by Robert Wilkinson
Tonight we go back to the original tune that introduced rock and roll to the world and blew the doors wide open for all that has happened since then! Tonight we dance to the song that ignited the fire that set countless millions of teens to dancing!
Tomorrow would have been the 89th birthday of one of the originators of rock and roll, the legendary Bill Haley. Bill Haley (July 6, 1925 – February 9, 1981), along with Elvis, Buddy, Chuck, and Little Richard, was one of the original 5 who created the genre. Bill, known as “the Father of Rock and Roll,” is unique in that he and his Comets introduced the world to rock and roll at the very beginning.
Haley and his band were important in launching the music known as "Rock and Roll" to a wider, mostly white audience after a period of it being considered an underground genre. When "Rock Around the Clock" appeared behind the opening credits of the 1955 film “Blackboard Jungle” ...it soared to the top of the American Billboard chart for eight weeks. The single is commonly used as a convenient line of demarcation between the "rock era" and the music industry that preceded it; Billboard separated its statistical tabulations into 1890-1954 and 1955–present. After the record rose to number one, Haley was quickly given the title "Father of Rock and Roll," by the media, and by teenagers that had come to embrace the new style of music. With the song's success, the age of rock music began overnight and instantly ended the dominance of the jazz and pop standards performed by Frank Sinatra, Jo Stafford, Perry Como, Bing Crosby, and others.
Success came at somewhat of a price as the new music confused and horrified most people over the age of 30, leading to Cold War-fueled suspicion that rock-and-roll was part of a communist plot to corrupt the minds of American teenagers. FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover attempted to dig up incriminating material on Bill Haley, who took to carrying a gun with him on tours for his own safety.
”Rock Around the Clock" was the first record ever to sell over one million copies in both Britain and Germany and, in 1957, Haley became the first major American rock singer to tour Europe. Haley continued to score hits throughout the 1950s ...and he starred in the first rock and roll musical movies “Rock Around the Clock” and “Don’t Knock the Rock,” both in 1956. Haley was already 30 years old and so he was soon eclipsed in the United States by the younger, sexier Elvis, but continued to enjoy great popularity in Latin America, Europe, and Australia through the 1960s.
While it got everyone's attention in 1955 as the opening song for "Blackboard Jungle," a classic noir juvenile delinquent flick, when it was the name of Alan Freed's first 1956 jukebox movie "Rock Around the Clock," that was the birth of rock and roll in the movies. Alan Freed made and starred in teen movies built around great music and dancing, and besides Bill Haley and the Comets, also introduced Little Richard, Chuck Berry, the Platters, Frankie Lymon and a bunch of other great groups to the mass media. And yes, Amerika freaked out in 1956. Rock and roll AND civil rights at the same time blew some minds. Too much dancing, I suppose. Which reminds me....
On with the dance! We now go back to the very beginning of rock and roll to a tune that had “foxtrot with vocal” stamped on the original 45. This comes from an era when people actually did dance, and dance with all they had! For your dancing enjoyment, originally released in April 1954, the soundtrack tune from the movie “Blackboard Jungle” that introduced rock and roll as it blazed into the mass consciousness!
From the "Washington Square" television show hosted by Ray Bolger, a rare find from early tv! Here's Bill Haley and the Comets in a very live 1956 performance of our Saturday Night Attitude dance tune, "Rock Around the Clock."
From a 1954 short movie, here’s a great clip of Bill Haley and the Comets performing their first hit from 1953, “Crazy Man Crazy” plus “Straight Jacket” and the 1955 hit, “Shake Rattle and Roll”
We now move to the first Alan Freed jukebox movie “Rock Around the Clock,” a film designed to expose teens to rock and roll! Here's the original clip from the film of our Saturday Night Attitude tune that blew the doors down! “Rock Around the Clock”
From the same movie, a “live” performance of their 1956 hit “See You Later Alligator” followed by Bill’s 1952 hit, “Rock A-Beatin’ Boogie.” We’ll close Bill’s contributions to the movie with “Razzle Dazzle”
Thanks to the second Alan Freed jukebox movie “Don’t Knock the Rock,” we have a great clip of their “live” performance of the 1956 hit “Rip It Up”
Live and rocking in the 1980 documentary “Blue Suede Shoes” (not long before he died), here are Bill and the Comets performing their 1952 hit, “Rock the Joint”
From 1951, Bill’s first hit when the Comets were still known as the Saddlemen, the studio version of one of the first prototypical rock and roll tunes, the legendary “Rocket 88”
From Birmingham, England, a great live concert from 1979! Bill Haley Live in Concert 1979
(Set list: “Shake Rattle and Roll,” “Razzle Dazzle,” “Rudy Rock,” “When The Saints Play Rock and Roll,” “See You Later Alligator,” “Rock Around the Clock,” “Rock This Joint,” “Me and Bobby Magee,” “Rock A-Beatin’ Boogie,” “Rip It Up,” Chuck Berry’s “The Promised Land,” and back to “When the Saints Come Marchin’ In”
As usual, we'll finish this birthday tribute to Bill Haley with a live performance on American Bandstand in 1960 of our Saturday Night Attitude dance tune, “Rock Around the Clock”
Eternal gratitude to you, Mister Bill Haley. You and your Comets were the first to open the doors to rock and roll, capturing the public imagination and changing the world forever, which is no small thing. And in an interesting personal connection, we both shared fond memories of Grandmom and Pop Jones, since we both hung around their drugstore back when I was very young and you were founding rock and roll! Shake, Rattle, and Roll, Rock the Joint, Rip It Up, and I'll See You Later, Alligator....
© Copyright 2014 Robert Wilkinson