BILL HALEY: ROCKIN' THE JOINT (1958)
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.