They didn’t call Dick Clark “America’s Oldest Teenager” for nothing. While the man who hosted American Bandstand for a stunning 33 years from 1956 to 1989 retained an impossibly youthful visage throughout that show’s run, it was his ability to keep abreast of what moved one generation of teens after another that really earned him that moniker. With the kids dancing all around him, Clark introduced an endless array of artists to the American public, presenting the movers and shakers of every era in rock and pop, from rockabilly to psychedelia to New Wave, hip-hop, and beyond. And that’s not even counting all the years Clark ushered in as the host of New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. On April 18, the man who made America dance passed away at the age of 82, leaving the current crop of kids to fend for themselves. But maybe these classic moments from Bandstand’s voluminous legacy will help soften the blow in some small way.
1. Chuck Berry, “School Days”
Dick Clark was on hand for the birth of rock & roll in the ‘50s, and he wasted no time getting the music’s most important figures up on his stage. While reactionary factions in that benighted era feared the corruption of white youths by the likes of Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Fats Domino, Clark knew the future when he saw it. After taking the show’s reins, he not only put black performers on the Bandstand stage for the first time, he was a frontrunner in promoting desegregation both onstage and in the audience. Watching this Chuck Berry clip right now, it might be hard to imagine what got those uptight white folks all worked up, but those who weren’t around also can’t imagine how liberating it must have felt to see something like this on national TV at that time.
2. Pink Floyd, “Apples and Oranges”
When rock took a freaky turn in the psychedelic ‘60s, the conservative crowd cried “foul” once again, but Clark could still recognize which side his bread was buttered on, and he welcomed weirdoes like the Syd Barrett-fronted Floyd lineup onto Bandstand. In retrospect, it seems almost shocking to see a relatively together-looking Barrett lip-syncing accommodatingly, and offering coherent answers to Clark’s questions. It’s also rather charming to see the showbiz vet chatting about cheeseburgers with what must surely have been the most eccentric ensemble that probably ever crossed his path up to that point in 1967.
3. The Jackson 5, “ABC”
Before Soul Train went national — a shift probably made possible at least in part by the success of Bandstand — Dick Clark ran the biggest game in town for R&B acts as well as rockers, and some of the acts that eventually hopped on board the Soul Train took a ride with The World’s Oldest Teenager first. Of course, whether it was Clark or Don Cornelius making the introductions, America was powerless to resist the infectious effervescence of the Jackson 5 in the flower of their youth, especially with an adolescent Michael making it joyously clear that nothing so passive as sitting down or remaining immobile would be possible when he and his brothers took the stage.
4. Public Image Ltd., “Poptones”/“Careering”
In what must surely be the most surreal moment in Bandstand history, post-punk provocateur John Lydon does his best to subvert Clark’s American institution. About six weeks later, Lydon’s abrasive behavior on Tom Snyder’s show would get the latter all kinds of agitated onscreen. But after Lydon spends the first song barely lip-syncing, wandering around the audience, and literally dragging kids up onto the stage, the ever-unflappable Clark quickly adjusts to the chaos, calmly greeting the band members and inviting the rest of the crowd up onstage as well for the second tune. Eventually, Lydon even looks like he’s almost beginning to enjoy himself, smiling and dancing with the audience.
5. Run-DMC, “Jam-Master Jammin’”
In the ‘80s, Clark was still smart enough to know which way the wind was blowing, and he played host to hip-hop acts from Kurtis Blow to the Beastie Boys. The presence of Jam Master Jay behind the decks instead of a bunch of guys with guitars and drums might have made less enlightened minds wonder whether the “band” in Bandstand was in danger of disappearing, but when Run-DMC did their thing, putting out as much energy as any armada of axe-wielding rockers, they laid all doubt to rest.