From: saki <email@example.com>
Subject: American Bandstand and the Fabs
Content-Type: TEXT/PLAIN; charset=US-ASCII
>>So far as I know, Dick "American Bandstand" Clark did not premiere any
>>Beatles song on his TV show. I'm unaware of any other show he had at the
Ed Chen said:
>FWIW, this story came from Dick Clark's promotional bandwagon for
>"Birth of the Beatles." He says that he played "She Loves You"
>on "rate a record" for the weekday version of "Bandstand." Clark said
>that the disc rated "just fair," and "then I pulled a picture of the group
>out, and the audience just giggled. I figured these guys were going
>nowhere. We all found out the truth soon enough."
The story is told a little differently in John A. Jackson's "American Bandstand: Dick Clark and the Making of a Rock 'n' Roll Empire" (Oxford University Press, 1997), although Jackson's story corroborates the point that Dick Clark was not enamored of the Fab Four.
What interested me about this whole anecdote was the potential part "American Bandstand" might have played in the Beatles' rise to fame in America---what did Dick Clark know, and when did he know it? :-)
So I decided to have some fun and look into the story.
It appears that---as seems to be the case throughout his association with pop music---Clark missed the big turn in the road. He was clearly a good man on straight-aways, but the minute a major detour presented itself, he was disinclined to follow it, lest it turn into a dead end. And as Clark said many times throughout his career, he was less interested in the music per se than in making a lot of money. Even on the tried-and-true musical highway, he did all right for himself...but not by embracing the unknown for a more dependable route toward success.
Hence his rejection of the Beatles in fall 1963.
The "Rate a Record" segment was a popular part of "American Bandstand", present in the original version of the show (before Dick Clark joined it in 1956), where teens would give a critical listen to forthcoming or recently released singles. "She Loves You" appears to have been one such record presented to "Bandstand" participants, though the precise date of this circumstance remains elusive. It was probably sometime between September and late November 1963.
A Swan Records executive, Bernie Binnick (who had several years of association with Dick Clark via publishing and record-industry projects), was apparently trying to convince Clark that Swan's acquisition of a British hit record by the Beatles, called "She Loves You", would be an American hit as well. But why did Swan, a minor American label, have the rights to "SLY"?
Capitol Records, subsidiary of EMI (which owned Parlophone, the Beatles' English label, as well), declined to issue the recording, as they had with "Love Me Do" and the Fabs' two other hits in England, "Please Please Me" and "From Me To You"). This left other, smaller companies to pursue distribution rights for this curious British group that was (in England at least) smashing all chart statistics and having hit after hit in 1963.
Swan and Vee-Jay were two labels interested in the Fabs in America; so was Tollie. Swan went for "She Loves You" backed with "I'll Get You".
The British release of "SLY" was on 23 August 1963; it entered the charts there on 29 August, and was a number one hit for the Beatles in England.
In the States, "SLY" was released on 16 September 1963. It didn't chart here nationally; it's B-side, "I'll Get You" made a ripple in New England and possibly Canada.
Sometime during this fall period (Jackson's book describes it only as fall 1963; another source, Michael Shore and Dick Clark's "The History of American Bandstand"  determines the time frame as "the late fall of 1963" [p. 103]), Binnick attempted to get Clark interested in the record.
Clark said that he gave it a listen and "didn't think a great deal of it". Binnick remembers showing Clark a picture of the Fabs, to which Clark replied, according to Binnick, "You're absolutely insane...It'll never fly" (Jackson, p. 226).
Binnick asked Clark to try out the disc on the Rate-A-Record segment of "American Bandstand" (which was, by August 1963, cut back to a weekend-only show, rather than a daily broadcast; all episodes filmed on one weekend a month and broadcast nationally each Saturday). Clark reports that the song did poorly, earning a seventy-one out of a possible ninety-eight points on a numeric scale---a barely passing grade, in other words.
In the interview with Jackson, Clark doesn't mention showing the picture of the Beatles to the kids on the show; I'm not sure we can conclude that anything but the music was aired that day in fall 1963.
