Popular Music Since the 1950s, as Described in Dick Clark Interviews

Slate's Culture Blog
April 18 2012 7:45 PM

From Rock to Disco to Hip Hop with Dick Clark

A still of Dick Clark and Run DMC on American Bandstand

Dick Clark died at 82-years-old on Wednesday, leaving behind a legacy of over 50 years in American popular entertainment. While in recent years he was perhaps  best known for counting down to midnight on Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve—not to mention the many other specials, award ceremonies, and game shows he hosted—Clark first became a household name with American Bandstand, for which he took the mic as host in 1956.

Over the 34 years that Clark hosted the show, he shared the stage with just about every major movement in popular music. While Clark only interviewed Elvis Presley over the phone, and never did manage to book The Beatles or The Rolling Stones, major acts that appeared on his show range from Sam Cooke to Bill Haley, The Village People to Iron Butterfly, Devo to Run DMC, and many, many more.


Many of these acts turned in great performances on the show—and Dick Clark did his part by conducting scores of memorable interviews. One can walk through the history of pop music by watching his back-and-forths from four decades of American Bandstand. As Wink Martindale told Slate’s Josh Levin earlier today, Clark could talk to anyone. We have chosen a few of our favorites below.

The Beach Boys (1964)

While he never departed from his signature buttoned-up look, Clark interviewed many key artists from the rock and psychedelic countercultures of the 1960s. Other notable interviews from that period included Captain Beefheart, Neil Diamond, Van Morrison, and Arthur Lee of Love.

Stevie Wonder (1969)

Years before the days of "Superstition," Innervisions, and Songs in the Key of Life, a teenaged Stevie Wonder caught an early break from American Bandstand.

The Jackson 5 (1970)

Wonder was one of many Motown artists booked by Bandstand. Here Clark shares an early interview with Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5. Jackson steals the mic away from Clark for a chunk of the interview, and the two would reunite often over the course of their careers. For Bandstand's 50th anniversary, Jackson performed "Dangerous."

The Village People (1979)

In the mid to late ’70s, Clark spoke to many of the country’s biggest disco acts, including ABBA, Donna Summer, and, on the classic episode excerpted below, the Village People.

Public Image Ltd (1980)

The name American Bandstand might not conjure up images of punk rock, but here John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols) leads Public Image Ltd swaggering onto the stage. Lydon, in classic punk fashion, declines the interview altogether, instead dragging swarms of audience members onto the stage. When the band resumes playing, Lydon—making light of the usual lip-synching—ditches the mic altogether.

Devo (1980)

Another striking 1980 interview comes courtesy of Devo, who did their whole Clark interview without ever doffing their signature Energy Dome caps.

Madonna (1984)

Another new brand of rebel to appear on Bandstand was Madonna, who, long before emerging as an empress at this year's Super Bowl, declares her intention to "rule the world."

Run-DMC (1985)

Hip hop was perhaps the last major development in popular music that made it onto Bandstand, so while Clark would see the show through to its end in 1989, it seems fitting to end with Run-DMC's interview from a few years before. Clark was already well into his 50s, but under his watch, American Bandstand would never miss out on the next big thing.

Forrest Wickman is a Slate staff writer. 

Aisha Harris is a Slate staff writer.

David Haglund is a senior editor at Slate. He runs Brow Beat, Slate's culture blog.



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