Rock, Rock, Rock! was conceived, co-written and co-produced by Milton Subotsky — he also wrote nine of the songs in the movie — who we all know was half of the team that was known as Amicus (along with Max Rosenberg, who also produced this movie). All hail Amicus! And all hail Sword & Sorcery Productions, Subotsky’s 70’s production team that tried — and sadly failed — to bring Lin Carter’s Thongor in the Valley of Demons and adapations of Creepy and Eerie to the screen. He’d also co-produce Maximum Overdrive, Sometimes They Come Back and The Lawnmower Man.
This is the first rock ‘n roll movie to have its own soundtrack, released on Chess, which features four songs each from three of the label’s artists — Chuck Berry, The Moonglows and The Flamingos — as other bands were signed to different labels, which appear on screen in the credits along with each band at the end. Connie Francis’ songs were released by MGM, for example, and The Teenagers’ songs were on Gee Records.
This film is considered a jukebox musical, where the plot is driven by popular songs. I could give you great stage play versions that everyone in the rest of the world loves, but I’m me, and the examples I give are Nilsson’s Son of Dracula and The Village People’s Can’t Stop the Music.
The story itself is very simple: ori Graham (Tuesday Weld, with Connie Francis’ singing voice) get sinto hijinks as she tries to buy a gown for a big dance. Jack Collins — who was Mr. Brady’s boss — is her dad, who is driven nearly mad by her ridiculousness.
Alan Freed shows up as, well, Alan Freed. He grew up in Salem, Ohio, miles away from my small hometown and his first jobs were on WKBN in Youngstown and WKST in New Castle. He was a rebel, playing mixed raced music and throwing dances that weren’t segregated. He’s perhaps best remembered for popularizing the term rock and roll, describing it in this movie as “a river of music which has absorbed many streams: rhythm and blues, jazz, ragtime, cowboy songs, country songs, folk songs. All have contributed greatly to the big beat.”
His initial big success came in Cleveland, in case you ever wondered what the hell Huey Lewis was singing about and why the Hall of Fame is on East 9th Street. He also started appearing in other movies like this, such as Rock Around the Clock, Mister Rock and Roll, Don’t Knock the Rock and Go, Johnny Go!
Freed’s career was destroyed by the payola scandal, which showed that he had accepted money to play certain songs and even songwriting credits on others, ensuring he would get royalties. That said, The Moonglows did confirm that he did co-write the song “Sincerely.”
But the damage was done. He’d bounce from station to station, unable to promote the rock and roll shows that he loved so much. He died in 1965, at the young age of 43, from the damage that alcohol does to the liver.
He was played by Tim McIntire in the movie American Hot Wax (he also played George Jones in Stand By Your Man), which features tons of artists playing themselves, like Jerry Lee Lewis, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Chuck Berry and Frankie Ford.
Times were weird in 1956. Tuesday Weld turned 13 while this movie was being made. Her boyfriend in the film, Teddy Randazzo (who wrote “It’s Gonna Take a Miracle”), was 21.