The Western world entered a new era at the end of World War II, and that was true in its music and pop culture as much as in its politics and international relations. The years after the war saw the birth of many things, and one of them was rock & roll. One DJ, Alan Freed, played an especially important role in making rock music part of life, by moving the sound from obscure dance halls and parties to the radio and introducing it to millions of teenagers across America. In Big Beat Heat, John A. Jackson tells the story of the songs, the air play, the payola scandals and corruption and organized crime involvement that marked the birth of rock & roll. A consummate showman, a P.T. Barnum of the music business, a hypester extraordinaire, he was nonetheless a fulcrum for a musical movement that moved the world.
The story of the father of rock & roll
Big Beat Heat goes beyond the hype and under the surface. Jackson presents interviews with family members and close friends of Freed to get at the real story of the man who midwifed the birth of rock & roll and named the baby. Freed’s career was short and his trajectory meteoric. His success lay in an inclusive vision. As he told audiences himself, “Rock and roll is a river of music that has absorbed many streams: rhythm and blues, jazz, rag time, cowboy songs, country songs, folk songs. All have contributed to the big beat.” Bridging the chasm of segregation, he brought songs by black artists to the radio at a time when most air time went to sanitized covers by white bands. Broken by his enemies, his career ruined at the age of 43, drinking himself to death afterwards, it’s doubtful he could have seen clearly how influential he had been. Here is the book that tells the story of that influence in all its mixed-bag truth.