PatBoone 1955 PublicityPhoto 1500

isn’t it a shame that pat boone gets no r-e-s-p-e-c-t? (or, should pat boone be in the rock & roll hall of fame?)

THE QUESTION ON QUORA was “Who was the first rock & roll su­per­star to be dis­carded and for­gotten to time?” I an­swered with Bill Haley, Pat Boone, and Connie Francis. Each singer was a big star in their heyday—the word “su­per­star” did not exist then—but each has been under-appreciated by most critics and his­to­rians since rock & roll be­came self-reflective decades ago.

In re­sponse to my an­swer, Dean Gibson added a com­ment agreeing with me on Haley and Francis but ques­tioned my cham­pi­oning Boone. He re­it­er­ated the al­most uni­versal be­lief that Boone and other white artists de­prived black artists of a more lu­cra­tive ca­reer:

“What he did, in my opinion, was take market share, at­ten­tion, and money away from the black artists who orig­i­nally did the songs, con­tributing to the ob­scu­rity of oth­er­wise su­pe­rior per­for­mances of those songs.

Pat Boone helped make de­serving black R&B artists end up dis­carded and for­gotten when per­haps they should have been su­per­stars.”

This is a common be­lief be­cause it seems so ob­vious, but it isn’t. Please keep in mind that the United States was just be­gin­ning the long process of tearing down the walls of dis­crim­i­na­tion.

Even­tu­ally, rhythm & blues would have found its way onto (white) pop radio—it just got there faster be­cause of rock & roll.

My an­swer to Dean is below under the sub­heading “Ain’t that a shame” and in­dented be­tween the im­ages of the two mag­a­zines. Text be­fore and after those mag­a­zines are unique to this ar­ticle you are reading.

This ar­ticle will make more sense if you read my piece on Haley, Boone, and Francis titled “The First Dis­carded And For­gotten Su­per­stars Of Rock & Roll.”

Then come back here and read on …

 

In 1956, Pat Boone was cool enough with the kids to ap­pear on the cover of a mag­a­zine with Elvis Presley and Bill Haley. Each of these men was con­sid­ered rock & rollers by the men who made their records, the kids who bought their records, and the par­ents who com­plained about their records.

Ain’t that a shame at my front door

Dean, thanks for your in­tel­li­gent and con­sid­ered re­sponse. Here is a bit more on the topic: This is a common be­lief be­cause it seems so ob­vious, but it isn’t. Prior to artists such as Haley, the Crew-Cuts, and Boone bringing rhythm & blues songs onto the pop charts, it wasn’t pos­sible for that music to get heard on most radio sta­tions that pro­grammed pop­ular music!

Those sta­tions catered to an (al­most) ex­clu­sively white, middle-of-the-road au­di­ence. And this was an au­di­ence that sta­tion pro­gram­mers be­lieved did not want to hear what had been re­ferred to as “race music” for decades—even within the recording in­dustry! That was prob­ably an ac­cu­rate as­sess­ment of this de­mo­graphic at the time. 1

Sub­se­quently, rhythm & blues records were not played on (white) radio sta­tions that played pop music.

Con­se­quently, there was little if any money for black rhythm & blues artists to lose if a white artist cov­ered their record.

Be­fore rock & roll, those rhythm & blues records that were played were on tiny radio sta­tions that played (al­most) ex­clu­sively black music for an (al­most) ex­clu­sively black au­di­ence. 2

 

In ’50s rock & roll, good guys didn’t wear white and bad guys black: the bad boys wore blue suede shoes and the good one wore pow­dered white buck shoes!

The beginning of the rock & roll era?

For Fats Domino, June 18, 1955, was an im­por­tant date: One of his records made the (white) pop charts for the first time. “Ain’t It a Shame” de­buted at #48 on the Cash Box Best Selling Sin­gles survey. While few people have pointed to this date, it may be the be­gin­ning of the Rock & Roll Era. 3

Hell’s Belles, we could argue that day in June to be the be­gin­ning of the rock & roll era!

Fats had been a reg­ular hit-maker on the rhythm & blues charts since 1949, but none of his sides had crossed over onto the pop charts. What had changed?

When Ain’t It A Shame de­buted on Cash Box, it was tied for that po­si­tion with Pat Boone’s ren­di­tion of the same song. Boone’s ver­sion cor­rectly ti­tled the song as Ain’t That A Shame (al­though legend has it that the singer wanted to change the title and the lyrics to the more proper “Isn’t that a shame”).

 

Did Pat Boone take at­ten­tion and money away from the black artists who orig­i­nally did the songs?

 

Be­cause of Pat Boone, Fats Domino reached the pop Top 40 be­fore Little Richard and Chuck Berry.

Be­cause of Pat Boone, (white) radio sta­tions started playing Fats Domino records in the last months of 1955. They didn’t stop playing them until his ca­reer as a hit­maker ran out of gas at the end of the ’60s.

Be­cause of Pat Boone, Fats Domino be­came the most suc­cessful black pop artist of the late ’50s and early ’60s!

