This month I’m gonna tell you about a film that played a tremendous role in the Rock’n’Roll Revival of the 1970s. In December 2013, I wrote an article in this column about the 1972 London Rock’n’Roll Show. In the article I explained its great significance in the history of the Revival. But the Film I’m going to tell you about reached a much bigger audience and in that sense was even more important than that iconic Show.
The movie was “Let the Good Times Roll” and it was released in 1973. It comprised rock’n’roll legends from the 1950s performing at an American Music Festival in 1973 in Las Vegas. The footage was interspersed with original film footage from the 1950s. I well remember the impact of the film on us young rockers when it came out in the UK. It was awesome. Here was OUR Music in 1973 getting centre stage at last in a wonderful film. It was a very popular movie in terms of the huge numbers of people that went to see it, the majority of which were not already into rock’n’roll. In can truly be said to have been a great showcase for our great culture.
In the year after it was released, I used to check my weekly copy of “Time Out” to see where it was being shown. If my weekend schedule permitted, I’d go and see it wherever it was showing in London. And here’s an aside about “Time Out”: Compared to today, in the 1970s this magazine was much greater and more important to the young people of London. It also was good to Rock’n’Roll. It would list any r’n’r gigs that were playing in London, as well as giving good coverage to the likes of Crazy Cavan and the Rhythm Rockers whenever they were performing in London. It is thanks to Time Out that I knew about every rock’n’roll concert going on in the city during that time. It was also an excellent read with their articles on music, even if you disagreed with some of the views in them. I remember a particularly wonderful issue of the magazine from that time, when the writing was handed over to the Monty Python team – Brilliant. But I digress !
Let me talk you through the film. It’ll indicate to you what an excellent piece of rock’n’roll history it was. The co-director Robert Abel brilliantly used split screen imagery to show simultaneously clips from the fifties and the artists performing at the 1973 concert. After showing various fifties clips at the beginning of the movie, there is footage of a young 1950s preacher denouncing rock’n’roll as the devil’s work. He concludes his rant by referring to the demonic rock’n’roll music beat. “The beat, the beat, the beat !” he cries, whereupon the movie cuts to Chuck Berry at the concert blasting out “Hail, Hail Rock’n’Roll” – Awesome !
Next we saw Chubby Checker performing; not exactly rock’n’roll and poor old Chubby was showing his age a bit even in 1973. But his act was fun to watch and reminded us of those times when everybody, young and old, was dancing the immortal Twist. Then came Bill Haley and the Comets, inevitably beginning with “Rock Around the Clock”. The split screen at that time showed clips from the iconic 1950s movie “The Blackboard Jungle”, the film that was the first to really give an authentic portrayal of 1950’s juvenile delinquency. Like Chubby, Bill Haley was showing his age a bit, but the musicianship of his Comets was as excellent as ever. Then a solid performance from Fats Domino, who never really aged on stage with his smooth, casual rock’n’roll style. He was followed by the Shirelles. I really rated the Shirelles when I was very young; gorgeous lookin’ gals who could really sing. Inevitably by 1973 they were not quite so beautiful as they were in their heyday, but for someone my age they were still quite pleasant to look at !
I’ll mention three other acts quickly, before moving on to the two mega stars of the show. The three in question were the Platters, Bo Diddley and the Five Satins. They were all distinctly watchable and all displayed some of the magic from their heydays.
But there is no question the two who added an extra dimension to the whole show were Little Richard and Chuck Berry. First of all let’s talk about Little Richard. There are brilliant exchanges in the movie between him and Robert Abel the director, prior to him coming on stage. Abel pleads with him not to leave the stage area during his act, because of the safety issues involved. Richard keeps answering with words like “I’ll try really hard not to”. Abel of course fears the worst and keeps asking him for a definite commitment, without success. The outcome of course was inevitable ! Richard began his set with “Lucille” and proceeded onto most of his other classic numbers, such as “Rip It Up”. He proclaimed to all present, “I want everybody here to know, I am the King of Rock’n’Roll !”. Then after a wild version of Good Golly Miss Molly, he climbed onto the speakers, tore his shirt into shreds and threw the pieces to the audience. He even threw away his boots to the crowd. It was an amazing climax to an unforgettable set. Then predictably he jumped into the audience and his exit was when he got to the back of the hall, after ploughing through the entire crowd. And his band kept on playing throughout. Fantastic !
Then the final act, Mr Motorvator himself. It was Chuck Berry at his very best. In the film, there is a great segment during his performance when it cuts to Berry reminiscing about Maybelline, his legendary bus which used to transport him and his entourage around the country on concert tours. He played many of his classic numbers such as Sweet Little Sixteen. His version of “Reelin’ and Rockin’” was the “bluest” one I’ve ever heard him perform. Quite a few of you will know what I’m talking about. Chuck’s frequent amendments to the original lyrics, making them decidedly adult in content, are legendary. The version at this show was the most “hard core” of all; very funny and very effective ! His finale was a real show stopper; a duet with Bo Diddley, whom he spontaneously grabbed from the audience, got him to get his guitar and proceeded to blast out “Johnny B Goode”, replete with plenty of his trademark “duck walks”. It was a superb ending to an iconic concert.
The flashbacks which interspersed the entire film gave a terrific insight into 1950s America. For example it covered the themes of juvenile delinquency, Cold War hysteria, swimsuits of the period, drive-ins, segregation, etc. There were also memorable 1950s clips of local town and city mayors, as well as councilmen, explaining why they had banned rock’n’roll concerts from taking place in their towns, due to their immorality, decadence and the possibility of gang violence.
The prime motive of Robert Abel in making and directing the movie was almost certainly to make a lot of money. And he succeeded. The film was a big box office success. But fair play to him, his film made a significant contributon to the Rock’n’Roll Revival of the 1970s, with the publicity it gave to our great music. So Thankyou Mr Abel: Your movie gave so many of us some great moments and memories. You can have a look at the film yourself: Go to youtube and type in “Let The Good Times Roll (1973)” in the Search Engine Box. They sure don’t make movies like that any more !