Saturday, July 9, 2005

50 years ago: “Rock Around the Clock” launched the rock era

We’re Gonna Rock Around the Clock

Bill Haley & His Comets

Writer(s): Max Freedman, James E. Myers (aka (Jimmy DeKnight) (see lyrics here)

First Charted: May 10, 1954

Peak: 18 US, 12 HP, 18 CB, 32 GR, 14 HR, 3 RB, 15 UK, 16, 1 DF (Click for codes to charts.)

Sales (in millions): 20.0 US, 1.44 UK, 25.0 world (includes US + UK)

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 72.33 video, 69.83 streaming


Click on award for more details.

About the Song:

In 1955, “the music business…had no…inkling that a new music was about to change the world.” TB It showed that “despite the collective wisdom of the men in suits, despite their vast marketing budgets and their intensive audience research, the music belongs not to them but the fans.” TB The signs were there. “The electric guitar had been around since the 1930s, the term ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ was widely used…by the end of the ‘40s, and the spread of radio meant that white kids were increasingly exposed to black music.” TB

While there are many contenders for the title of “first rock and roll song” (check out the DMDB list of the top 100 rock-n-roll origins songs), the song that most emerges as the place keeper separating the pre-rock era from the rock era is “Rock Around the Clock.” In fact, that division can be tied to the specific date of July 9, 1955, when Bill Haley & the Comets took the song to the top of the Billboard singles chart. It became the best selling rock record of all time. KL Author Dave Thompson called it “rock ‘n’ roll Year Zero.” DT

Although he started as a yodeler (!), Haley converted to rock when he saw its effect on audiences RS500 doing covers of “Rocket 88” and “Rock the Joint” in 1951 and 1952. TC In 1953, Max Freedman, a 63-year-old Tin Pan Alley writer, and James E. Myers, Haley’s agent, reworked the blues number “My Daddy Rocks Me with a Steady Roll” for Haley. SJ Dave Miller, who signed Haley to Holiday Records, wouldn’t let him record it because he disliked Myers. FB Sonny Dae & His Nights tackled it in October 1953, SF recording it as a “jump jazz item” TB but it flopped. Haley got another shot when he jumped to Decca and “Clock” landed on the B-side of novelty song “Thirteen Women.” SF

Haley “brought a country and western swing flavour to the R&B changes so that it sounded like sophisticated hillbilly music (admittedly and oxymoron).” TC His version focused more on the bass and drums than the melody, KL making for a song with youth appeal in an era dominated by adult contemporary fare.

Haley was plump, balding, and over thirty, so his teen idol appeal was limited, but as Haley said, “‘I started it all. They can’t take that away from me.’” HL He explained, “We premiered this music…We put country and western together with rhythm and blues.” TC

Initially, the record company didn’t know what to do with the song, calling it a “novelty foxtrot.” SF It flopped on its initial release, but earned iconic status when featured in the movie The Blackboard Jungle, “a film about juvenile delinquency, although not very delinquent by today’s standards.” LW At the time, however, the movie caused rioting amongst its teen audience who trumpeted “Rock Around the Clock” as their theme for alienation and hostility. SJ The timing was ideal. “Dance bands had had their day and the new, young record-buying public” LW wanted music to call their own. “Clock” “wasn’t country, it wasn’t rhythm and blues, and it hovered on the edge of parody, but it did the business and it got the kids on their feet and jiving.” LW Billboard’s Top 40 chart was only a few months old SF when this went #1. The song was revived in 1974 as TV series Happy Days’ opening theme.


First posted 7/9/2010; last updated 4/1/2023.

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