Avalon was one of a number of teen-idols of the late 50s whose stardom was shortlived. Unlike some of his contemporaries, however, he continued his career by becoming a personification of the 50s with cameo roles in such productions as the film Grease.
As a trumpet-playing child he won a talent contest and appeared on local television in the Philadelphia area. He later performed with Rocco and the Saints, a rock band signed to Chancellor, a label formed by Bob Marcucci and Peter de Angelis to supply potential teenage stars to Dick Clark’s American Bandstand TV show.
Avalon’s first solo record, ‘Dede Dinah’, has been variously described as ‘moronic’ and an ‘idiot chant’, but it became a Top Ten hit in 1958. Seven more hits followed in the next two years, mostly written by Marcucci and de Angelis. The teen ballads ‘Venus’ and ‘Why?’ both reached No. 1 and the latter was his only British chart success.
In the 60s Avalon co-starred with Annette Funicello in a series of ‘beach’ movies, including Beach Party (1963), Beach Blanket Bingo (1965) and How to Stuff a Wild Bikini (1965). Soon after, he moved on from the teenage to the supper-club circuit and occasional TV appearances.
A 1976 disco remake of ‘Venus’ was a minor hit, but far better was his performance of ‘Beauty School Dropout’, one of the highlights of Grease, whose soundtrack album was one of the bestsellers of 1978.
In 1985 he, Bobby Rydell and Fabian toured as ‘The Golden Boys of Bandstand’ and in 1987 he and Funicello played parents of teenagers in Back to the Beach. Avalon returned to his first love when he played trumpet on Dead Flowers (1992) by Edan, a group that included his son and Edan, the son of Don Everly.
© Phil Hardy, Dave Laing, The Faber Companion to 20th-Century Popular Music, 2001