Alan Freed & Dick Clark: Two Stories, One Scandal

alan freed

Time has a funny way of passing, causing certain moments in history to be easily forgotten. One such moment was the Payola Scandal, which ruined the career of one icon and threatened that of another. Fame may be fleeting, but individual stories are etched in stone.

Legendary Cleveland disk jockey Alan Freed rose to fame after bridging the gap in music along racial lines, organizing live concerts for integrated crowds and introducing the phrase “rock n roll,” thus earning the moniker “Father of Rock N Roll.” Freed appeared in several movies in the 1950s as himself and described this new genre of music as a river combining rhythm and blues, folk, jazz, ragtime, cowboy and country songs resulting in a big beat. Meanwhile, America’s Oldest Living Teenager Dick Clark was carving out a remarkable career of his own with American Bandstand. The booming business of rock n roll would not be the only thing these two trailblazers would have in common. In fact, due to their huge connections, rock n roll would steer them down a path in one of music history’s biggest scandals.

With the seismic rise of rock n roll and R&B, many profited off the sales of these records. This included DJs who yielded extravagant trips and gross percentages from local concerts, just some of the rewards for their playing certain records on the radio in order to influence sales. Both Freed and Clark played a large part in the boost of rock n roll popularity, including when it came to “payola.” Fortunately for the clean-cut Dick Clark, the ABC network directed him to divest himself of all ownership interest in music-related businesses. Thus, Clark survived the scandal by the skin of his teeth. Alan Freed wasn’t so lucky.

While Freed was not a lone participant, he was pretty much singled out during later Congressional hearings. Not only was Freed considered to be uncooperative and abrasive, but he also had a conflict of interest issue. Freed had co-songwriting credits on Chuck Berry’s “Maybellene,” a position entitling him to reap some of the song’s royalties. It’s an unfair advantage especially if you’re heavily promoting these songs on your radio program. The Moonglows’ Harvey Fuqua insisted that Freed actually co-wrote the song “Sincerely” as well.

Related: “5 Classic Songs That Owe Their Existence to Chuck Berry”

In 1960, payola was deemed illegal and in 1962, Alan Freed pled guilty to two charges of commercial bribery. He received a fine, a suspended sentence and lost his job at WABC. Although Freed went on to work at one station after the next, prestigious radio stations across the country soured on hiring the once internationally-famous deejay.

Freed died on January 20, 1965, from uremia and cirrhosis due to alcoholism. He was 43. Upon the request of Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Freed’s ashes were removed from the site by his son Lance in August of 2014.

-Sharon Oliver

Photo: Alan Freed via Wikimedia Commons

PS. We first published this post way back in 2019, but — given all the scandals in our current news — it seemed worth revisiting.

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7 comments on “Alan Freed & Dick Clark: Two Stories, One Scandal

  1. Gary Theroux

    Back in the ’50s adults could not understand why their offspring preferred the raucous sound of rock ‘n’ roll over the works of those crafting “good music”: Perry Como, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Jo Stafford, etc. The whole idea behind the founding of the Grammy in 1958 was to promoted the falling sales of “good music” artists and reject such jangling upstarts as Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis. (Elvis would eventually win a couple of Grammies — but only for his religious music!) The belief among adults was that DJs were only playing rock ‘n’ roll because someone was paying the,m off. The truth was that they were playing them because they brought big ratings — and while payola might get a record a few spins, if a DJs played enough such clunkers, their precious ratings out drop. Ignored in all the scandal was the fact that payola had existed since the days of Tin Pan Alley. Early artists, such as Al Jolson, regularly got cut in as writers of songs they did not write in exchange for promoting those tunes. Payola was firmly established in the music business decades before the first rock record was recorded. Alan Freed was a victim of the change in laws while Dick Clark — whose Sea-Lark Enterprises (get it?) owned the publishing of many rock hits — was able to skirt them

  2. Kim Marshall

    That’s not the reason they removed his ashes. They removed them because museums quit carrying remains of people. So instead they put a pair of his microphones in place of the ashes. That’s all. It wasn’t because of the payola scheme. C’Mon people Allen Freed was the father of rock and roll and he coined the phrase “Rock and Roll.” They singled him out. Dick Clark was a teenager at the time, just starting out but he got off scot free , Allen Freed wasn’t so lucky.

  3. Alan Freed in my opinion got “Greedy”. He was a threat to alot of Parents of Teenagers who felt they were being turned into Juvenile Delinquents with this “Colored” Music. Dick Clark did it but he covered himself. For example, he had a 5% interest in Swan Records in which he turned down the Beatles in 1963, if he got them he would have been set for life. Also he had a Factory that pressed Records that featured Artists that did American Bandstand and he also did Sock Hops with artists that appeared on American Bandstand. He went before Congress, and agreed to give up his musical interests and lost 8 Million in the process.

    • Swan Records did not “turn down” The Beatles in 1963. EMI was unable to interest its American label Capitol in releasing The Beatles’ first three UK singles, so they were placed with small independent labels (Vee-Jay and Swan), where they did nothing upon their initial release. Only when The Beatles hit with full force in 1964 did these labels score by re-releasing the singles they had the rights to.

      Swan could never have handled the nationwide distribution nightmare that came about once The Beatles hit it big. In fact, this same problem ultimately led to the demise of the Vee-Jay label. So there was no scenario under which Swan Records could have “got” The Beatles, and none under which Dick Clark turned them down.

  4. John Sullivan

    Dick Clark was a crook. He coerced several young groups into giving him 50% royalties on their songs, and in turn, would play them on American Bandstand. He got $ on over 100 songs and even had % in record labels like Parkway. To top it off, American Bandstand was making lots of money for ABC, yet Clark would only pay the groups who appeared on the show, the union minimum.
    Clark also made tv commercials touting the greatness of CDs he was selling over vinyl records, saying that vinyl had ‘pops’ and ‘skips’ and other imperfections. Anyone who collects vinyl knows that keeping the records clean from dirt and dust and fingerprints, as well as replacing a worn stylus when necessary,
    and careful handling of the tone arm and scratching the record, keeps them in excellent shape. I know. I am 70 years old and have 99.9% of the records I ever bought, beginning at age 5.

    Clark was a crook, but because he had a youthful appearance, and related to the youth of the times, was allowed to be the ‘chosen one’ to continue with American Bandstand. He knew he was on the take when he testified, yet said he wasn’t aware he was doing anything wrong. Alan Freed got destroyed, while Clark continued to prosper for years. This is another case of the law not being applied equally.

  5. I had no idea he did that. How horrifying. Also Johnny Carson & Merv Griffin were difficult. He never forgave Joan Rivers for going on her own while Merv Griffin Sexually Harassed Two Men one of which was Denny Terrio of Dance Fever. Also Johnny insisted he got 50% of Johnny’s Theme for The Tonight Show that Paul Anka Created and from 1962-1992 Money went into both of their pockets.

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