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OpinionColumnistsMichael Dobie

Long Island once had a different view on rock and roll

Billy Joel performs before a sellout crowd at

Billy Joel performs before a sellout crowd at the Nassau County Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Aug. 4, 2015. Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

As Long Island celebrates Billy Joel’s 70th birthday Thursday, May 9, The Point took a stroll down musical memory lane to when Newsday’s editorial board had a somewhat different reaction to rock ‘n’ roll.

On May 9 in 1958, the board weighed in on actions by New Jersey authorities to cancel a planned rock ‘n’ roll show at a Newark armory hosted by Alan Freed, the pioneering disc jockey known as the “father of rock ‘n’ roll” for his role in creating the rock craze.

Six days earlier, Freed had brought his Big Beat show to Boston with acts like Jerry Lee Lewis, Frankie Lymon and Chuck Berry. What happened at the concert at the Boston Arena is still the subject of controversy. Freed was charged with inciting a riot, charges that eventually were dropped for lack of evidence, after Boston police either did or did not interrupt the show several times to make the young crowd stop dancing and sit down, and after Freed either did or did not tell the audience that “It looks like the police in Boston don’t want you kids to have any fun,” and after the crowd either did or did not start fighting with each other and/or police, and after stabbings, robberies and rapes either did or did not occur outside the arena afterward.

Boston Mayor John B. Hynes prematurely and incorrectly announced the end of rock ‘n’ roll in Boston, another version of “banned in Boston,” and Freed’s career essentially ended less than two years later when he was fired from his radio and TV shows for accepting payola.

Newsday’s editorial board, which called rock ‘n’ roll “a sort of uncontrolled stomping to loud music,” applauded New Jersey’s actions in cancelling Freed’s upcoming show. It acknowledged the right of “teenagers in pony-tails or black leather jackets” to enjoy a rock show, before ending its sermon with this:

“But fond as we are of civil liberties, when music produces a riot, it is time for us older folk to put down a restraining foot. Can’t some enterprising producer come up with a band that plays nothing but the minuet, the mazurka and the schottische?”

For the record, Alan Freed was in the first group of inductees in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland in 1986 and Billy Joel was there, presenting Fats Domino. Joel himself was inducted in 1999.

To the best of our knowledge, he did it without playing a schottische.