Thursday, May 12, 2011

May 12: Bill Haley & The Comets, "Rock Around The Clock"

Artist: Bill Haley & The Comets
Song: "Rock Around The Clock"
Album: Rock Around The Clock (single)
Year: 1954

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In the case of every genre in history, there are a number of songs that can be seen as pivotal moments in its development, and it is the earliest appearances of that style that stand as the most significant.  However, one of the most inexplicable trends is the fact that so many of these groundbreaking songs have somehow fallen into a "second tier" when compared to the bigger commercial hits, and yet their overwhelming significance cannot be ignored.  This is most clear when one looks into the early days of rock and roll, as there were a number of artists who paved the way for the likes of Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly, and yet somehow remain an afterthought to those whom they influenced.  While it is not to say that their own musical efforts have been ignored, the fact of the matter is, they rarely receive the complete credit they deserve for their pioneering efforts.  It is with this in mind that one can only wonder how, even with the unquestionable status as "the" first rock and roll song to receive airplay, Bill Haley And The Comets remain in a secondary status to many later artists.  Though many believe it was others, it was in fact Haley that made many of the earliest recordings of the fusion of the country style and r&b, and one can argue that he was the first "rockabilly" artist.  The culmination of this new sound came to a head in what remains the pivotal moment in the rise of rock and roll, Bill Haley And The Comets unmistakable 1954 single, "Rock Around The Clock."

Though there are many, the opening notes of "Rock Around The Clock" without question rank among the most recognized progressions in the history of music, and it is both in what the band plays, as well as the tone with which they play that made it such a hit.  Much of this lives within the fantastic swing that is set in place by drummer Billy Gussak, and yet he was a session musician on the track, as opposed to a "member" of The Comets.  Though his cadence is sharp, it is the unique stutter and flow that he brings to the track which can still light up any dance floor to this day.  The other key to "Rock Around The Clock" was the performance by the other "non-Comet," electric guitar player Danny Cedrone.  He had worked with Bill Haley before, and his iconic guitar solo on this song was actually the same he played on Haley's "Rock This Joint" a few years earlier.  However, this time around it would become absolutely legendary, and it is impossible to cite all of the times it has been copied over the decades.  However, "Rock Around The Clock" is very much an example of a song being greater than the sum of its parts, and one cannot overlook the amazing groove that is injected by saxophonist Joey Ambrose.  Often emphasizing the down-beat, it is his performance on the second solo that has become almost as legendary as the guitar work, and it is the combined sound of the entire band that enables "Rock Around The Clock" to retain its upbeat and irresistible draw more than half a century after its initial release.

The other key element in the success of "Rock Around The Clock" lives in the fact that Bill Haley possessed one of the most ideal voices for rock music, as it swings in much the same way as the music over which he sings.  After hearing his performance on "Rock Around The Clock," one can easily understand how such a sound would have quickly lit up and dance hall at the time, and the song may very well be "the" sock-hop classic.  Haley makes great use of a large portion of the vocal scale, and yet there is a relaxed, almost smooth sound to his voice, and this style would be another element of "Rock Around The Clock" that would be copied countless times over the generations.  In many ways, one can argue "Rock Around The Clock" as the ultimate song of youthful wanting, as in the music, singing, and especially the lyrics, the song screams of the sheer joy of being young and not wanting "the party" to end.  This idea has also been copied many times over the years, with the most obvious being Kiss' classic, "Rock And Roll All Night."  Yet there is something wonderfully innocent about Haley's singing here, and one would be hard pressed to find a more iconic lyric than when he sings, "...we're gonna rock around the clock tonight, we're gonna rock, rock, rock, 'till broad daylight..."  Whether it is what he sings or the way in which he delivers the lines, one cannot deny the fact that almost every rock song in history can find its roots in this performance.

However, though it now lives with an absolutely iconic status, it took quite some time before "Rock Around The Clock" caught on with radio and the general public.  Though it was initially released in early 1954, it was not until an appearance in the 1955 film, Blackboard Jungle, that the song gained a wide audience.  "Rock Around The Clock" quickly rose to the top of the charts across the world, and it stands as the first "rock style" song to achieve such a feat.  The sales of the single were truly unprecedented, and many movie studios did all they could to find ways to cash in on the songs' success, including the 1956 film that shares the same name as the song.  On nearly every continent, the song was a massive hit, and it was one of the first clear cases where one can see the common threads that connect the youth around the globe.  It was "Rock Around The Clock" that forever marked rock and roll as "young music," and the trends the song set into motion remain in place to this day.  In fact, even after so many decades have passed, there are still cover versions of "Rock Around The Clock" being recorded, and everyone from The Sex Pistols to David Cassidy have recorded their own take on the song.  The fact that the song stands today as a bit of a "secondary" thought after the more commercially successful acts of early rock is nothing short of a travesty, as one can easily argue that rock and roll would not exist had it not been for Bill Haley And The Comets and their monumental 1954 single, "Rock Around The Clock."

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