Robert Harris - The Great American Songbook
Sixty years ago last month, in March of 1955, a movie opened across the United States that ended up having an enormous impact on the popular culture of North America. Blackboard Jungle was billed as a hard-hitting look at, as it said, the "teenage terror" and "modern savagery" in the nation's schools. With it, juvenile delinquency took its place alongside the Communist menace and fluoridation of the water supply as a source of alarm in the America of the mid-fifties. But Blackboard Jungle would have been long forgotten except for one thing - the movie opened and closed with a song that at the time was completely unknown, even though it was already a year old - "Rock Around the Clock".
Producer Milt Gabler of Decca Records taught a shuffle beat he had learned from black entertainer Louis Jordan to a bunch of country musicians, and the result was one of the most famous records of all time. Blackboard Jungle opened in March - by July "Rock Around the Clock" was number one on the Hit Parade. The era of rock and roll had begun - it's never really stopped. And when the era of rock and roll began as suddenly and unexpectedly as it did, another era ended just as suddenly and unexpectedly - a pop music tradition we now call the Great American Songbook, associated at that time with the Frank Sinatras and Nat King Coles, Tony Bennetts and Rosemary Clooneys of the world.
Ever since those days in 1955, listeners and critics and fans have been lamenting the death of that songbook tradition. The latest lament is a book called The B-Side: the Death of Tin Pan Alley, by Ben Yagoda, published just a few weeks ago. But what exactly is the Great American Songbook - where did it come from, where did it go, and has it really disappeared? To answer these pressing questions, Michael speaks with our man about music, Robert Harris.
You can find a list of the music played in this segment here.