teenage girl to give her daddy a kiss on the cheek. Yeah. He’s kind of a douche bag.

Anyway, the commentary that this film made on the American family—that, as opposed to the idyllic images of Leave it to Beaver, real problems existed and should be addressed—is one of the things that made this film so noteworthy and why people still talk about it to this day. In short, the point of the movie can be captured in this line from one of its promotional posters: “Warner Bros. put all the force of the screen into a challenging drama of today’s juvenile violence!”

And that’s it right there. The older generation was concerned about the moral decay of American youth—a concept that is explored in all three of these films: The Wild One, Rebel Without a Cause, and Blackboard Jungle. All three movies also explore the differences and conflicts between generations. For example, in Rebel Without a Cause, when Jim Stark makes efforts on his own, without his parents, to turn himself in to the police, he is ignored. Like, he literally can’t turn himself in because no adult will give him the time of day! In fact, there are a number of scenes in the movie where adults just blow off the youth until those youth do something wrong, which of course was an indictment of the larger culture’s role in creating juvenile delinquency. Blackboard Jungle also lumps societal blame onto the issue. There’s this line from a police detective in Blackboard Jungle in which he says, “Mr. Dadier, I’ve handled lots of problem kids in my time. Kids from both sides of the tracks. They were five or six years old in the last war: father in the Army, mother in the defense plant. No home life, no church life, no place to go. They form street gangs.”

What makes Blackboard Jungle somewhat unique of these three movies, however, is that it briefly tackles racial issues as well. One of the first things you might notice about the movie—if you watch it—is that it portrays a racially integrated school in an age prior to the civil rights movement. In addition to Greg Miller, who is of course a black kid, the film makes it clear that Dadier’s class has kids who are also Irish, Italian, and Puerto Rican, which, trust me, for the 1950s, that’s a crazy amount of diversity in one place. They have this scene in the classroom where some of the kids are using racial slurs with each other and Dadier addresses it, trying to teach them the evils of prejudice [clip?]. Later, one of the students who is trying to get Dadier fired takes this incident and tells a twisted version of it to the principal to make it look like Dadier was instead teaching racist views and using racial slurs rather than denouncing them. The principal wrongly believes the student and lays into Dadier with this diatribe: [clip of principal].

Now, all three movies had some controversy surrounding them because of their message and their content. But of the three, Blackboard Jungle faced the most. And I want to focus on three areas of controversy with Blackboard Jungle: its perceived commentary on the American educational system, its nod to a post-racist America, and, of course, its use of rock music in its soundtrack.

First, the perceived commentary on the American educational system:

Back in 2015, Cal State Fullerton professor Adam Golub published an interesting article in the Journal of Transnational American Studies entitled “A Transnational Tale of Teenage Terror: The Blackboard Jungle in Global Perspective.” Now, in my own studies, I’ve always just looked at how this movie was received in the U.S., but in this article Golub explores how the movie was received globally. One thing he points out is that many Hollywood execs in the U.S. were concerned that this would give other nations a bad impression of what American schools are like. Remember, this was during the Cold War when the U.S. was almost fanatically afraid of looking weak in front of the Soviet Union. While some people argued that it showed humility to openly present some of the struggles of the American education system, others thought it was airing dirty laundry. Some nations, like Britain and Australia, banned the movie outright because of the scenes depicting teenage violence, fearing that it would inspire hooliganism amongst their own teen population. This was a sentiment especially keenly felt in Japan where, as it says in Golub’s article, “Japanese translators of Mark Twain worried that popular characters like Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn might inspire delinquent behavior among young people, so they edited out scenes involving smoking, cursing, and stealing.” If they weren’t okay with Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, they definitely wouldn’t be okay with Blackboard Jungle. And the American State Department wasn’t happy about this film’s influence abroad, either. Once again drawing from Golub’s article, “In the postwar era, the U.S. State Department became more involved in sponsoring and exporting American culture as part of its foreign policy strategy,” and of course, the goal was to “export a positive vision of American culture and society.” Thus, as Golub points out, “the State Department bristled at the export of ‘unofficial’ culture that could potentially harm America’s image.” And this forced MGM to defend the film “in Cold War political terms, employing the rhetoric of cultural self-portrayal and conducting its own brand of outreach” by proudly proclaiming in their manual for studio managers abroad, “There are those who mistakenly or hypocritically say that Blackboard Jungle should not be shown—or if shown, should not be sent abroad. Such opinion disregards the basic difference between free countries eager to proclaim their glories but not adverse to admitting the less desirable aspects of their culture, and Iron Curtain countries, whose productions… ‘show only happy, smiling peasants.’” BOOM! Mic drop. MGM has left the building.

