Dick Clark, “the world’s oldest teenager,” who died yesterday, built an enduring business and media persona through his perpetual immersion in youth culture. American Bandstand, his flagship, was on the air from sockhops up through 1989—through, that is, the rise of a dominant youth culture, the splintering of genres, and the formation of a viable independent underground in the 1980s. Which means that, as much as a sinkhole of Boomer solipsism (which, by filming regular kids dancing, Clark helped invent), American Bandstand was an enduring study in the limits of the American music industry’s adaptability. And it’s that outer limit where all the really retrospectively fascinating and amusing stuff happens, as we hope to demonstrate with this clip show. (Thanks to Josh Kurp, who found about half of these.)
Captain Beefheart, 1965
Though American Bandstand moved from Philadelphia from LA, from regional to national TV, and from weekday afternoons to Saturdays, the its guest list from the late 50s to the early-to-mid 60s smoothly traced an arc familiar to any listener of oldies radio: from crooners to teen idols, with the occasional Sam Cooke or Jerry Lee Lewis mixed in, up through tame British Invasion knock-offs watering down r&b even further. Still, like many a cult icon, Don Van Vliet made an early appearance in the Top 40. Here, Cathy, aged 17, asks him a few questions about the name of the band, and then Dick plays Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band’s debut single, “Diddy Wah Diddy,” and everyone dances. Cathy stays on the line with Don during the song, presumably so the police can trace the call (he sounds like the Zodiac Killer).