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Big Beat Heat: Alan Freed and the Early Years of Rock and Roll Paperback – February, 1995
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The book consists almost entirely of Freed's adult career, and does it in depth, in chronological order, as it should be. Although the story makes clear that Freed was a fly-by-night operator and got caught out for unreported tax issues, er, like Al Capone (or V.P. Republican Spiro T. Agnew?), Jackson also mixes in the BMI vs. ASCAP publishing war, major label oligarchy and race issues, and weaves it all into place. Thankfully, the author keeps following the money, deal making, under the table transactions, deliciously sleazy salesmanship, the quick buck of unrestrained capitalism at its finest, instead of those sanctimonious socio-political deconstructionist bores so much in vogue with what passes for "rock scholarship." And there's the (in)famous Morris Levy in the mix during the New York years.
One gets the feeling reading this book of walking through a seedy open air weekend flea market, where hucksters deal in soon-to-be landfill junk desperately trying to find a mark to haul away their burnt-out inventory. The book splits from the most interesting period, (1) when the radio and records industry had segregated the airwaves and retail exposure on color lines, and what became known as the major labels (Victor, Columbia, Decca, Capitol, Mercury and MGM, plus the offshoots) formed the RIAA as a publishing/record factory oligarchy trade group (in '52), the uneasy financial cold war between BMI --r&b, jazz, folk/hillbilly-- and ASCAP --the pre-WWII monopoly copyright gorilla-- trying to promote/control/roll back the onslaught of "their" cheap junk music that was less worse than "our" cheap junk music, into (2) the crash at the top in early '58 when maltshop bop rock 'n roll was splitting away from booze and broads' r&b, and (3) then the reaction, getting a boost from the political cops trying to stamp out The Big Beat, becoming involved in the free-for-all on the air waves and trade magazines, making vapid youth pop music safe, sane, & sanitized.
The book, unfortunately, is light on information about Freed's publishing cut-ins and self-dealing; his discography only lists those recordings under his own name as an artist, but doesn't delve very deeply into his label credits, such as the Moonglows' label credits on their Chess 78/45 releases, Ruth McFadden's Old Town 1017 78/45 single, and Freed's label credits on the following white rock 'n roll:
"Sincerely" by the McGuire Sisters, Coral 61323 (this is mentioned in the book; this record may be considered as the door that opened the pop charts to r&b covers and crossovers on the white pop charts).
"Maybellene" (by Chuck Berry) covered by Jim Lowe on Dot 15407, Johnny Long on Coral 61479, Marty Robbins on Columbia 21446 (a country series, not pop 39000-40000s Columbia single), and Ralph Marterie on Mercury 70682. None of theses covers list the Berry-Freed credit; however, Johnny Rivers's 1964 cover on Imperial 66056 does show Freed's cut-in on the label.
"Most of All" by the Fontane Sisters on Dot 15352, and Don Cornell on Coral 61393. (In 1969 on The Arbors' Date 2-1638 45 single)
"In Love" by Dorothy Collins on Coral 61510 (flip of the hit, "My Boy, Flat Top")
"Teenage Meeting" by Don Cornell on Coral 61584, also Dave Appell & The Applejacks on President 1006. Don Cornell also did a cover of the Moonglows' "See Saw" on Coral 61721, though that song doesn't show any Freed label credit.
"Rock and Roll Party" by Big Dave & His Orchestra on Capitol F3028
The most telling aspect of the book is the off-hand reference to Al Silver (Herald and Ember Records--r&b) getting hit by the IRS, disallowing his payola business payoffs as deductable business expenses and being $150,000 in the red to the IRS, killing his labels. 'Twas the taxman and his auditors that killed the beast.
His failures seem to have caused his downfall, a terrible riot during a show in Boston for which he was indicted and also payola, receiving money to play records. Both cases cost him a lot of money and pain.
He was married three times, unfortunately the last two wives refused to talk to the author. Jackson says that his third wife Inga was also a heavy drinker, which did not help at all. He died in 1965, only 44 years old