Pop/Rock  •  Pop/Rock

Teen Idols

It took rock & roll a few years before they had a group of attractive young vocalists to claim as their own Teen Idols. Most of the teen idols of the late '50s and early '60s owed more to traditional pop than rock & roll. They didn't have the raw sexuality of Elvis Presley, nor did they have his instinctive vocal talents. The teen idols were carefully groomed and given inoffensive, catchy material to sing. Pat Boone was the first of the teen idols of the late '50s. Boone primarily covered rock & roll and R&B hits, but his clean-cut good looks and smooth vocals set the stage for singers like Paul Anka, who primarily sang ballads that were given contemporary pop/rock productions. Ricky Nelson emerged at the same time as Anka, and out of all the teen idols, his music remained the closest to rock & roll -- Nelson performed rockabilly, R&B, and rock & roll, but he played with professional studio musicians who helped give the music a cleaner attack. After Anka and Nelson, the golden age of teen idols emerged, as a number of vocalists with limited vocal skills but good looks became stars. These vocalists -- like Fabian and Frankie Avalon -- sang songs written by professional songwriters. Frequently, this material hearkened back to the Tin Pan Alley and traditional pop that dominated the early '50s, but the records were given rock & roll productions. Teen idols continued to be popular throughout the early '60s and the genre went through a number of fads, including a string of teenage television actors who turned into singers, as well as a wave of melodramatic songs about tragic teenage deaths. Rockers like Gene Pitney, Dion, and Del Shannon were packaged as teen idols, but their music was substantial enough to essentially sustain the death of the fad in 1963. Furthermore, there were a number of British teen idols -- such as Cliff Richard and Adam Faith -- who dominated the charts in the same era with similar music, but they all faded away upon the arrival of the Beatles in 1963. During the '70s, the term came to describe a number of AM-pop artists like the Bay City Rollers and Shaun Cassidy, who essentially updated the lightweight approach of '60s teen idols for the '70s.