So the Bandstand kids didn't like the record any more than their master of ceremonies did!
There's a bit of irony in this whole episode too.
Binnick, who pleaded so vociferously with his old business partner for airplay for this hot British single, was playing what he must have thought was a trump card of sorts. Dick Clark had been one of the founding members of Swan Records (and the controlling partner, with 50% share of the label to Binnick's 25%, and another 25% by another erstwhile Clark associate, Tony Mammarella). You'd think that Clark would have been glad to help out an old friend in a moment of need.
But not so. The "payola" scandal of the late nineteen-fifties may have been the reason, at least as much as Clark's antipathy to the Beatles' sound.
Clark had never been charged or convicted of being guilty in taking pay to promote a record (though if you read Mr. Jackson's fascinating book, you'll see how Clark managed to skirt the payola issue while still making a profit on the side!). But part of the deal for keeping Clark on ABC's monumentally popular afternoon dance show included the network's demand that Clark divest himself of all record-industry holdings. This included, in early 1960, selling his interest in Swan to his partners, Mammarella and Binnick.
Clark went through some rather unpleasant grilling at the time of the payola scandal (which wrecked the careers of other popular disc-jockeys, mostly those on radio), and though he maintains even today he did nothing illegal, he must have been aware that what Binnick was asking him to do might seem like favoritism to an old business colleague. With ABC cutting back "American Bandstand" to weekends, Clark probably didn't want to be accused of doing anything to further jeopardize the show.
And it appears he really didn't like the music anyway. :-)
Jackson's book points out that "Clark remained unable to develop a correct take on the Beatles". After a few weekends showcasing the Fabs' music in early 1964, Clark was quoted by the Philadelphia Inquirer in July 1964 (just after the release of the film "A Hard Day's Night", which earned universal accolades) claiming that Beatlemania was "tapering off" and that the Beatles' music was "kid stuff".
>Clark mentions the incident in _Dick Clark's American Bandstand_, and claims
>that that it proved to him the provinciality of Philadelphia, and that he
>needed to move the show away from its roots.
But this statement of Clark's doesn't make sense. It wasn't just the kids who gave the Beatles a barely passing grade; it was Clark himself who was convinced that Fabs would "never fly". Who was really provincial here? :-)
What was happening was that the musical center of the universe shifted from the American East Coast (where it undoubtedly had been strong in the late fifties, when Philly was still revered as the place you had to make it to have a national hit) to several new centers of popularity---among them the West Coast (where surf music had risen and actually peaked by 1963) and England, from whence the great first wave of the British Invasion innundated an unsuspecting America.
In any case, Clark had already considered a move to California as early as 1962, when he was being considered as an actor for a TV series called "Kincaid" (a spinoff from a one-season show "Stoney Burke", "Kincaid" never happened). In 1963 Clark was still talking about moving "AB" to California, where studio facilities were more accommodating and where he could begin to expand his repertoire in hosting game shows.
I don't think Clark could ever make a tenable case for Philadelphia beeing too provincial for him based on its early rejection of the Fabs. :-)
>No audio or video tape of this program is known to exist, but given that
>Clark would play VeeJay releases on "Bandstand," I would put the odds of
>the incident happening at better than 50/50.
Clearly the incident happened. We don't have an exact date. It's likely just the song "SLY" was played; possibly a picture of the Beatles was shown; certainly no film footage of them.
>If nothing else, Clark gets bragging rights for "first Beatles
>song in its entirety on national television," and probably the first time
>America saw the Fabs.
I'll go with you on point one, will politely disagree on point two. But I must say it's not much to brag about if the first time you played the Beatles you and your audience were unable to hear the magic in their music!
Though this brings up another topic worthy of pursuit (perhaps on another night, in a different article):
In America, why did "I Want To Hold Your Hand" shake our souls, and not "She Loves You" until after we were ourselves caught up in Beatlemania?
There must be a reason....
And don't tell me it was the trousers. :-)
Click here to return to saki's index.