BILL HALEY: BILL HALEY AND HIS COMETS (1960)
1) Rock Around The Clock; 2) I Almost Lost My Mind; 3) Blue Suede Shoes; 4) Blueberry Hill; 5) My Special Angel; 6) Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On; 7) Crazy Man Crazy; 8) Kansas City; 9) Love Letters In Again; 10) I'm In Love Again; 11) Shake, Rattle And Roll; 12) Stagger Lee.
If you want to know why rock'n'roll almost died a miserable death around 1960, take a listen to this album — in context, of course. The Comets' move to Warner Bros. was supposed (I assume) to give the band's career a shot in the arm, but no one expected the needle to contain morphine. In fact, the band was still quite intact, the leader well-groomed and smiling as usual, and the music was still unquestionably categorized as rock'n'roll. But on December 25, 1959, Father Christmas told the world to start waiting around for the Beatles, and the world followed his orders.
The fact that Haley's first album for Warners begins with an almost note-for-note loyal re-recording of 'Rock Around The Clock' is actually the least worriesome aspect of the album. Sure, it's got a little bit less of the youthful energy that fed the original, and there was no need for anyone who cared about his old 45s to waste time on comparing the two versions. But at least it's solid Haley-style rhythm & blues material which Haley always did best.
Much more problematic is that Warners saddled the Comets — or, perhaps, the Comets saddled themselves, I am not entirely sure of the situation — with rock'n'roll hit material from the past few years that even innocent teens of the late 1950s would have never guessed to associate with Bill, let alone all of us today. Let's face it: «Bill Haley Rock» is, more or less, a thing in itself. 'Rock Around The Clock', 'See You Later Alligator', 'Razzle Dazzle', 'Rockin' Through The Rye' — there's a reason we mostly know Bill through all these songs that seemed so tailormade for The Comets, very few artists of note (or solid reputation) have dared cover them in the ensuing decades. Everyone wanted to sing Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Gene Vincent; nobody wanted to sing Bill Haley & The Comets, and not just because The Comets were slicker, older, and «more conformist» than the truly wild guys of rock'n'roll (which they were, of course) — also because The Comets had their own brand of sound which, for quite a few young American and British whippersnappers, was pretty tough to reproduce.
But here, what we encounter is exactly the downside of it. As the band switches to covering Carl Perkins ('Blue Suede Shoes'), Fats Domino ('Blueberry Hill' and 'I'm In Love Again'), Jerry Lee Lewis ('Whole Lotta Shaking Going On'), and Little Richard ('Kansas City'), it's not just us wondering why the hell they'd want to do it — it seems like they themselves are not quite sure of why they are doing it, either. This is the only explanation I have for the fact that not once over this entire record was I actually motivated to stop whatever it was I was doing at the time, and marvel at the sharpness and inventiveness of a Franny Beecher solo. It's not as if there were no Franny Beecher solos here — there are quite a few, they just seem... superfluous, as does most of the record.
The only number here that does show invention is a brand new rearrangement of 'Shake, Rattle And Roll'. But since «invention», in this case, simply means doing it with more swing and less aggression than the original, who cares? We all know which version is going to make it to God's personal hall of fame. 'Crazy Man Crazy' is actually much better, sticking both to the letter and the spirit of the original.
It isn't ugly or anything (except for the sappy tearjerker ballads), because the Comets were still keeping hot, and if you have never heard another version of 'Blue Suede Shoes' or 'Whole Lotta Shaking', these ones might at least do as temporary substitutes without spoiling your taste. But it is the first Bill Haley album that has no reason to exist — whatsoever, not even in the shape of a single two-minute-long «lost gem» or anything. It is for situations like these that the term «jumping the shark» was invented; this was certainly not the complete end for Haley as a pleasure-providing artist, but the obvious career-breaking point at which the man completely lost his «relevance», once and for all. And who knows — it might all have been triggered by just one erroneous marketing decision.