The hand-wringing surrounding how Blackboard Jungle would be viewed abroad reveals an insecurity about the film that was felt domestically. Namely, that it revealed something about the educational system that most people did not want to accept or address.

But, that “something” was something that people couldn’t even agree upon. And this brings me to the second issue surrounding its controversy: namely, the film’s nod towards a post-segregated world.

In the abstract for a 2010 article by Anders Walker published in the Columbia Law Review entitled, “‘Blackboard Jungle’: Delinquency, Desegregation, and the Cultural Politics of ‘Brown’”, it points out how, “Georgia Governor Ernest Vandiver…used the film as a metaphor for what would happen to southern schools were Brown v. Board of Education enforced, marking the beginnings of a much larger campaign to articulate southern resistance to integration in racially neutral, cultural terms.”

Basically, even though the film sought to send a message promoting integration and desegregation, the fact that it was a film featuring juvenile delinquents became a tool for those racist fools in sheets to say, “See? This is what happens when you integrate schools! They become a breeding ground for delinquency!”

This disturbingly creative spin on the film’s racial messaging shows that, even when people agreed that there was a problem with the schools and with American youth, they couldn’t agree on what the source of those problems were. Rather than being an open discussion on possible solutions, the whole issue became a projection, displaying whatever prism each person saw it through. If you wanted to see integration as a problem, then you would see it as the problem in juvenile delinquency. If you wanted to see rock music as the problem, then that was what you would point to in order to explain things.

And this brings me to the third issue surround the film’s controversy: “Rock Around the Clock.” And don’t worry, I will be going back in time to cover Bill Haley’s beginnings and the origins of “Rock Around the Clock.” The song appears during the opening and closing credits of the music, as well as one other time during the film as a sort of instrumental version. As I pointed out earlier, it’s the first time rock music was ever used in a soundtrack of a film. Coincidentally, I recently put out a series of reels on the Deep Tracks Instagram featuring each of the songs slated to be on the soundtrack for the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. I did this because the Guardian of the Galaxy movies are known for their soundtracks. But the irony of making reels about an entire soundtrack of rock songs isn’t lost on me as I discuss the uproar and backlash surrounding the use of a single rock song on a movie soundtrack 68 years ago.

As I said, the association between wild behavior and rock music has been there since the very beginning. A fast tempo with intense timbres can indeed instill energy. It’s why the Rocky theme plays while he’s training for his big fights and why even I will often listen to the Rocky theme when I need motivation to do some chore I don’t feel like doing. Like, seriously, the next time you need to do dishes or laundry or taxes or whatever, and you are totally dragging your feet to do it, just play the Rocky theme super loud—maybe even scream Adrian—and trust me, you will be able to crush whatever it is that’s triggering your task-avoidant behavior.

But is Reverend Horton Heat the reason those guys hoisted me up onto the crowd? Is rock music to blame for my brother-in-law’s bloody performance?

Maybe a better question to ask is, what is the difference between a contributing factor and a sole reason?

For example: Blackboard Jungle wasn’t the first time a crowd was led to riot for reasons related to music. Back in 1913, Igor Stravinsky’s ballet The Rite of Spring had its premiere in Paris. The music and dance were so bizarre and new for that audience that, what was supposed to be a “high brow” sort of event with tuxedos, evening gowns, and society’s elites, turned into L.A. during the Rodney King riots. One anecdote I read said that the noise from the angry audience members was so loud as they booed the performers, the choreographer had to scream the count to the dancers because they could no longer hear the orchestra. Which, as a side note: kudos to those performers. I mean, I know “the show must go on,” but to continue performing as people are throwing things at you and calling out for you to be lynched, is crazy-brave. Another side note: The Rite of Spring was the first piece of music that inspired me to become a composer. I first experienced it as a kid watching Disney’s Fantasia and I’ve been in love with it ever since.

Anyway! The BBC came out with a movie about this event back in 2005 entitled “Riot at the Rite” (the audio of which you heard in the background a moment ago). But my point is, rock-n-roll in a movie about delinquents wasn’t the first time people rioted during a music performance. And while I’ve never been crowd-surfing at the any of the classical music performances I’ve attended, I will say that I’ve seen many classical performers playing through injuries and broken bodies as much as my brother-in-law Jason described.

Well, maybe not as much as he described, but pretty dang close.

But if rock music isn’t the sole culprit for those riots at Blackboard Jungle, what other factors can share the blame?

This brings us to the invention of the American Teenager. And, it also brings us to the end of this episode.

Show notes coming soon!  (For now, links to some of the material referenced are embedded in the transcript)