JUNE 1956 ...MID­DLE AMER­ICA GETS NERVOUS

JUNE 16

Mojo (UK) - - What Goes On! - Fred Del­lar

That Fe­bru­ary, Elvis Pres­ley’s break­through Heart­break Ho­tel had set Amer­ica’s broad­cast­ing net­works twitch­ing. “The con­tro­versy over the ef­fect of rock and roll mu­sic on the morals of mi­nors have prompted… a par­tic­u­larly cau­tious cen­sor­ship ear open for ma­te­rial that might lead young­sters astray,” tut­ted Bill­board. In the line of fire in the sec­ond week of June ‘56 was Trans­fu­sion by Nervous Norvus, a Num­ber 15 hit on the Dot la­bel which had fallen into im­me­di­ate dis­favour at NBC, ABC and CBS. These ma­jor net­works ei­ther bannedthe record com­pletely or rel­e­gated it to strict time-spots. Nervous Norvus was in re­al­ity Jimmy Drake, a Mem­phis-born song­writer, chronic asth­matic and some­times truck driver. Trans­fu­sion, a nov­elty hit con­cern­ing a care­less mo­torist who gets his ichor topped up fol­low­ing an ar­ray of ac­ci­dents, roused the cen­sors to ac­tion due to its car-crash sound ef­fects and vo­cal in­ter­jec­tions in­clud­ing “Slip the blood to me, Bud”, “Pour the crim­son in me, Jim­son”, and “Pass the claret to me, Bar­rett.” “There’s noth­ing funny about a blood trans­fu­sion,” thun­dered NBC’s cen­sor­ship caliph, one Stock­ton Hel­frich. The me­dia furore caused such a de­mand for Drake’s de­mented de­liv­ery that the record was cat­a­pulted into the US Top 20. Not that pop or rock were the only sounds that alarmed Amer­i­can ra­dio and TV at that time. A sur­vey of broad­cast­ers re­vealed such Cole Porter stan­dards as Love For Sale and Let’s Do It had long been con­sid­ered too risqué for fam­ily au­di­ence ears – in­deed, Broad­way mu­si­cals had long been seen as sup­pli­ers of songs cel­e­brat­ing sex, which is why I Cain’t Say No from Ok­la­homa was banned at NBC, the So­lil­o­quy from Carousel was nixed at CBS, and There Is Noth­ing Like A Dame from South Pa­cific was de­clared ver­boten at ABC. So much for mere words. Oth­ers were con­cerned about ex­ces­sive body move­ment. Elvis, in­evitably, was blasted for an ap­pear­ance on Mil­ton Berle’s NBC-TV Show, with The Jour­nal-Amer­i­can com­ment­ing: “Elvis Pres­ley wig­gled and wrig­gled with such ab­dom­i­nal gy­ra­tions that bur­lesque bomb­shell Ge­or­gia Soth­ern re­ally de­serves equal time to re­ply in gy­rat­ing kind … He can’t sing a lick, makes up for vo­cal short­com­ings with the weird­est and plainly planned, sug­ges­tive an­i­ma­tion short of an abo­rig­ine’s mat­ing dance.” Else­where, DJ Jerry Mar­shall, who ran the pop­u­lar Make-Be­lieve Ball­room show on sta­tion WNEW, in­formed his au­di­ence that “Elvis will have to drop the hoochy coochy gy­ra­tions or end up as Pelvis Pres­ley in cir­cus sideshows and bur­lesque.” But the wilder side of rock was ex­plod­ing. An open let­ter to DJs, deal­ers and dis­trib­u­tors ap­peared in the month’s trade mag­a­zines,

“THERE’S NOTH­ING FUNNY ABOUT A BLOOD TRANS­FU­SION.”

Stock­ton Hel­frich, NBC

com­menc­ing: ”You’ll know what it feels like to be a poor Ne­gro boy in Ma­con, Ge­or­gia, dream­ing dreams that couldn’t pos­si­bly come true – and yet it did… I in­vested two dol­lars in a test record­ing and sent it to a record com­pany in Hol­ly­wood. The next thing I knew I was record­ing for that com­pany.” The let­ter was re­ally no more than a per­son­alised ad­vert for the ul­tra-fran­tic Lit­tle Richard, who, hav­ing al­ready scored with Tutti-Frutti and Long Tall Sally, was prov­ing a fount of ec­stasy, with his lat­est sin­gle re­lease, Rip It Up/ Ready Teddy, sell­ing a re­mark­able 342,000 copies in its first 10 days of re­lease. The record was, how­ever, the cause of na­tion­wide dis­ap­proval, fol­low­ing a Baltimore ap­pear­ance by Richard dur­ing which con­cert-go­ers had at­tempted to jump from the bal­cony, while some fe­male fans had ripped off their un­der­wear and thrown it onto the stage. Ear­lier, on June 3, the au­thor­i­ties at Santa Cruz, Cal­i­for­nia had slapped a to­tal ban on all things rock’n’roll at pub­lic events fol­low­ing a dance fea­tur­ing Chuck Hig­gins, who had an area hit with Pachuko Hop. It was re­ported that the teenagers at the venue, were “en­gaged in sug­ges­tive, stim­u­lat­ing and tan­ta­lis­ing mo­tions in­duced by the provoca­tive rhythms.” Mean­while, Elvis was still fight­ing off those who found his Mil­ton Berle Show per­for­mance ob­scene, declar­ing that his per­for­mance was no more raunch­some than that of TV co-star De­bra Paget. “She wore a tight thing with feathers on the be­hind where they wig­gle the most and who bumped and pooshed out all over the place,” he claimed. Paget would duly be cast as the lead­ing lady in Elvis’s first film, Love Me Ten­der. Not ev­ery­one dis­ap­proved of the new mu­sic and its rhyth­mic pos­si­bil­i­ties, though: this month none other than Benny Good­man, the King of Swing, de­clared of rock’n’roll, “I guess it’s OK. At least it has a beat.”

Get­ting kicks in rude ’56: (main) Elvis and friends on Mil­ton Berle’s show, June 5, 1956; (top) Nervous Norvus’s wax; (right) Elvis and Miltie; (bot­tom) De­bra Paget.

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