Friday, August 17, 2012

The 50s Craze

Every now and then there is a craze for a previous decade. There was a mild 1970s craze in the 1990s which lead to the TV show That 70s Show. There was a 1940s craze in the 1980s that mainly manifested itself as shoulder pads on women's clothing and accentuated cheekbones inspired by the Joan Crawford look from Mommie Dearest. When done poorly this looked like warpaint.

None of these can hold a candle to the 1950s craze in the 1970s. A lot of this centered on Rock and Roll.

Rock came into its own in the 50s but it changed at lightening speed. A song might be a major hit one year and hopelessly dated the next. Listen to the Beatles' recordings for an example of this.

By the early 1970s some DJs (Disk Jockeys - back then the guys who announced the records actually got to choose what they would play) had rediscovered early Rock and named it "Golden Oldies".

What started as a music revival became a cultural phenomenon with the release of two movies - American Graffiti and The Lords of Flatbush. American Graffiti was made by a pre-Star Wars George Lucas about his late-teens in the "strip". The soundtrack was a "best of 1962" which was close enough to the 1950s. The movie cost less than $1 million to make and took in over $100 million.

The Lords of Flatbush was nowhere as big of a hit but it did feature two soon-to-be-important start, Henry Winkler and Sylvester Stallone.

Jumping on in the craze, ABC created a tv show set in the 1950's, Happy Days. It stared Ron Howard from Graffiti but Winkler as Fonzie quickly stole the show. It rocketed to number 1. At first the show stared with the 50s classic Rock Around the Clock which quickly sold more records than it had the first time around. Later the show used a 50s-style theme song which was also a hit.

Happy Days was followed with another 1950s show, Lavern and Shirley. Shirley was played by another actor from Graffiti. This show was even more popular.

While American Graffiti was a big hit, the 50s-inspired Grease was a blockbuster. It grossed nearly $400 million world-wide which would make it a huge hit today, even without allowing for inflation.

Eventually the 50s craze wound down. The bands like Sha-na-na who had reformed went back into retirement. Happy Days got so desperate for new plots that they had Fonzie water ski while wearing his trademark leather jacket. When a shark threatened him, he jumped it. It was all down-hill from there.

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