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Monday, August 22, 2011

Bill Haley: Rock Around The Clock


1) Rock Around The Clock; 2) Shake, Rattle & Roll; 3) A.B.C. Boogie; 4) Thirteen Women; 5) Razzle Dazzle; 6) Two Hound Dogs; 7) Dim, Dim The Lights; 8) Happy Baby; 9) Birth Of The Boogie; 10) Mambo Rock; 11) Burn That Candle; 12) Rock A-Beatin' Boogie.

Bill's first bunch of rock'n'roll singles was so groundbreaking that, after a brief while, people star­ted saying stuff like «well, yeah, it's groundbreaking, but it isn't really all that good — now where did we put that Sun Sessions CD, or that Chuck Berry Chess years boxset?» Today, though, it is high time to re-evaluate this stuff, along with Douglas Sirk movies and other 1950's memorabilia that, in some people's views, should be assessed as much more than packages of nostalgia for our grand- and grand-grand-parents.

Rock Around The Clock is an early Decca compilation that collects six consecutive A- and B-sides for Bill and his Comets, beginning with 'Rock Around The Clock' itself and all the way to 'Rock A-Beatin' Boogie'. Although 'Clock' was indeed, chronologically, the first single on here, it did not become a big hit until someone got the bright idea to include it in the soundtrack to Black­board Jungle. Actually, Haley's first major «rock and roll era» hit was the lyrically sanitized ver­sion of Big Joe Turner's 'Shake, Rattle & Roll' — an earlier Decca compilation placed huger em­phasis on that song, naming the LP after it, but I am not dedicating a separate review to Shake, Rattle & Roll because it's an 8-song mini-LP, and all of its material would eventually be incor­porated into Rock Around The Clock, once the song started getting popular.

So what's the deal with these six 45s? Clearly, this is the finest «small» set of Bill Haley & the Comets in existence — the birth of a new type of music, and a 100%-motivated band that's only too happy to serve as the midwife. It is clean-sounding and sanitized. Haley was, above all, a pro­fessional entertainer, certainly not interested in coming across as «rebellious», «aggressive», etc. Now that you think about it, wild stories about teen riots across the States and the UK during the initial run of Rock Around The Clock (the second, not the first movie to feature the song) just seem so tremendously inadequate, considering the utterly peaceful and friendly message of the tune. How did it all come to this? Surely, when The Comets recorded the song, they were simply thinking that they were doing some good old jump blues, in just a slightly crazier and speedier way than it used to be. The last thing on their mind was to awake the sleeping dragon in the Ame­rican (let alone Western, or worldwide) teenager.

Not that they felt too terrified or unhappy when they did realize what they'd done — because, as soon as 'Shake, Rattle & Roll' and 'Rock Around The Clock' hit the big time, Haley's country-wes­tern past was all but forgotten. And this is why this album rules: what you get is 12 tracks of non-stop, no-holds-barred boogie, with great danceable grooves from the first to the last number. It may be «softer» than whatever came after it — not musically, but mood-wise — and some of it may be dumber than one would like to (Al Russel's 'ABC Boogie' comes to mind as a really path­etic and unconvincing juxtaposition of school and rock'n'roll values, next to Chuck Berry's 'Ring Ring Goes The Bell'), but each single song is FUN.

Of course, we might as well mention the technical aspects of these guys. Simplistic rock'n'roll depends, tooth and claw, upon the individual prowess of the players, and the Comets had one of the hottest rhythm sections around (simple double-bass lines and drum fills, but each note and each hit is delivered with the motivation of a bulldozer), and a great lead guitarist in the newly-arrived Franny Beecher (check out the fantastically melodic solo on 'Happy Baby'). (Beecher replaced the prematurely deceased Danny Cedrone, who was no quack himself, responsible for the whacky wobbly soloing on 'Rock Around The Clock'). And even if Bill himself could never, by a long stretch, called a «great» vocalist, these days his decidedly non-rock'n'rollish vocals not only seem perfectly suited for the Comets' sound, they can also be a nice change from the «rougher» performers — well, sometimes one can be expected to want one­self some rock'n'roll as lightweight entertainment, and these singles cut it like nothing else.

From time to time, there might be a relatively more «daring» number — for instance, not only does 'Thirteen Women' implicitly convey every man's wish to get it on with several lovely ladies at once, but it also mentions the H-Bomb as one possible way to get that wish accomplished, all set to an ominous, if not exactly apocalyptic, combination of sax riff and lead guitar siren. It was the B-side to 'Rock Around The Clock', and, in some ways, it is almost the better song out of the two, if you can believe that.

But overall, all of this stuff is completely innocent and toothless, perfect not only for the «middle ground-oriented» teens from 1950s happy American families, but, most of the time, even for their parents, if they'd only be willing to loosen up just for a moment (actually, it is hard to understand how any American parent at the time who had, at least once in his/her life, somersaulted to a wild performance by a big jazz band or a jump blues combo — and there must have been many of the­se — could, even in theory, object to the Comets even at their very wildest). And yet, at the same time, even fifty years after the fact, you can still feel the freshness and inspiration of these re­cor­dings. Perhaps this is not the proverbial spirit of rock'n'roll that you find here, but then it is the proverbial spirit of rock'n'roll's elder, slightly less rebellion-prone, brother. Thumbs up.


  1. About 25 years ago Dutch rock'n'roll band Normaal performed Rock around the Clock with corny ballads female singer Zangeres Zonder Naam on Dutch television, a combination less likely than Celine Dion singing for Metallica.
    It ruled.

  2. The album is the oldest in rock but is absolutely FUN