The Story of
ROCK AROUND THE CLOCK

The precursors of Rock Around The Clock
Year Title (click for play) Writer Performer Note
1945 Around The Clock Wynonie Harris Wynonie Harris Similar title
1951-52 Rock The Joint Crafton/Keane/Bagby Bill Haley & The Saddlemen The Danny Cedrone's guitar solo is the same as in Rock Around The Clock by Bill Haley & His Comets, 04/12/1954.
The guitar solo in the popular 1957's version of Rock The Joint is completely different
1952 Rock Around The Clock Wally Mercer Wally Mercer Identical title (but the absolutely different song)


“At two of the sessions following Crazy Man Crazy [Bill] Haley presented a song called Rock Around The Clock, but Dave Miller [Essex label] refused to cut it because of an ongoing dispute with James Myers, probably over the publishing assignation.

Rock Around The Clock had been written in 1953 by Max C. Freedman, a Philadelphia songwriter, already 60 years old. […] The co-writer 'Jimmy DeKnight' was a WASP-y pseudonym for Myers who cut himself in for 50% of the composer credit and 100% of the publishing. After Miller refused to cut Rock Around The Clock, Myers placed it with veteran country artist Sonny Dae and the song made its inauspicious debut on Jack Howard's Arcade label in 1953.

The dispute over Rock Around The Clock and the failure of the follow-ups to Crazy Man Crazy convinced those close to Haley that they must free themselves from the Essex contract. Haley's contract came up for renewal in 1954 while Miller was in Germany working on his pet project, the 101 Strings. Using Miller's failure to exercise the renewal option on time, Myers and [Jim] Ferguson freed Haley from Essex and sought out a label that was more attuned to Haley's music.

Very quickly, Haley was snapped up by Decca and – significantly – placed with Milt Gabler in New York rather than Paul Cohen in Nashville. […]

In exchange for landing the contract with Decca, Myers made an agreement with Haley that one side of every record would be a composition drawn from Myers's catalogue. The first would be Rock Around The Clock. On April 12, 1954 Haley went to New York to cut his first Decca session. He brought his partners, Billy Williamson and Johnny Grande, together with the salaried members of the Comets, Joey d'Ambrosio on tenor sax, Danny Cedrone on guitar and Marshall Lytle on bass. Gabler supplied a New York session drummer, Billy Gussack. The session commenced at 2:15pm, but by 5:40 they had only cut two songs instead on the Union standard four. Those two songs were Rock Around The Clock and a bizarre post nuclear holocaust novelty, Thirteen Women. Myers later look credit for achieving the unique sound that Haley forged on the session, a claim that Gabler hotly denies. […]
James Myers and Bill Haley
Of all the countless versions of Rock Around The Clock, including many re-cuts by Haley, none has ever eclipsed the original. It was a truly seminal performance. All the elements coalesced perfectly: the percussive slap bass; Cedrone's innovative, finger busting solo; Gussack's rim shots and double rim shots on the back beat at the end of each line; Haley's vocal, and the riffs built by the steel guitar, piano and sax. Each successive verse, as Swenson points out, turned the screw a little higher. For his part, Gabler did know how to duplicate Miller's productions – and improve them, as he had promised. And the old Pythian Temple, where the session was held, gave a natural room echo that enhanced the performance.

The first Decca single (with Thirteen Women seen as the top side) was released on May 10, 1954. "It was just plugged as a regular record," recalled Gabler to Finnis. "We just put it out. It wasn't country & western or R&B. It was a regular pop record. It sold about 75,000 copies which was very good but it wasn't a smash." However, it gave Gabler the impetus to immediately extend Haley's original one year term with the label.

Because Decca in the United States and Decca in England were separately owned companies […], Haley's recordings were issued in England on the Brunswick label. On release, Rock Around The Clock was reviewed by 'Jazz Journal' who said: "(A) jump blues by relatively unknown coloured group. Bill Haley blues shouts quite effectively, borrowing some of the tricks of Josh White. The band plays in a modern Harlem swing style."

That lukewarm endorsement notwithstanding, the portents were good – and there was much better in store. […]

Around the beginning of 1955, James Myers made one of the most astute moves of his career. He ventured to Hollywood and arranged with M-G-M for Rock Around The Clock to be placed in 'Blackboard Jungle', an upcoming movie about juvenile delinquency. Myers's motives in placing Rock Around The Clock in the production rather than Crazy Man Crazy (the producer's choice) or Shake Rattle and Roll (Haley's current hit) were far from altruistic. Owning 50% of the composer credit and 100% of the publishing, Myers stood to profit enormously if Rock Around The Clock could be revived.

After 'Blackboard Jungle' was released in the Spring of 1955, it quickly became a teenage cult movie like 'The Wild One' and 'East of Eden'. However, it was distinct from those in that it featured rock & roll music – the first full length movie to do so. The impact of the song played at full volume in a darkened theatre coupled with images of teenage disaffection on the screen made an indelible imprint on a generation. The success of 'Blackboard Jungle' encouraged Decca to re-sample and re-promote Rock Around The Clock, no doubt with Myers snapping at their heels. […]

By June 1955 Rock Around The Clock was number one on the Honor Roll of Hits, and Bill Haley was indelibly associated with the rebellion stirring from below.”
Colin Escott, 1990
(from the booklet of CD box
'Bill Haley & His Comets. Decca Years and more',
Bear Family Records BCD 15506 EH)

GO TO SOUND ARCHIVE OF ROCK AROUND THE CLOCK'S PERFORMANCES
(71 RealAudio samples):

BY BILL HALEY & HIS COMETS

BY OTHER ARTISTS


© 2006-2013 Valeri Orlov