Some of music’s biggest stars in the 1950s and 1960s saw their songs race up the charts thanks to behind-the-scenes deals with disc jockeys while others made it big on pure luck.
Elizabeth City State University visual and performing arts professor Douglas Jackson gave a behind-the-scenes look at music during the period with his “From Bandstand to the Beatles — 1960s Pop Music Culture” presentation at Museum of the Albemarle’s “History for Lunch” program Wednesday.
DJ Alan Freed is credited with popularizing the phrase “Rock and Roll” and his Moondog radio show out of Cleveland was noted for spotting emerging national trends in music.
But Freed was accepting payments to play certain music on his show in what later became known as the Payola Scandal. After payola was made illegal in 1960, the scandal caught up a number of DJs who took money from record companies in exchange for playing their records on the radio.
“(Freed) knew that he could influence what went over the air,” Jackson said. “The songwriters and the promotors knew that if they paid him to play their songs they would make more money.”
In December 1962, after being charged on multiple counts of commercial bribery, Freed pleaded guilty to two and was fined $300 and received a suspended sentence. He died in 1965.
Another icon of the music scene in the 1950s and 1960s — Dick Clark of “American Bandstand” fame — was also implicated in the scandal but cleared after appearing at a hearing on the issue before the U.S. Senate.
Despite the scandal, Jackson said “nothing was changed in the (music) business” as radio stations and disc jockeys are still paid to play certain songs.
“They just call it radio promotion now,” he said.
Clark’s show “American Bandstand” ranked songs and Jackson said those rankings were probably influenced by promotors and others. The show ran for 37 years, ending in 1989.
“There was a relationship there on who actually got on the show,” Jackson said. “The songs that you see that were ranked, well, let’s just say there was some influence there on how the songs got ranked. They were all joined at the hip. The show had a tremendous influence on how songs were rated and the airplay they got was very powerful.”
In 1962, Beaufort County native Eva Boyd, or Little Eva as she was better known, quickly went from being a babysitter to recording a No. 1 hit.
Boyd, who was 18 at the time, was a babysitter for the songwriting couple, Carole King and Gerry Goffin, in New Jersey. King and Goffin wrote numerous hits for the Coasters and the Drifters.
“They wrote a song for someone else,” Jackson said. “They heard Eva dancing around and singing a song while they were in the house.”
King then asked Boyd to record the song that they had written called “The Loco-Motion.”
“It was really just a demo and it was actually intended for someone else,” Jackson said.
The couple liked what they heard and they then went into a studio to record the song with King providing backup vocals.
The song quickly went to No. 1 and Boyd went from earning $35 a week as a babysitter to earning $30,000 from “The Loco-Motion.”
“She appeared on television shows and in numerous magazines,” Jackson said. “She did several concert tours.’’
Boyd had little chart success in the years after her first recording and toured and recorded in later in life before passing way in 2003 at the age of 59.
“No babysitter in history got a bigger break than Eva Boyd,” Jackson said.