Category Archives: Fear of Rock

1955 Juvenile Delinquency Crime Commission

1955 Juvenile Delinquency Crime Commission

Houston, TX

Fear of Rock

The Fear of Rock and Roll · Propeller
1955 Juvenile Delinquency Crime Commission

Rock & Integration?

Some have argued that rock and roll did as much to integrate the United States as legislation or demonstrations. It is difficult to quantify the contribution of any one civil rights strategy, but it is interesting to think that rock and roll music did not start out as a way to bring races together.

1955 Juvenile Delinquency Crime Commission

International fear

The fear of rock music was not limited to the United States. On May 8, 1954 the UK’s BBC radio banned Johnnie Ray’s song “Such A Night” after some listeners complained about its ‘suggestiveness.’ Ray was famous for his emotional stage act, which included beating up his piano and writhing on the floor.

1955 Juvenile Delinquency Crime Commission

Billboard’s Fear

Later that year, on September 24, 1954, a Billboard magazine editorial entitled “Control the Dimwits” called for removing rhythm and blues records with sexual double entendres from jukeboxes.

The Songwriters Protective Association (today the Songwriters Guild of America ) endorsed the editorial. Police in Memphis, Tennessee, and Long Beach, California, confiscated jukeboxes with the offending records. The largest jukebox operator in the New York City area offered to remove any records that Billboard listed.

1955 Juvenile Delinquency Crime Commission

Variety’s Fear

The following year, on February 23, 1955, Variety magazine wrote “A Warning to the Music Business,. Music ‘leer-ics’ are touching new lows and …policing, if you will, [has] to come from more responsible sources. Meaning the . . . record manufacturers and their network daddies. . . . It won’t wash for them to . . . justify their ‘leer-ic’ garbage by declaring ‘that’s what kids want’ or ‘that’s the only thing that sells today.”

1955 Juvenile Delinquency Crime Commission

Institutional Fear

Again that year, on May 17, 1955,  Princeton University students played the Bill Haley hit record Rock Around the Clock simultaneously from their dorm rooms. University administrators suspended four students.

1955 Juvenile Delinquency Crime Commission

Municipal Fear

Some US cities began to ban concerts by certain rock and roll artists…mainly black like Fats Domino.

1955 Juvenile Delinquency Crime Commission

Juvenile Delinquency and Crime Commission

Finally on August 21, 1955, the Juvenile Delinquency and Crime Commission in Houston, Texas, claimed success  in its anti-rock and roll crusade. The effort involved pressuring radio stations not to play recordings with “lewd or suggestive” lyrics. All nine Houston radio stations had cooperated.

The Commission had prepared a list of objectionable records. “Wash-Out-The Air,” a subcommittee of the Commission, looked for records that were supposedly suggestive, obscene, or had lewd intonations. The list contained twenty-six records and almost all by black artists, including:

  • Ray Charles “I Got a Woman”
  • Clyde McPhatter “Whatcha’ Gonna Do Now”
  • Hank Ballard and the Midnighters “Annie Had a Baby”
  • Dominoes “Sixty Minute Man”
  • Drifters “Honey Love”
  • Roy Brown “Good Rockin’ Tonight”

The Commission told radio station owners that the Commission would complain to the Federal Communications Commission if the stations did not cooperate.

For more about Houston in particular and the fear of rock in general, see the book, Anti-rock: The Opposition to Rock ‘n’ Roll by Linda Martin and Kerry Segrave.

Chuck Higgins Pachuko Hop

Chuck Higgins Pachuko Hop

Moma said, “Don’t go looking for trouble, or you’ll find it.”

And if you go looking for poltergeists you’ll find them, too.

By June 2, 1956 Fats Domino, Sam Phillips, Ike Turner’s “Rocket 88,” Alan Freed, Elvis, Bill Haley, the Blackboard Jungle, Little Richard, and other early R & B people were well on to inventing this new thing: Rock ‘n’ Roll.

Chuck Higgins Pachuko Hop

Fear of Rock

And like any new youth music craze (see the “godless” 16th century forbidden waltz), many adults looked to find a menace. It was easy to cast 1950s’ fears onto Rock. Conspiracy theorists could say Communists brought the music into America to weaken us. Other irrational and racist commentators claimed that the lazy promiscuous (both at the same time?!) Negro was the fault.

