Saturday, March 15, 2014

Saturday morning tunes: Goddess of love that you are

On this date in 1959, teen idol and soon-to-be surf movie icon Frankie Avalon hit number one on the charts with "Venus." has this impressively cynical write-up of his path to stardom:
The business minds behind American Idol are not the first to try their hand at manufacturing pop stars. In fact, the process of corporate idol-making is nearly as old as rock and roll itself. The first man-made idols were launched in the late 1950s from Philadelphia, where a handful of enterprising businessmen applied a little creativity and a lot of cold, hard cash to the task of capitalizing on the rock-and-roll phenomenon. The Philadelphia teen idol machine hit full stride on March 15, 1959, when local boy Frankie Avalon hit #1 on the pop charts with his hit song, "Venus."

The commercial genius of the Philadelphia idol-makers was in looking at rock and roll and understanding it as an economic phenomenon rather than a musical one. Elvis Presley may have combined black rhythm and blues and white country music in a transformative way, but on a dollars-and-cents level, he also revealed the enormous, untapped spending power of America's teenage girls, some of whom surely cared more about his dreamy good looks than his musical innovations. Enter a clean-cut brigade of pop singers hand-picked to appeal to this market. The music—much of which bore no relationship to rock and roll—was almost an afterthought.

Here he is, introduced by the godfather of Philadelphia idol-making, Dick Clark, on "American Bandstand," and with a brief glimpse of those untapped teenage spenders:

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