Mr. Rock ‘n Roll: The Alan Freed Story
Judd Nelson, Mädchem Amick, Paula Abdul
Vivendi Entertainment (7/7/09; original release: 1999)
This 1999 made-for-TV film chronicles the story of Alan Freed, the deejay responsible for spinning crossover rhythm-and-blues music on a local Cleveland radio show in the early 1950s. Swing, big band and “grown-up” music was the fare of the day and what he was expected to give adult, white listeners. However, after haggling with his station manager, an hour per night was granted to spin “crossover” R&B tunes that appealed to younger kids of all ethnicities. The songs played on that radio program led Freed to attach the most important name on to a style of music in all of history: “rock ‘n’ roll.”
Soon after the show took off, Freed had the idea for staging a rock-‘n’-roll concert at an 8,000-seat venue. Choosing Jackie Wilson and The Dominoes as the headliner, all involved were concerned about this, the first show of its kind, being a total flop. But the fire department was called due to the mass of 20,000 enthusiastic fans who showed up to witness the event. More shows followed, and Freed’s rock-‘n’-roll radio show and concerts kept growing in popularity.
A few years later, Freed accepted a huge radio gig in New York City. Eventually, he teamed up with an unsavory nightclub owner connected to the mob, and the two put some acts together for a national tour. Some of these groups included Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly and The Crickets, Jackie Wilson and Little Richard.
The film also touches on Freed’s downfall with his connection to the legendary “payola” scandal that the FBI used in its attempts to thwart the rise of rock ‘n’ roll music. Judd Nelson does a decent job playing Alan Freed, though it’s really hard to compare to other roles since he he hasn’t really been in much lately. Paula Abdul has a small role as Freed’s mistress, and no matter how much make-up you cake on her face, it’s comical that he would stray to that from on-screen wife Jackie (Madchen Amick). They probably could have done without Abdul’s character anyway, as the performance is ultimately sterile and her lines generic.
Overall, the movie isn’t bad. The budget is noticeably low (as is the case with most made-for-TV movies), the soundtrack could have been a little better and the look-alike acts could have resembled the icons they were playing a little more closely. But the story of rock ‘n’ roll and Alan Freed does get told, and it’s always fun taking a trip down memory lane when it comes to classic music.
Tags: Paula Abdul