Boone con­tinued helping black records make their way onto the pop charts. On Oc­tober 8, 1955, the El Do­rados had their first pop hit the same way when At My Front Door de­buted at #31 on Cash Box. It was tied with Boone’s cover ver­sion of the song tied for the same po­si­tion.

De­spite his heart and his con­ser­v­a­tive soul not being in rock & roll, it cer­tainly ap­pears that Boone helped open the door for rhythm & blues music to be played along­side pop music on AM radio in the ’50s.

De­spite his being dis­missed for decades by overzealous fans and critics, I do think that he has earned a re­spectable place in the rock & roll pan­theon.

Now, all we have to do is give it to him.

 

In 1959, Pat Boone ap­peared on the cover of Life mag­a­zine looking like the heir to Bing Crosby—or maybe he looked like the Rep*blican Par­ty’s first at­tempt to nom­i­nate a movie star for gov­ernor of Cal­i­fornia.

Pat Boone, superstar

From mid-1955 into 1962, Pat Boone ranked with the biggest hit­makers of the First Rock & Roll Era. Here are four of the biggest male singers of that era and their hits. As an ex­ample, Boone placed thirty-eight sides in Bill­board’s Top 40. Of those, eigh­teen reached the Top 10, and of those, six were #1 records. 4

                          Top 40    Top 10     # 1 
Elvis Presley        53         30          17
Pat Boone            38          18            6
Fats Domino       35            8            0
Ricky Nelson       28          16            2

 

If we listed the ac­com­plish­ments of the 2017 in­ductees into the Hall of Fame into ac­count, we could make an ar­gu­ment that they do not have the his­tor­ical and cul­tural sig­nif­i­cance of Pat Boone’s achieve­ments.

Pat Boone, Hall of Famer?

And I have been plan­ning a piece on Boone as a follow-up to my essay on Connie Francis. I had ten­ta­tively ti­tled it “Should Pat Boone Be In The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame?”

In­stead, I opted for what I be­lieve (ha!) is a more clever title that plays on Boone’s de­sire to cor­rect the grammar of the Fats Domino record and also al­lude to the re­cent passing of Aretha Franklin.

Fi­nally, we should al­ways keep in mind that people just didn’t take pop music so darn se­ri­ously during the First Rock & Roll Era!

Did Pat Boone take at­ten­tion and money away from the black artists who orig­i­nally did the songs? Click To Tweet

FEATURED IMAGE: The photo at the top of this page is an 8 by 10-inch pub­licity photo from around 1955. Boone’s per­sonal man­ager was Randy Wood, owner of Dot Records. Wood was the person who con­vinced Boone to sing ho­mog­e­nized rhythm & blues for the white market.

Fi­nally, as is so often the case, I found my­self lost in re­search on the won­drous world wide web and ended up with more text on the per­ceived racist prac­tices of pro­gram­mers and jocks for AM radio sta­tions that played pop­ular music in the 1950s than I did on Pat Boone.

Ten­ta­tively ti­tled “About the (So-Called) Racism of (White) Pop Radio in the ’50s,” I think I have a few ob­ser­va­tions that should be of in­terest to anyone who cares about that era and that music. And they aren’t what you might ex­pect.

 


FOOTNOTES:

1   In the early and mid-1950s, rock & roll was deroga­to­rily re­ferred to as jungle music, which I find kind of funny. It was also called nigger music, a much more un­pleasant term.

2   The word al­most is in paren­theses be­cause of course there could be a few ex­cep­tions to the state­ment.

3  De­spite the fact that Domino sings “Ain’t that a shame” throughput the recording, Im­pe­rial Records in­cor­rectly listed it as Ain’t It A Shame on the record’s la­bels. Ain’t It A Shame showed up on the Bill­board chart a few weeks later on July 16, 1955, al­though it had been re­viewed in the April 23, 1955, issue:

“The great blues singer socks over two show­manly sides with a per­son­able ren­di­tion of the blues rocker Ain’t It A Shame, and an amusing ren­di­tion of the nov­elty La-La. Both sides are wrapped up in Domi­no’s inim­itable style and a pounding ork beat.” 

The term ork is an ab­bre­vi­a­tion for or­chestra. While it’s rarely used today, it was reg­u­larly used by record re­viewers in the ’50s.

4   I am using Bill­board’s charts in­stead of Cash Box be­cause that in­for­ma­tion is much easier to find on the In­ternet. Be­sides, the vari­a­tions be­tween Bill­board and Cash Box are mean­ing­less in this con­text.

 

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pat boone be­longs in the R&R hall of fame be­fore most of the ones in there now even tho his best records are ho­mog­e­nized ver­sions of great R&R and R&B records. many in music were copy­cats, taking what was out there and changing it to a dif­ferent style. pat is a great fellow as a person, helping many along the way. be­sides i like the way he shows a bit of re­bel­ness [i just in­vented that word] by turning up his shirt collar like the rest of us hood­lums from the 1950s did.