April 12, 2017

Today in music history 1 ~ Bill Haley Rocks Around the Clock

On April 12, 1954, Bill Haley recorded Rock Around the Clock at Pythian Temple studios in New York City. Considered by many to be the song that put rock and roll on the map around the world. The song was used over the opening titles for the film Blackboard Jungle, which starred Glenn Ford and Sidney Poitier, and went on to be a world-wide No.1 and the biggest selling pop single with sales over 25 million.

Blackboard Jungle movie poster

Rock Around the Clock is a rock and roll song in the 12-bar blues format written by Max C. Freedman and James E. Myers (the latter under the pseudonym "Jimmy De Knight") in 1952. The best-known and most successful rendition was recorded by Bill Haley & His Comets in 1954 for American Decca. It was a number one single on both the US and UK charts and also re-entered the UK Singles Chart in the 1960s and 1970s.    

It was not the first rock and roll record, nor was it the first successful record of the genre (Bill Haley had American chart success with Crazy Man, Crazy in 1953, and in 1954, Shake, Rattle and Roll sung by Big Joe Turner reached No. 1 on the Billboard R&B chart). Haley's recording nevertheless became an anthem for rebellious 1950s youth and is widely considered to be the song that, more than any other, brought rock and roll into mainstream culture around the world. The song is ranked No. 158 on the Rolling Stone magazine's list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.    

Although first recorded by Italian-American band Sonny Dae and His Knights on March 20, 1954, the more famous version by Bill Haley & His Comets is not, strictly speaking, a cover version. Myers claimed the song had been written specifically for Haley but, for various reasons, Haley was unable to record it himself until April 12, 1954.   

The original full title of the song was We're Gonna Rock Around the Clock Tonight!. This was later shortened to (We're Gonna) Rock Around the Clock, though this form is generally only used on releases of the 1954 Bill Haley Decca Records recording; most other recordings of this song by Haley and others (including Sonny Dae) shorten this title further to Rock Around the Clock. Sources indicate Rock Around the Clock was written in 1953, but documents uncovered by historian Jim Dawson indicate it was in fact written in late 1952.    

The song was credited to Myers (as "Jimmy DeKnight") and Max C. Freedman, although its exact authorship is disputed, with many speculating that Freedman wrote the song on his own. There were several earlier songs of the title Rock Around the Clock (by Hal Singer and Wally Mercer), but they are unrelated to the Freedman/Myers song. In addition, it is sometimes erroneously stated that Rock Around the Clock is copied from a late-1940s Big Joe Turner recording, Around the Clock Blues. Aside from title similarity, however, the two songs bear little resemblance. There are many blues songs with the theme of partying or making love "round the clock", with various actions specified at various hours. The song also uses phrases from Red Wagon, by  Count Basie, first recorded in 1939.             

According to the Haley biographies Bill Haley by John Swenson and Rock Around the Clock by Dawson, the song was offered to Haley in the wake of his first national success Crazy Man, Crazy in 1953, after being copyrighted with the U.S. Library of Congress on March 31. Haley and his Comets began performing the song on stage (Comets bass player Marshall Lytle and drummer Dick Richards say the first performances were in Wildwood, New Jersey at Phil and Eddie's Surf Club), but Dave Miller, his producer, refused to allow Haley to record it for his Essex Records label (Swenson suggests a feud existed between Myers and Miller).    

Haley himself claimed to have taken the sheet music into the recording studio at least twice, with Miller ripping up the music each time. Nonetheless, rumors of a 1953 demo recording by Haley persist to this day, although surviving members of the Comets deny this, as did Haley himself (quoted in the Swenson biography); a late-1960s bootleg single of the Decca Records version of Rock Around the Clock, with Crazy Man, Crazy on the B-side and carrying the Essex label, occasionally turns up for sale with the claim that it is the demo version.       

Myers next offered the song to Sonny Dae and His Knights, a novelty all-white musical group led by Italian-American Paschal Vennitti. The group's subsequent recording, on the Arcade Records label (owned by Haley's manager, Jack Howard), was a regional success, although it sounded very different from what Haley would later record.

In tribute to the influence of the song and the movie that launched its popularity, the March 29, 2005 50th anniversary of the opening of Blackboard Jungle was marked by several large celebrations in the United States organized by promoter Martin Lewis under the blanket title "Rock Is Fifty".  

musicians on the Decca recording are :  
Net links:         
Blackboard Jungle         
Charts and certifications         
List of Billboard number-one singles of 1955           
Songs on YouTube: 
Bill Haley ~ Rock Around the Clock       
Sonny Dae and His Knights ~ Rock Around the Clock
Hank Williams ~ Move It On Over       
Count Basie Quartet ~ Red Wagon    
Rock on, Bill!
Styrous® ~ Wednesday, April 12, 2017          

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