[19 March 2009]
Just a few years after rock and roll emerged and took over the charts, conservative elements in society tried to squash it through the force of Congress. The Payola hearings focused on independent labels and some of the most spirited artists and adventurous deejays of the day. The resulting scandals doomed the great Allan Freed, the man credited for coining and popularizing the term “rock ’n’ roll” and spreading the music to the larger public. Also investigated, but cleared of wrongdoing, was Dick Clark, who never met a white cover version he didn’t prefer over the original recording. Clark’s alleged exploitation of musicians and complicity in a myriad of shady profit-making enterprises has been well-documented, but he was also guilty of bad taste. He was responsible for launching a ton of insipid teen idol pop on a hungry teenage audience. But Clark did do one thing right. He helped promote the career of Freddy “Boom Boom” Cannon.
Make no mistake, Cannon was a teen idol in the Frankie Avalon/Fabian mold, but Cannon had a natural vigor that energized his records and made them foot stompin’ romps. He could even turn old Dixieland, boogie woogie, and country standards like “Muskrat Ramble”, “Way Down Yonder in New Orleans”, and “Chattanooga Shoe Shine Boy” and turn them into rock hit singles just by speeding up the tempos and swinging the tunes harder. Cannon had an infectious style. He sang each tune with the enthusiasm of a carnival barker. He would reach back in his throat for a growl and pitch the tunes as if he were trying to get you to see the fat lady and stay for the freak show.
Perhaps that’s why his most successful single was that ode to a New Jersey amusement park, “Palisades Park”, a tune written by a man later made famous for hosting The Gong Show, Chuck Barris. Cannon’s frenzied vocals matched the roller coaster and other carnival sound effects. While the song clocks in at less than two minutes, there is so much going on that it seems to last much longer. The Beach Boys later covered the tune, as did the Ramones, but Cannon recorded the definitive version.
Although Cannon continued to have sporadic success until 1966, the Beatles and the British Invasion basically killed his career. His high-energy rock sounded dated compared to the new sounds of the Swinging ‘60s. Still, Cannon’s impact on rock and roll cannot be denied. He can be heard in the sounds of artists as important as the Four Seasons and Bruce Springsteen. Even Elvis Presley was a self-proclaimed Cannon fan.
Shout Factory! has compiled the essential two dozen Cannon tracks, which includes 23 of his pop chart hits, and put them on a single disc. The songs tend to sound the same in the best possible sense. Cannon’s distinctive style and approach is immediately recognizable. Even after hearing 24 cuts that seem almost identical to each other, there’s still a temptation to yell “One more time!” and play the disc again.