The History of Rock and Roll
The History of Rock & Roll was a radio documentary on rock and roll music, originally syndicated in 1969. One of the lengthiest documentaries of any medium (48 hours in the 1969 version, 52 hours each for the 1978 and 1981 versions), The History of Rock & Roll is a definitive history of the Rock and Roll genre, stretching from the early 1950s to its day. The "rockumentary," as producers Bill Drake and Gene Chenault called it, featured hundreds of interviews and comments from numerous rock artists and people involved with rock and roll.
Notable features introduced in the 1978 edition of this documentary include the "chart sweep," featuring a montage of #1 songs and notable hits from a given year or artist, a "time sweep" for each one-hour segment providing a montage of the major hits for each year or individual artist, and closing with a special climactic time sweep featuring a montage of every #1 hit from 1955 to the year of the latest version. The 1989 edition (made with different producers and otherwise unrelated in content to its predecessors) also included news headlines and clips for each year covered.
While the documentary focused on Rock & Roll and its variants, some songs and artists from other genres were also represented as they also became major hits on stations that primarily played Rock & Roll.
|Running time||48 hours|
|Narrated by||Robert W. Morgan, Humble Harve Miller.|
|Air dates||since 1969|
The History of Rock & Roll first aired on the weekend of February 21–23, 1969 on 93 KHJ Los Angeles, hosted by Robert W. Morgan. It aired for 48 hours and was later syndicated. Later that year, with slight modifications to the script, another version was aired hosted by Humble Harve Miller. The program was then taken to national syndication in the fall of 1969 by parent company RKO General. KHJ repeated this in 12 hour blocks. This version was syndicated throughout the early 1970s, and was sent to stations on large 101⁄2" reels of 1/4" tape, in full-track mono. Stations were required to return the tapes immediately after airing, though (surprisingly) several stations offered copies of the show as prizes. The original KHJ show also carried promos awarding copies of the show as prizes to a handful of listeners, presumably on cassette tape.
Writer Pete Johnson said that "I included nearly every record I ever rem[em]ber hearing".
The History of Rock and Roll billed itself as "modern music's first rockumentary" when it first aired on February 21, 1969. However, it had some competition for that title from the Pop Chronicles which began airing on February 9, 1969, on rival Los Angeles AM station KRLA. But since The History of Rock and Roll completed its first broadcast that weekend, it was the first of these rockumentaries to be broadcast in full.
1978 promotional poster by Tom Jung
|Running time||52 hours|
|Narrated by||Bill Drake|
|Recording studio||Canoga Park, CA|
|Air dates||since 1978|
|No. of episodes||52 self-contained hours|
|Audio format||stereo (except for individual performances originally recorded in mono)|
In 1975, Drake-Chenault began the process of updating the documentary. Finding that the 1969 script contained too many inaccuracies and omissions, programmer/DJ/music historian Gary Theroux researched, rewrote and rebuilt the program entirely from scratch. The new version dramatically expanded the story with fresh interviews, insightful narration, far more music and a host of innovations—all in a modular format which allowed stations more programming flexibility. Drake knew that the rising popularity of stereo FM rock stations made it necessary to redo the show in stereo. The revised show was also completely remixed and re-edited from scratch, using a homebuilt control room assembled together by engineer Mark Ford at the company headquarters in Canoga Park, California, using a library of thousands of LPs and 45 singles. Using a systematic approach covering each year with a focused half-hour as well as separate segments devoted to all the key artists or trends, the result was an enormously successful runaway ratings hit hosted by Bill Drake himself. Drake replaced previous host Humble Harve Miller, who was unavailable due to legal problems.
Among other things, Theroux had Drake-Chenault chief engineer Mark Ford painstakingly assemble two kinds of annual montages: one of each chart-topping hit of a given year (in sequence) and the other of other key songs there was no time to play in full. Those #1 hit montages were reprised for the climactic final hour of the show—edited together back to back to create a fast-moving 45-minute medley of every chart-topping hit from 1955 to the present. The riveting nature of Theroux's much-bootlegged ending later inspired a whole series of medley hits by everyone from Elvis Presley and The Beatles to Stars on 45 and Jive Bunny & the Mixmasters. The 1978 edition of "The History of Rock & Roll" debuted as a marathon broadcast over more than 400 domestic stations and another 400 overseas and won Billboard magazine's "Top Special Program of the Year" award. That success sparked Theroux (who co-produced, along with Ford and Drake) to write "The Top Ten: 1956–Present," a book which revealed the sometimes funny, sometimes sad, sometimes outrageous but always revealing stories behind the ten biggest hit records of each year in even more detail. Theroux eventually hosted his own version of "The History of Rock 'n' Roll" as a fast-moving syndicated daily 21⁄2-minute feature.
Following the success of the 1978 release, Drake-Chenault created a shorter, edited version, marketed as "The History of Rock & Roll: The Early Years." It only spotlit the years through 1971 and was targeted to oldies stations.
The final Drake-Chenault version was released in the spring of 1981, named the Silver Anniversary Edition of the History of Rock & Roll, so-called as it was released 25 years after Elvis' Presley's first #1 hit. Not wishing to increase the size of the program, and with an attempt to place greater emphasis on the current musical trends, the controversial decision was made to severely cut back the sections devoted to the 1950s and early 1960s (prior to the advent of the Beatles). All of the pre-1978 content in the "Silver Anniversary Edition," therefore, was actually a recycled cut-down of Theroux, Ford and Drake's award-winning work. Only their two-hour profile of Elvis Presley remained relatively intact. The half-hour recaps of chart highlights from each year between 1956 and 1963 were condensed into a single half hour, while new Chart Sweeps for 1978, 1979 and 1980 were expanded to a full hour each. The final hour, the "time sweep", brought the number one song montage up to date through Eddie Rabbitt's "I Love a Rainy Night", the song that was number one at the time this version was prepared.
With Drake-Chenault having been sold in 1986, it was the ABC Rock Radio Network which followed up with what it called "The Official History of Rock & Roll." Hosted by a team of disc jockeys including Tony Pigg, Meg Griffin, Jimmy Fink and Mike Harrison, it bore little resemblance to the Drake-Chenault versions.
Despite the program's popularity, the name "History of Rock & Roll" was never trademarked. As a result, there are various items on the market that bear this name that had no connection to the radio program. These included various oldies compilations (such as a set of LP albums from Pickwick Records), books (such as a History of Rock and Roll college textbook, written by Tom Larson) and videos and DVDs (like a Time Life History of Rock and Roll DVD set). In addition, Rolling Stone magazine not only released a book with this phrase (The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll), but also had an early-1980s weekly radio series with some similarities to the classic 1978 special (Rolling Stone's Continuous History of Rock & Roll).
The 1981 version of the show opened with a quick reverse "Time Sweep", featuring clips from selected songs from the 1980s backwards to the 1950s. It covered the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, and closed with a "A Top Ten of Rock & Roll" followed by the "Ending Time Sweep": The "time sweep" is a 53-minute collage of number one hits from the Rock & Roll era, through 1981's "I Love a Rainy Night" (Eddie Rabbitt). The entire broadcast closed with The Beatles' version of "Rock and Roll Music".
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