No network show I’ve seen has dealt with the current right-wing attack on rock music as directly and fairly as It’s Only Rock & Roll. This afterschool special stars Alison Bartlett (Sesame Street) as Hallie Angelisi, leader of a teenage rock band called Hallie’s Comet.
The plot of It’s Only Rock & Roll is familiar from a thousand rock movies: Hallie’s Comet has promise, but the band hooks up with a sleazy music-biz hustler, a record company executive amusingly played by the Monkees’ Davy Jones (”You dudes have a truly righteous sound!” are his opening words of wisdom). Jones and the band’s guitarist (William McNamara) think the band can secure a contract and sell a lot of records if only Hallie would ”loosen up” — that is, ditch her baggy jeans and slink around the stage in revealing clothes. ”We got a great sound — we just gotta make it hot,” says the guitarist. ”Why won’t you make it hot?”
Hallie succumbs: She performs in a local club wearing a Madonna-ish black lace bra and a crucifix. The crowd goes wild, and Hallie’s Comet’s future seems assured. But then the town’s archconservative sheriff (Walter Bobbie of the soap opera Loving), eager to stir up publicity for his mayoral campaign, raids the club and arrests the owner for selling ”obscene materials to minors.” The obscene materials: rock records. He spouts antirock rant that would be ludicrous if it weren’t so similar to the statements that real-life rock haters often assert. ”Rock music,” says the sheriff, is leading our children to drug addiction, promiscuity, and abortion, to suicide and vandalism, to Communism and homosexualism, and to a decline in attendance at school. It’s Only Rock & Roll also offers a moderate view of rock as articulated by a teacher played by Carole King — yes, the Carole King of Tapestry. In a nice performance, King says she’s all for the music but posits the classic liberal conundrum: Do artists reflect society, or do they influence it?” Her implication is that rockers have an obligation to young audiences to set a good example — in other words, no black bras.
Although the movie, written by Gordon Rayfield, comes down clearly on the side of rock — our hero Hallie gets to say, ”You’ve got to let people say and do what they want. Isn’t that what the First Amendment is all about?” — it does a solid job of articulating both sides’ arguments. It’s Only Rock & Roll should inspire some lively discussion among its viewers.