Wednesday, September 15, 2010
ROCK BABY ROCK IT
IF you are only going to watch one 1950's Rock and Roll movie ....You SHOULD choose Rock Baby Rock It (RBRI) to experience the true feeling of the era. There's no way I will be able to convey in words what a great group of acts this movie presents and what a joy they were to watch. You have to experience them for yourselves. These aren't your famous big name acts, although most people probably know Roscoe Gordon and Johnny Carroll (who, by all rights, should have been a bigger star), instead they're people who look like they're really enjoying playing, singing, and rocking out.
RBRI was originally titled "Hot Rocks", but the censors deemed the title too provocative (I know that's hard to believe today, but remember this was 1957 and times were a lot different), although why the censors still let the teens' club be called Hot Rocks is a mystery. The plot and the acting are just what you would expect, so let me get the plot, which might as well have been from a Mickey Rooney movie, out of the way. It seems the kids are running behind on the rent at their Hot Rocks Club and now some gangsters are wanting to get them thrown out and take over the location. The kids decide to "put on a show" to raise funds for the club. While out getting the acts lined up for the benefit show, they also manage to get the gangsters busted and sent to jail.
The coolest things about the acting (or non-acting) part of RBRI are the gangsters were all cast from local wrestlers and the kids were all cast from the local high school. The kids actually do a better job acting than the gangsters, and maybe that's because they really just had to act like....well, themselves. It was interesting to see the kids first at The Hot Rocks Club dressed in what I assume were their everyday school clothes, but once they start going to other clubs to book acts and at the benefit show, the kids all dress up with the girls in nice dresses and the boys even wearing ties.
Before I start on the music acts, I would like to mention the dancing. Unlike Rock Around The Clock and Don't Knock The Rock which both had some great dancers (either professional dancers or top level amateurs). RBRI has kids dancing or boppin', whichever you prefer, who look like real kids dancing (which of course they were). They didn't look like they were trying to show off any fancy steps, instead they're really into the music and dancing with pure joy. One of the dancers, Kay Wheeler (founder of the first Elvis Presley Fan Club) does the commentary on the dvd and while I usually hate to listen to commentaries, hers was well worth my time. My favorite line is when she says "I'm a teenager caught in an old lady's body". Now on to the music.
Like most of these movies that were made to primarily showcase different performers, RBRI has a variety of styles of music. My understanding is most of these acts were regional performers from around the Dallas, Texas area. The Cell Block Seven, an older group who would probably appeal to Bill Haley fans, open and close the movie with "Hot Rock" and also perform "When The Saints Go Rockin In". Don Coates and The Bel-Aires, a white vocal group, sing an up-tempo "Stop The World", and a slower song,"Love Never Forgets". Black vocal groups are represented by The Five Stars who sing "Your Love Is All I Need", "Polly Molly", and "Juanita". The Belew twins, who might have been trying to channel The Everly Brothers, sing "Lonesome" and "Love Me Baby", but I'm pretty sure I've never seen one of the Everlys "bop out" during a number like one of the twins does. Not to mention, while they're singing "Love Me Baby" a set of young female twins joins them on stage and dances with the brothers.
There's nothing slack about the above performances in RBRI and the movie would have been good, even if they were the only acts. The following acts are just so much stronger, they overshadow the ones previously mentioned. Preacher Smith and The Deacons, who have a distinct New Orleans sound to their music, perform "Eat Your Heart Out" and "Roogie Doogie". Great R&B songs from Roscoe Gordon and The Red Tops, with Roscoe's pet rooster Butch sitting on top of his piano, as they perform "Chicken In The Rough" and "Bopp It". Saving the absolute best for last, great rockabilly from Johnny Carroll and The Hot Rocks who perform "Crazy Crazy Lovin", "Wild Wild Women", "Rockin Maybel" and "Sugar Baby". The last song Johnny Carroll actually sings offstage as Kay Wheeler has her solo dance number and shows why she was known as the "Queen of The Rock n Bop".