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How Rock 'n' Roll Began

Updated on July 13, 2015
Bill and the Comets
Bill and the Comets
The Future of rock in 1960
The Future of rock in 1960
Two fathers of rock n'roll
Two fathers of rock n'roll

Throughout the years, there has been a lot of chatter about how rock music evolved and most tend to think Elvis Presley was its king until the Beatles dethroned him. Most discussions trace the origins to R&B black music and no doubt, the seeds sown there would later become something called rock n' roll. But R&B music IS different than what would evolve out of it and become a worldwide phenomenon.

In an odd way, rock's origins and how the Beatles became known in America, share uncanny similar events. The song that is truly rock's debut is "Rock Around the Clock" by Bill Haley and the Comets. It was recorded in 30 minutes. The song was clearly inspired by Hank William's "Move It On Over" released in March 1954. But, Rock Around the Clock, was never intended to be a hit song, as the band recorded for a B side of their single. Haley did not like the slower pace of the song and demanded the band speed it up. Their single hit the charts in May, 1954, and at its high point, reached #23, and then descended from popularity. Eight years later, an unknown band, The Beatles, recorded their first single without Ringo, in 1962. Their song, "Love Me Do", never would get higher than #17, before it was forgotten. Both bands would not find fame and fortune this time.

Around the same time, in Hollywood, a movie producer was reading drafts of a sceenplay for an upcoming movie about teenage delinquents. It was called, The Blackboard Jungle. It would be the first of many coming teen movies dealing with "teenagers". It would star Sidney Poitier, Vic Morrow and Glenn Ford. When the movie was completed, but before released, the producers were looking for a song that was new, fresh, and identified by youth. Since none of the filmmakers listened to the radio, the search for a jukebox song was holding it up. Whatever song was selected would be played during the beginning and ending credits in clear high fidelity (at this time, many records were still on 78's!). Then, during a discussion, one of the producer's recalled a song that their 10-yr. old son played endlessly. That song was Rock Around the Clock. MGM bought the rights to the song for $5000. An enormous amount of money then.

Few had heard of Bill Haley and the Comets in 1954. But, after March, 1955, the release of the movie, The Blackboard Jungle, would change all that. Suddenly, the popularity of the movie with teens caused the re-release of the single. The single stayed #1 during the summer months and beyond. Bill Haley and the Comets were now famous. This is much like the Beatles. In 1963, the first American Beatle Lp was released in limited release on a secondary record label. Only 5000 were made and nothing at all happened. Who were The Beatles? They sounded so different, and their hair! Yet, one girl loved them, and by late 1963, she was calling a New York City pop radio station requesting their songs-any songs. One station, irritated by the fan, decided to locate a copy of their record and began to play their songs. When the Beatles invaded America in 1964, the same failed LP released in 1963, with the same songs, went to #1 instantly. It is still my favorite.

Rock Around the Clock, with its fast beat, twangy guitar, was rock's first anthem. But the term rock n' roll, still was not the name used then, people called it "rockabilly". A combination of R&B and country. In 1955, was a big year for this new teen music, Elvis was coming soon. More teen movies would appear, like, Rebel Without a Cause, Jailhouse Rock, High School Confidential, Blue Denim and others. All showed teen angst against their parents, driving hot cars with slicked back hair, leather jackets and smoking. The Beatles were all heavily inspired by this genre across the Atlantic. They all were wanting to be Elvis and wore leather jackets. The song inspired both John and Paul to want to play the guitar. They in turn, years later, inspired millions of kids (like Eric Clapton) to play the guitar.

But, for some time, radio announcers called this new music sound rockabilly. But as more white artists took to this new sound, like Elvis, announcers were seeking a different name to separate it from black R&B sounds. You can call this racist or discrimination on the part of the white radio announcers then, but it was not long before the term rock n' roll was used and stuck. The new name stuck and became popular in all venues and it was a classier name than "rockabilly". The music was rooted in R&B, but white artists made their own. It had its own sound and much faster. You really wanted to dance with many early rock songs. Soon, even black rock artists like Chuck Berry and Little Richard took rock to new highs that saw no racial divide.

Had it not been for the movie Blackboard Jungle movie and the producer's son who simply loved Rock Around the Clock, everything would have been different for rock n'roll music!


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