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Rock and Roll's Biggest Hit Revisited

Updated on August 12, 2014
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Bill Russo is featured in the film & TV show, The Bridgewater Triangle & has written several books (both fiction & non) on Amazon Kindle.

When people mention Bill Haley and the Comets, most think of the group's biggest hit, "Rock Around the Clock". But that was not the band's first trip to the top of the charts and it was not their first Rock song.

In June 1953 the Comets scored the Number 11 Cashbox hit "Crazy Man Crazy" which was penned by Bill Haley himself. It soared to Number 12 on the Billboard charts.

Here's "Crazy Man Crazy"


Rock the Joint

Rock the Joint = Rock Around the Clock

The follow-up to "Crazy" was called "Fractured" and in August of 1953 it went to Number 24 on the Billboard charts. The next release was their biggest hit to date. "Shake Rattle and Roll" climbed all the way up to Number 7 in the States and Number four in England.

It was by far the biggest selling version of the song handily beating a version by Elvis Presley and the original R & B single, by Big Joe Turner.

One of the most interesting songs of this early period was one the group recorded for Essex Records called "Rock the Joint". It did not achieve a very high spot on the charts...but listen to the video of the song.........LICK FOR LICK and note for note....the guitar solo is exactly identical to the one that would be used later on Rock Around the Clock!!!!!

In limited distribution, Rock the Joint scored brisk sales of 75,000 and helped Haley's music get noticed by the 'right' people.

The Initial Release Fails to Make the Top 20

Up next for Bill Haley and the Comets (May 1954) was the first release of "Rock Around the Clock". It was a nice sequel to "Shake" but only reached 23 in the USA and 17 in Europe.

In January of 1955 they fell just short of the top ten when Dim Dim the Lights blasted its way up to number 11.

In May the group scored Number 17 with the two sided hit, "Mambo Rock" and "Birth of the Boogie".

Just before the summer of 1955, the producer ot Blackboard Jungle was looking for a ‘teenage’ song to play under the opening credits of ‘the film, which featured mega star James Dean. He selected the Bill haley hit from the previous year….Rock Around the Clock. The movie was a huge success and it rocketed the re-release of "ROCK" to Number 1 by june. It stayed at the top of the ladder for eight weeks on both the rock charts and the R and B list. It became the most successful rock recording of all time - selling upwards of 25 million units.

1956 - from Don't Knock the Rock

Beating Little Richard at his Own Game

Little Richard wrote "Rip it Up" and it was a number one hit on the R & B charts for the frantic rocker; but Bill Haley's version outsold it, and soared up the musical charts to number 25.

The tune, featured' in the 1956 movie "Don't Knock the Rock" is classic Rockabilly at it's best.

A pounding piano, honking saxophone, lead and rhythm guitars, and Haley's vocals drive the song, complimented not by the slap bass used to such great effect on songs like Rock Around the Clock and Crazy Man Crazy - but by the hand clappin' of 40 young titans of terpsichore.

Sunny Dae's Rock Around the Clock

The Honking Sax & the Sleepy Original Version of Rock Around the Clock

It was songs like "I'll Be True To You", that convinced Decca records to take a chance on the Bill Haley sound.

This song, recorded for the Philadelphia's small Essex Records, features the honking saxophone that was a huge part of Rock's early success.

The vocal, similar to a call and response big band style, doesn't evoke thoughts of rock; but it was a far cry from Mitch Miller, Guy Lombardo, and other popular bands of the early 1950s,

Decca thought enough of Haley to offer him $5,000 up front, to join their label which boasted the likes of Bing Crosby, Louis Armstrong, and Ella Fitzgerald.

Decca even assigned the musical genius Milt Gabler to work with Haley and his comets. Under Milt's guidance the band took a sleepy tune performed by Sunny Dae and turned it into the rock anthem, "Rock Around the Clock."

Cowboy Bill yodeling like a Kansas City Star

Yodeling Bill Haley

Before Bill Haley found success as an early Rock hero, he had a pretty good run as a country performer. Some fans even called him the king of the American yodelers. Here's a couple of performances from the boots and saddle days.

Bill's first group, the Four Aces of Western Swing, held down a radio job in Chester, Pennsylvania and played as many gigs as they could get. Bill even did a celebrity interview program live from "Radio Park".

The four aces morphed into "Bill Haley and the Saddlemen" around 1950. Haley stuck with the name even as they began to record their first rock tunes, such as the classic "Rocket 88" and "Rock the Joint"

Since the western sounding name "Saddlemen" didn't fit with their new style, the program director at their radio station, WPWA, suggested a new name, taking advantage of the publicity surrouding "Halley's Comet", he suggested - How about Bill Haley and his Comets."

The rest, as they say, is history!

I'm Behind the 8 Ball With My Baby - 4 Aces of Western Swing

Live cut-take 3-Bouquet of Roses: Bill Haley

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