Alan Freed, the former Cleveland DJ credited with coining the term “Rock & Roll” to describe the new music of the 1950s and the guy who hosted the first-ever R&R concert stars as Alan Freed, a part he was apparently born to play. He’s producing a big Christmas spectacular concert in NY and looking to crown the next Elvis (or Fabian) to headline the show, a guy he calls “Johnny Melody”. Well, would-be teen idol Jimmy Clanton wants to be that guy, and that’s more than enough plot to get us through ten musical acts performing mostly non-hits, but still, some of the best acts of their day are in here, and Sprocket Vault’s recent DVD is so spectacular that it makes this film (actually one of the best of the 1950s R&R movies) a must-have.
In descending order, we have...
- Chuck Berry at the top of his game, not only playing Freed’s best friend and sidekick but also doing two great songs, Maybelline and Little Queenie
- The Cadillacs, a few years past their biggest hit, Speedo, but doing two fun numbers, Jaywalker and Please, Mr. Johnson
- The sensational Jackie Wilson, offering up You Better Know It
and some fancy dancin'
- The Fabulous Flamingos, sadly not doing I Only Have Eyes for You but performing a fun song anyway, Jump Children
- 17-year-old Ritchie Valens, dead and buried by the time the film was released, doing one of his best songs, Ooh My Head
- Harvey Fuqua (formerly of the Moonglows) does Don’t Be Afraid to Love
- Eddie Cochran is a fave of ours, but his song here, Teenage Heaven, is one of his worst
- Sandy Stewart is okay and Jo Ann Campbell doesn’t do much for us, but at least they're cute.
And that leaves the star of our show and frankly, our taste in Rock & Roll never much extended to the kind of white bread pop Jimmy Clanton offers up. He’d have one okay song later in his career, Venus in Blue Jeans, and by the time this film was released he’d already had his biggest hit, Just a Dream. We have a firm belief, though, that if our grandma would’ve liked a song, we don’t, and the film is stocked with Jimmy singing the kind of things you’d hear on Lawrence Welk. In our opinion, Chuck Berry should’ve won an Oscar™ as Best Supporting Actor for his thespian skills in pretending he likes Clanton’s music.
Clanton, to the musician heading the hired band at the demo recording session: “Don’t you want to run through it a couple of times?”
Musician: “Oh, not at THESE prices. You don’t even get ‘a-one and a-two.’ You just get ‘a-one’.”
As for Freed, well, he was an old hand at this, having appeared in a few films already. The payola scandal was about to burst, though, and his career never again hit these heights. A heavy drinker, he barely survived to see the birth of Beatlemania.
The best news is that Kit Parker Films (the guys behind Sprocket Vault) have dug up original materials for Go, Johnny, Go!, digitally restored and remastered it and the movie looks and sounds sensational in all its widescreen glory (or as good as it can look: it was filmed in less than a week and the same big curtain appears in the background of nearly every scene). Richard M. Roberts, Randy Skretvedt and Brent Walker provide quite affable commentary and the trailer is included as well. Highly recommended for Rock & Roll fans.