Or in California, Mexican-Americans.

And 1950 adults tried to stomp out the music and its suggestive dancing and lyrics.

Chuck Higgins Pachuko Hop

Zoot suit  

Pachuko (or pachuco) refers to a style of dressing that might be better known as the zoot suit.

Chuck Higgins

Chuck Higgins was born in Gary, Indiana on April 17, 1924. According to a Black Cat Rockabilly article, “His first choice of instrument was the trumpet, which he took up at he age of ten and at which he became considerably more proficient than he ever did at playing the tenor saxophone.”

He and his family moved to California in 1940 where he eventually became the leader and saxophonist of  Chuck Higgins & His Mellotones.

In 1952 he wrote “Pachuko Hop.” The song became a local hit.

Chuck Higgins Pachuko Hop

Santa Cruz dance show

Chuck Higgins Pachuko Hop

As was happening throughout the US, on June 2, 1956 there was a dance in the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium featuring Chuck Higgins and his Orchestra. Police entered the auditorium just to check on the event, and what they found, according to Lieutenant Richard Overton, was a crowd “engaged in suggestive, stimulating and tantalizing motions induced by the provocative rhythms of an all-negro band.”

Lt. Overton shut down the dance.

The next day, June 3, 1956, Santa Cruz city authorities announced a total ban on rock and roll at public gatherings, calling the music “Detrimental to both the health and morals of our youth and community.”

Chuck Higgins Pachuko Hop


4822 days later, 500,000 young people gathered on a Bethel, NY hay field to enjoy three days of music. On the second day Country Joe led them in a cheer.

Woodstock Music and Art Fair (photo by J Shelley)

Johnnie Ray Banned

Johnnie Ray Banned

May 8, 1954

BBC Bans Ray’s “Such a Night”

Johnnie Ray Banned

Even though rock music was just learning to walk in 1954, we could see its future youthful swagger.

Johnnie Ray Banned


Lincoln Chase wrote “Such a Night” in 1953. The Drifters, with Clyde McPhatter, released it in January 1954. It was a hit despite its “racy” lyrics. At least that’s what some listeners thought.

It was a night, ooo what a night it was
   It really was, such a night
   The moon was bright ooo how bright it was
   It really was, such a night
   The night was alive with stars above
   And when she kissed me I had to fall in love

It was a kiss mmmm what a kiss it was
   It really was, such a kiss
   How she could kiss ooo what a kiss it was
   It really was, such a kiss
   Just part of her lips that sets me on fire
   I reminisce and I feel desire

I'd give my heart to her in sweet surrender
   How well I remember , I'll always remember
   Ooo that night, ooo what a night it was
   It really was, such a night
   Came the dawn and my heart and my love and the night was gone
   But I'll never forget that kiss in the moonlight
   Ooo such a kiss, ooo such a night

Now she's gone, gone gone
   Yes she's gone, gone gone
   Came the dawn, dawn dawn
   And the night was gone
   And my heart was gone
   And her love was gone
   But before the dawn oo oo oo oo such a night 

The Drifters had a hit despite the fear, but as often happened in early rock, Johnnie Ray, an American white singer, covered the song the same year. He too ran into issues with the lyrics, On this day, May 8, 1954, the BBC radio banned the song after listener complaints.

Johnnie Ray Banned

Johnnie Ray

Johnnie Ray had first become a sensation with a two-sided-hit that reached No. 1 on the pop charts. The record, ”Cry” backed by ”The Little White Cloud That Cried.” It sold more than two million copies.

Ray continued to have hits during the 50s and was particularly popular in Great Britain. According to a 1981 New York Times article stated that, “…it was his [Rays’] rhythm and blues style of singing that help lay the groundwork for the rock-and-roll that turned Mr. Ray’s entertainment world around. Recently, Ringo Starr of the Beatles pointed out that the three singers that the Beatles listened to in their fledgling days were Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Johnnie Ray.” 

Johnnie Ray Banned

Ridicule as well as popularity

Johnnie Ray died on February 24, 1990.  He was 63 years old. His animated showmanship had been both a boon and a curse to his career. Again the New York Times, “His mannerisms earned him ridicule as well as popularity, and he was a favorite subject of impersonators.

Johnnie Ray Banned