Remember when you first heard ‘Rock Around the Clock’ by Bill Haley & His Comets? Honestly, I don’t recall being struck by lightning when it came over my pink AM radio, on the bedroom nightstand. My conversion came from another direction.
Our town had a central park that occupied an entire block, with a really cool old fountain in the middle. One summer afternoon, Mom took us there to hear something called a ‘guitar band’. I don’t know what I was expecting – to us, a band typically had brass instruments and a couple of individual drums, and played marches and pop music. It was quite a surprise to find 3 or 4 young guys with guitars, and another guy behind the first drum set I’d ever seen! And amps!
Rock & Roll Unleashed
Whatever they played, it was mesmerizing – I loved the sound, the beat, everything! And evidently quite a few other folks did, too, because the square was packed. My brother was unimpressed, though, and Mom’s supersensitive hearing was giving her a monster headache. We only stayed for a few songs, but it was enough. I was hooked!
I found KOIL (the new rock & roll station) on my non-stereo radio, and listened to it every night even though no one else in the family appreciated Mighty 1290. Their own music preference was from the Swing Era, and rock was a radical departure. If earbuds had existed back then, I’d have cranked up the volume and not bothered anyone else. As it was, the radio volume was kept to a level that avoided complaints, yet still audible enough to feed my new habit.
So, when ‘Rock Around the Clock’ came on, I’d dance barefoot on the rug in my basement room. Didn’t know any steps, but had to just move.
Some Background and Interesting Trivia
Do you know the history of the song? There’s been a whole book written about this one piece, so I’ll condense things for you. If you really want to read more, check out Jim Dawson’s Rock Around the Clock: The Record That Started the Rock Revolution (Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard) ISBN 978-0-87930-829-2 . You can rely on Dawson – he’s also an expert on flatulence and dirty words. No joke!
Bill Haley didn’t write ‘Rock Around the Clock’. In fact, the original arrangement was an adaptation of ‘The Syncopated Clock’ by Leroy Anderson, very popular in its day. The game show, ‘Jeopardy’, later adapted Anderson’s work for its Final Jeopardy theme. There were several other tunes titled ‘Rock Around the Clock’, but they weren’t remotely the same as this one.
Bill Haley wasn’t even the only one to record ‘Rock Around the Clock’, either. However, it was this arrangement that caught on with rebellious kids in the 50s (that would be us!). We boosted its popularity worldwide. And it was the driving force that landed rock & roll smack in the middle of mainstream society. Rolling Stone Magazine ranks it #158 in the list of 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
Catfights and Turf Wars
Its very authorship was disputed, then the timing of the composition. The evolution of the song is still questionable. People with differing agendas and recollections claim it came from R&B, country music, or pop. Songwriters have always borrowed from other writers, so it’s no surprise to find that the same thing happened here. You can hear influences of Hank Williams‘ first hit, “Move It On Over” (1947), which may have derived from Charley Patton‘s “Going to Move to Alabama” (1929), which partly came from Jim Jackson‘s “Kansas City Blues” (1927). Count Basie‘s “Red Wagon” (1939) also contributed to the mix.
There is further chaos associated with recording Haley’s rendition. One of the partners in the group’s first recording company kept ripping up their contract. Solution: Change to a different label! Once the grooves were finally laid on the vinyl, it took a while for the song to become popular. But when we got hold of it, we didn’t let go. You made it the theme song of our young generation, kids. Good work!
Bill Haley & His Comets (1952ish)
“One, two, three o’clock, four o’clock rock.
Five, six, seven o’clock, eight o’clock rock.
Nine, ten, eleven o’clock, twelve o’clock rock.
We’re gonna rock around the clock tonight.
Put your glad rags on and join me hon’
We’ll have some fun when the clock strikes one.
We’re gonna rock around the clock tonight
We’re gonna rock, rock, rock, ’till broad daylight
We’re gonna rock around the clock tonight.”