The advent of rock’n’roll

Until I was 15, popular music was about ballads and crooners, and was enjoyed by adults and young people alike. Many of the songs were hit numbers from West End or New York musical shows. The lyrics were often inane, and the music saccharine. Typical was: “I’d like to go away, be a stowaway, take a trip on a ship, let my worries flow away.”

That all changed in 1955 when the movie “Blackboard Jungle” came out. It starred Glen Ford as a teacher in a tough inner city school, but the movie was legend because of its opening music. It introduced rock’n’roll to the world via the thumping beat music of Bill Haley and his Comets.

“One, two, three o'clock, four o'clock, rock

Five, six, seven o'clock, eight o'clock, rock

Nine, ten, eleven o'clock, twelve o'clock, rock

We're gonna rock around the clock tonight.”

It was a sensation. Young people danced in the aisles at cinemas. They did even more so when the movie “Rock Around the Clock” came out the following year. Cinemas were closed, and some employed security guards to stop the dancing, but it went on anyway. Teenagers, as opposed to “young people” came into existence as a class, and their music and dress diverged sharply from those of their parents. They now wore jeans and sported fancy haircuts, and asserted a separate identity.

There was a minor rebellion at my school during an assembly to practise Christmas carols. When the “Rocking Carol” was called, instead of singing “We will rock you, rock you, rock you,” as the lullaby called for baby Jesus to be lulled, the pupils, including myself, began to chant, ”One, two, three o'clock, four o'clock, rock...” We covered our mouths with our hands, so it was not obvious who was doing it. The outraged teacher, Mr Parr, stormed up and down the aisles trying to stop it, but to no avail. Eventually the deputy head came in and cancelled the practice session.

Popular music was never the same again, and nor were teenagers.