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Oct 03

BILL HALEY AND THE COMETS – “Rock Around The Clock”

Popular15 comments • 2,664 views

#39, 25th November 1955

I can’t stop tapping my toes.

Is that because I’m enjoying “Rock Around The Clock”, though? Or because the way to move to rock and roll has got wired into my reflexes? This is the first song in Popular that I can’t remember not knowing, after all.

(My toes are still tapping to the song I am listening to right now, which is “Don’t Go” by Awesome 3. I like it better than “Rock Around The Clock”: it’s less shopworn for one thing, but also more comforting, closer to my idea of what pop is. A warning to new readers: Popular is written by somebody whose general belief is that pop music has improved with each decade it’s been around. This project may make me change my mind – we’ll see.)

I’ll try to be dry about the record, then. It’s obviously the Comets that make the performance – Bill Haley starts it with gusto but begins to run out of breath after about a minute, an old trouper already being left behind by rock and roll even as he was cynically cashing it into life. He promises that when the clock hits 12 he’s going to rock around it all over again and you can hear that his fingers have slipped off the baton – it’s an outright lie, he just wants a sit-down.

But the Comets! I don’t know anything about the Comets but they sound like they were having a lot of fun. Listening to it closely the drummer steps smartly out of history, his snappy fills at the end of each line bursting with good humour. Like the jokey little diving notes at the end of the guitar phrases, and the punchline ba-boom of the ending, it’s all very light-hearted, not that far away from Alma Cogan to be honest. Of course there is a difference – it’s the difference between the fixed smile of a hostess and the relaxed grin of a guest – but if the song was ever charged with a rebel energy, none remains today.

And even though this is something new at No.1 (it had been a minor hit earlier in the year; this was a re-entry) it’s also part of a trend: the records at the top of the chart had been getting sparser and sharper since the soupy days of 1953. “Rock Around The Clock” didn’t come out of nowhere.

Still though, you can understand how shockingly basic rock and roll must have sounded. The see-saw might have been tipping away from the tidy complexity of early-50s pop, but fat old Bill gave it a fairly decisive push. The indistinct pop market of the time – I’ve been imagining well-scrubbed young men buying ballads and roses for their best girls, but it might have been their fathers or mothers or grandmothers even – becomes something more focussed, familiar and celebrated. Not overnight, though. For now, rock and roll is a fad. And “Rock Around The Clock” is a fine, exciting pop record. And the toes keep tapping.

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Comments

  1. 1
    Lena on 30 Oct 2006 #

    On the ‘live from the Old Mill’ dance portion of CHFI’s Saturday night oldies show, this is always the first song, or if it isn’t I’m sure it’s in the mix. It’s catchy, makes you want to dance and almost everyone likes it. I have no idea who bought it first either, though I can imagine only the most grouchy people hating it. My mom got it for her birthday when it came out and she and her friends danced to it a lot.

  2. 2
    Marcello Carlin on 30 Oct 2006 #

    Not many people bought it on its first release in early 1955 – it peaked at #17 on its initial run – but it went to number one at the end of the same year after The Kids went to see Blackboard Jungle, tore the cinema seats up, etc.

    As I recall the song was co-authored by a sixtysomething veteran and the label on the original 78 (which my mum still has) identifies it as “(Foxtrot)”!

  3. 3
    Billy Smart on 23 Mar 2009 #

    TOTPWatch: Bill Haley & His Comets performed ‘Rock Around the Clock’ on Top of the Pops on two occasions;

    28 February 1974: Also in the stidio that week were; The New Seekers, John Christie, Hudson Ford, The Wombles and Paper Lace. Dave Lee Tracis was the host. No copy survives.

    11 April 1974: Also in the studio that week were; Mud, Slade, Mugo Jerry, The Wombles and ABBA. Noel Edmunds was the host. This edition still exists.

  4. 4
    Billy Smart on 23 Mar 2009 #

    Light Entertainment watch: Bill Haley was claerly on tour in the UK in 1964. None of these programmes survive;

    THE BEAT ROOM: with Bill Haley and his Comets, Peter and Gordon, Zoot
    Money and the Big Pill Band, Sally Kelly, The Wranglers (1964)

    READY STEADY GO!: with Adam Faith, Bill Haley and his Comets, Doug Shelton, The Roulettes, Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers, Rita Bartok, Tony Jackson and the Vibrations (1964)

    THANK YOUR LUCKY STARS: with Brian Matthew, The Searchers, P. J. Proby, Bill Haley and the Comets, Tom Jones (1964)

    One seventies performance does exist, though;

    WHEELTAPPERS AND SHUNTERS SOCIAL CLUB: with Bill Haley and the Comets (1974)

  5. 5
    Erithian on 13 Jan 2010 #

    Sorry, run that past me again – Bill Haley and his Comets on the Wheeltappers and Shunters?! “Best of order please around the room!” Colin Crompton and Bernard Manning? Ye gods, what must they have thought?

  6. 6
    Billy Smart on 13 Jan 2010 #

    That’s right! And what is more I was watching it this morning;

    http://www.networkdvd.net/product_info.php?products_id=960

    Colin Crompton complains that Bill Haley hasn’t combed his hair properly and asks the crowd not to hand jive, as the deaf barmaid thinks that they are ordering rounds. Also doing turns that week; The Three Degrees, The Krankies, Brandi De Frank, Martyn & Sylvia Conyot and Ronnie Hilton!

