In 1954, Bill Haley and the Comets recorded the best-selling record of the 1950s, Rock Around the Clock. Elvis Presley recorded his first hit, That’s All Right, in 1956. Wha?

I had been led to believe by popular discourse that the rock ‘n’ roll “explosion” was attributable to Elvis– someone who gave a white face to black music, the necessary ingredient for making rock a mass phenomenon in the racist 1950s. How do we explain Haley’s failure to do so so given the resounding success of Rock Around the Clock and later Shake, Rattle and Roll (a Big Joe Turner cover)?

Could it be that the necessary ingredient was not, as we have been told, a white face– so much as it was the need for rock ‘n’ roll to have a teen idol? Haley was totally fug, and Elvis’ beauty is transcendent. If we accept this premise, can the rock ‘n’ roll explosion therefore be more attributable to teeny-bopper appeal than to mere whiteness? Might the two be interconnected for white, middle class audiences? After all, the Beatles (and the subsequent British Invasion) owe their initial success to a girl-culture following, and they later went on to become, you know, THE BEATLES.

In my post on the Bay City Rollers, Sheryl Garrat explained that “one of the most important points about most teeny groups is that almost everyone else hates them.” Most teen idols are loathed by the “mainstream” critics when they gain notoriety, but the sheer intensity of love– real bona fide love– teeny boppers feel for their idols, gives them the power (consumer power at least) to overcome the naysayers and carry their boys on their backs to the very top!

Rock ‘n’ roll too was met with great resistance by the established cultural elite. Perhaps, in order for it to “break-through” and rise, quite improbably, to the very apex of mainstream American pop culture, the ceaseless power of bopper love was essential.

As Sue Wise argues in “Sexing Elvis”, Elvis wasn’t the butch God rock critics pretend like. He was a girl-culture pin-up in the 1950s, and one of the most enduring male beauties still–a Teen Idol extraordinaire. Poor Bill Haley, in the end, just wasn’t that cute.

Like, seriously? No wonder.