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Monday, September 19, 2011

Bill Haley: Rockin' The Joint


1) Rock The Joint; 2) Move It On Over; 3) How Many; 4) See You Later Alligator; 5) The Beak Speaks; 6) Forty Cups Of Coffee; 7) The Saints Rock And Roll; 8) Sway With Me; 9) It's A Sin; 10) Burn That Candle; 11) Rock Lomond; 12) Rip It Up.

Experiments, innovation, and conceptual LPs aside, what we really love the Comets for are their hit singles — and Rockin' The Joint, released in late 1958, did a relatively legit job of scooping up Haley's non-LP singles from the previous two years. Unlike the LPs, the singles never messed around with the basic formula, but in 1956-58 the band was still fresh, the rock'n'roll spirit was still young and ambitious, and there were plenty of cozy little twists and hooks one could deco­rate one's rockabilly output with.

'See You Later Alligator' and 'The Saints Rock And Roll' alone suffice to procure this record the title of second-most-important Bill Haley release out of the «original» bunch. Actually, it suffices to hear the original version of the tune by Bobby Charles to understand Haley's genius — how he took a funny, catchy, but unexceptional novelty number and transformed it into one of the quint­essential rock'n'roll anthems of its era. Likewise, his cover version of 'The Saints' is one of the ve­ry few that is still listenable after all these years — its boogie drive works every single time, and it acts much stronger on the brain than the awful realization that you are, in fact, listening to a version of 'The Saints', in a sane state of mind and completely of your own free will.

As subjective as the impression might be, it seems to me that the general kick-ass energy level actually rose during these years, mainly because of the instrumentalists getting deeper and deeper into the groove. Check out the instrumental break on 'Alligator' — Rudy and Franny taking it out on each other with shrill, frantic sax blasts and sharp guitar «shots» — or the tremendous climax of 'Saints', with the sax shooting see-through holes in your speakers. It is these moments that al­most make you forget how Bill Haley got into the rock'n'roll business almost by accident; as close as the Comets get to actually sounding «dangerous» rather than just providing lighthearted entertainment for the young 'uns at the top of the era's technological power.

Of course, we still reserve the rights to place a few complaints. 'Rock The Joint' rocks the joint alright, but is a fairly close-imitating rewrite of 'Rock Around The Clock'; 'Move It On Over' can­not hope to improve on Hank Williams' original, since Hank not only had a shar­per and more seductive personality than Bill could ever aspire to, but was himself as close to real rock'n'roll with that particular song as one ever got to rock'n'roll in the Fourties; 'It's A Sin' is a rather draggy half-hearted return to country-western; 'Rock Lomond' should have rather been pla­ced on Ro­ckin' The Oldies; and 'Burn That Candle' was already released on an earlier LP.

This is all not mentioning that some of Bill's finest singles of the period, for some reason, did not make the grade. I am primarily speaking of 'Teenager's Mother', a surprisingly grim indictment of the stubborn parents of today, "'cause the same thing that's worrying you is the same thing you used to do yourself"; 'Rockin' Rollin' Rover', one of the happiest tunes about a dog ever written; and 'Don't Knock The Rock', the title track to the movie of the same name which was basically a follow-up to Rock Around The Clock, but failed to replicate its success.

Still, these complaints are all anachronistic — Rockin' The Joint has long since been retired from the catalog, and today you will most likely find all these songs on compilations: the best ones on best-of, the complete ones on Decca's boxsets. So, essentially, the point of this review was merely to alert you to the power of 'See You Later Alligator', especially if your notion of «rock'n'roll oldie» does not extend far beyond Led Zep and Grand Funk Railroad. To that aim, a big thumbs up for the record.


  1. Can we assume that when (if) you get to review Elvis' discography you're going to use the original RCA albums (instead of the expanded CDs which in some cases dispense with entire albums altogether, using their tracks as bonuses for the more "distinguished" albums)?

    If you include the "Elvis Golden Records" series (although calling them "the first concept albums" as some reviewers have done is beyond silly) and the "interim" albums while Elvis was in the Army, that approach mostly leaves no stone unturned, at least for the 50s. Although I prefer the Sun singles listened to in their own rather than as part of "For LP fans Only" or "A Date With Elvis".

    That said, one of the most bizarre things in the Elvis discography is how in the period between the Army and the NBC Special (aka Elvis' Dullest Years) some brilliant mind decided that Elvis had three completely separate discographies; Pop, Movies and Gospel. The idea is not bad, but its drawback was that the "Golden Records" series was considered as part of his pop discography, which gave the strange result that for Vol. 3 and Vol. 4 they had to search for B-sides and UK hits.. while ignoring #1 smashes like "Return to Sender" or "Can't help falling in love" for the simple reason that they were part of their "Movies" discography!

  2. Check this insane live version:

  3. You have one thing wrong: "Rock Around the Clock" is a re-write of "Rip the Joint", not the other way around. Apparently, most versions of this LP have it labeled "New Rip the Joint", as it is a remake of a 1952/1953 hit for Bill (which lacks drums, for some reason), which can be found on a 1954 LP called "Rock with Bill Haley and the Comets", or something like that (I have it, I just can't remember the name. Funny how easily one might dismiss something thinking it was a rip-off of a later tune (something that happens quite often with my younger cousins who think new music is just that: new, rather than rip-offs of older stuff, even if sometimes "older" means 1982).