  7. 7
    Erithian on 14 Jan 2010 #

    That’s three UK number one acts on the same bill! – plus the Krankies turning up on a Comic Relief-related number one video far into the future. That’s ITV weekend primetime circa 1974 for you. The road from Colin Crompton to Simon Cowell is a long one.

    While waiting to see Springsteen at Crystal Palace in 2003, a bloke next to me in the crowd said he’d seen the surviving Comets quite recently – the guitarist may have been 80-ish and seated, but still played a good long gig. Come to think of it, Springsteen playing stadia in 2003 was about the age Bill Haley was playing the Wheeltappers in 1974. Not sure what that says about their careers or the history of rock’n’roll, but there you go.

  8. 8
    Jimmy the Swede on 17 Jan 2010 #

    Can someone confirm an episode of The Sooty Show which featured as guests, Throbbing Gristle, whom Sooty accompanied on his xylophone? I think it was the same episode when Sweep took John Stonehouse out with a large bar of Toblerone.

  9. 9
    thefatgit on 18 Jan 2010 #

    @8 Is this true? Genesis P. Orridge and Sooty? On (psychic, natch) TV? At the same time??

  10. 10
    Mark G on 20 Jan 2010 #

    I dunno, but I do remember Sweep donning punk fashions and singing “Boredom”..

  11. 11
    lonepilgrim on 20 Jan 2010 #

    Sooty, Sweep & Soo – they don’t know what they want but they know where to get it
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uELWyGST1zk

  12. 12
    Eli on 3 Jan 2011 #

    I agree with your final comment, Tom. It is pretty hard to dislike, and the idea of it being subversive in 2011 seems ludicrous. And yet, we all know it was!

    I think I’ve heard it about a million times.

    Poor Bill Haley…

  13. 13
    crag on 13 Apr 2011 #

    DESERT ISLAND DISC WATCH (Up to 11/04/11)

    John Watt, broadcaster (1956)

    Cliff Richard, singer (1960)

    Antionnette Sibley, ballerina (1974)

    Lord Charteris, Former Private Secretary to the Queen (1990)

    Clarissa Dickson-Wright TV Chef (1999)

    Robert Mccrum, Journalist (2000)

    Fay Goodwin, photographer (2002)

    Stephen Frears, film director (2004)

    Tom Jones, singer (2010)

  14. 14
    enitharmon on 21 Sep 2012 #

    We had our work (an organic horticulture operation) harvest supper tonight. My contribution to the evening’s entertainment was reading a passage from Thomas Hardy concerning an unfortunate incident involving a meal designed to impress and a gastropod (gastropods being quite the most successful harvest this so-called summer).

    But that was as nothing compared to the classic wind-up gramophone somebody conjured up to compensate for the lack of electricity in the polytunnel where the event was held. It came with a bag of needles, to be changed every two plays, and a box of 78s including this one and Little Richard’s Tutti Frutti/Long Tall Sally. They got a fair hammering (not literally of course).

    Listening to them that way added a whole new dimension to the sound, something completely lost when listening to them via more more modern media.

    It just goes to show how much context counts for.

  15. 15
    hectorthebat on 30 Jan 2014 #

    The first classic number one? It’s been a tough slog getting this far! For the record, here are all critical lists containing ‘Rock around the Clock’.

    1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2010)
    Barnes & Noble.com (USA) – The Best Music of the 20th Century (1999)
    Bruce Pollock (USA) – The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 (2005)
    Dave Marsh & Kevin Stein (USA) – The 20 Best of the Top 40 Singles by Year (1981) 7
    Gary Pig Gold (Canada) – The 40 Most Influental Records of the 20th Century (1999)
    Life (USA) – Dozen Discs That Shook the World (2005)
    NPR (USA) – The 300 Most Important American Records of the 20th Century (1999)
    Pause & Play (USA) – 20 Songs of the 50’s (2003)
    Pause & Play (USA) – Songs Inducted into a Time Capsule, One Track at Each Week
    RIAA and NEA (USA) – 365 Songs of the Century (2001) 12
    Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (USA) – 500 Songs That Shaped Rock (1994?)
    Rolling Stone (USA) – The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (2004) 158
    Rolling Stone (USA) – The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (Updated 2010) 159
    San Antonio Express-News (USA) – Rock ‘n’ roll timeline (2004)
    The Recording Academy Grammy Hall of Fame Albums and Songs (USA)
    VH1 (USA) – The 100 Greatest Songs of All Time (2000) 37
    2FM (Ireland) – Top 100 Singles of All Time (2003) 41
    BBC (UK) – Pop on Trial, Top 50 Songs from the 1950s (2008)
    HarperCollins GEM (UK) – Single of the Year 1949-99 (1999)
    Q (UK) – 100 Songs That Changed the World (2003) 12
    Q (UK) – Top 20 Singles from 1954-1969 (2004) 7
    Vox (UK) – 100 Records That Shook the World (1991)
    Zig Zag (UK) – Gillett & Frith’s Hot 100 Singles (1975)
    Helsingin Sanomat (Finland) – 50th Anniversary of Rock (2004)
    Nerikes Allehanda (Sweden) – The 50 Best Rock Songs of All Time (1992) 21
    Gilles Verlant and Thomas Caussé (France) – 3000 Rock Classics (2009)
    Hervé Bourhis (France) – Le Petit Livre Rock: The Juke Box Singles 1950-2009
    Toby Creswell (Australia) – 1001 Songs (2005)
    Giannis Petridis (Greece) – 2004 of the Best Songs of the Century (2003)

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