Tag 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)