Rock Around the Clock

From Academic Kids

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"Rock Around the Clock" is a pop song from 1953. Although first recorded by Sonny Dae & the Knights, the more famous version by Bill Haley and his Comets is not strictly speaking a cover version as the song had been written specifically for Haley, but for various reasons he was unable to record it himself until 1954. Although not the first rock and roll record (according to many musical historians, that honor belongs to Haley's cover version of the 1951 rhythm and blues hit, "Rocket 88") it is considered by many to be the song that put rock and roll on the map in America and around the world. The lyrics were based on numerous blues tunes boasting of 24-hour-long romantic prowess (the term rock initially having had a sexual meaning), but in Haley's hands they took on a more innocent teenage atmosphere of dancing all night long.

The original full title of the song was "We're Gonna Rock Around the Clock Tonight". This was later shortened to "(We're Gonna) Rock Around the Clock", although other than the 1954 recording by Haley, most releases shorten this title further to "Rock Around the Clock."


Legendary Recording Session

Haley's version was recorded on 12 April 1954 at the Pythian Temple studios in New York City for Decca Records. The recording session almost didn't happen because the band was delayed when a ferry they were travelling on en route to New York from Philadelphia got stuck on a sandbar. Once at the studio, producer Milt Gabler insisted the band work on a new song (for them) entitled "Thirteen Women (and Only One Man in Town)" which Gabler wanted to promote as the A-side of the group's first single for Decca.

With only minutes left in the recording session, the band recorded a take of "Rock Around the Clock", however Haley's vocals were drowned out by the band. A second take was quickly made with minimal accompaniment and, with Sammy Davis Jr. waiting outside the studio for his turn behind the microphone, the session ended. Decca engineers later combined the two versions together into one version. (Comets piano player Johnny Grande tells a slightly different version, claiming that the only reason a second take was recorded was because the drummer made an error.)

Over the years, many musicians have made the claim that they performed on the recording session for "Rock Around the Clock". This includes the song's co-writer, James E. Myers, who said he had played drums on the piece. According to the official record sheet from the session, the musicians on the famous recording are:

Gussak and Cedrone were not members of the Comets, but were session musicians Haley often used on his recording sessions. Cedrone's guitar solo, an adaptation of a "gimmick" solo he used on a number of previous recordings, including the Bill Haley version of "Rock the Joint" in 1952, is considered one of the classic rock and roll guitar solos of all time.

The song was credited to Myers (as "Jimmy DeKnight") and Max C. Freedman although its exact authorship is disputed, with many feeling that Freedman wrote the song on his own.

Slow road to classic hit status

As Gabler intended, "Rock Around the Clock" was first issued in the spring of 1954 as a B-side to "Thirteen Women (and Only One Man in Town)." While the song did make the American Billboard music charts (contrary to popular opinion that it was a flop), it was considered a commercial disappointment. It was not until 1955, when "Rock Around the Clock" was used under the opening credits of the film Blackboard Jungle, that the song truly took off. It was strong, simple, and loud, and you could dance to it.

Many versions of the story behind how "Rock Around the Clock" was chosen for Blackboard Jungle circulated over the years. Recent research, however, reveals that the song was chosen from the collection of young Peter Ford, the son of Blackboard Jungle star Glenn Ford and dancer Eleanor Powell. The producers were looking for a song to represent the type of music the youth of 1955 was listening to, and the elder Ford borrowed several records from his son's collection, one of which was Haley's "Rock Around the Clock" and this was the song chosen.

"Rock Around the Clock" became the first rock and roll recording to hit the top of the American record charts, a feat it repeated on charts around the world. Haley would re-record the song many times over the years, even scoring a substantial hit with a version recorded for Sonet Records in 1968), but never recaptured the magic. In 1974, the original version of the song returned to the American charts when it was used as the theme for the movie American Graffiti and the TV series Happy Days. Haley's version is believed to have sold more than 25 million copies over the last 50 years (some estimates run as high as 35 million), and is said to be playing somewhere in the world every minute of the day. In tribute to the influence of the song and the movie that launched its popularity, the March 29, 2005 50th anniversary of the opening of Blackboard Jungle will be celebrated by several large celebrations in the United States under the blanket title "Rock Is Fifty" ([1] (

A book on the history of the song, Rock Around the Clock: The Record That Started the Rock Revolution by Jim Dawson is scheduled for release in July 2005 to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the song reaching the No. 1 spot on the American charts. [2] (

The movie

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Dancers Earl Barton and Lisa Gaye take the stage in Rock Around the Clock as Bill Haley and His Comets play in the background.

Rock Around the Clock is also the title of a 1956 musical motion picture that featured Bill Haley and His Comets along with Alan Freed, The Platters, and Freddie Bell and the Bellboys. It was produced by b-movie king Sam Katzman (who would produce several Elvis Presley films in the 1960s) and directed by Fred F. Sears.

The film was shot over a short period of time in January 1956 to capitalize on Haley's success and the popularity of "Rock Around the Clock", and is considered the first major rock and roll musical film.

Rock Around the Clock told a highly fictionalized rendition of how rock and roll was discovered, but moviegoers didn't care about the plotline; they wanted to hear the music. The film was blamed for inciting rowdy behavior in theaters across America and Great Britain, and was banned in some parts of the world. Queen Elizabeth II reportedly requested a special screening of the film; her reaction to it is not known.

Despite the movie being named after it, the song "Rock Around the Clock" - although heard three times during the picture - is never actually performed in its entirety on screen. At the end of the picture, the director decides to show the two dramatic leads having a conversation while Haley and the Comets are shown performing the song in the background, the music muted to allow dialogue. It has been suggested that the decision to have people talking over this climactic performance "Rock Around the Clock", a song people came to the film to hear, might have been a contributing factor in reported theater violence.

Rock Around the Clock was one of the major box office successes of 1956, and soon many more rock and roll musical films (notably the big-budget "A" picture The Girl Can't Help It) would be produced and within a year, Elvis Presley (whose first film, 1956's Love Me Tender, was a western, not a rock and roll movie) would soon appear in the most popular films of the genre, including Jailhouse Rock and King Creole.

Later in 1956, Bill Haley and His Comets headlined a loose sequel, Don't Knock the Rock, also directed by Sears and produced by Katzman. Rushed into production in order to capitalize on the success of Rock Around the Clock, the sequel failed to duplicate the earlier film's success.

In 1961, Katzman produced the similarly titled, Twist Around the Clock starring Chubby Checker, which was very similar in basic plot to Rock Around the Clock and is often referred to as a remake of the Haley picture.

Rock Around the Clock is also the title of a 1987 Canadian documentary produced by Michael French.

Songs performed in the movie

  1. "Rock Around the Clock" - Bill Haley and His Comets
  2. "Razzle-Dazzle - Haley
  3. "Rock-a-Beatin' Boogie" - Haley
  4. "A.B.C. Boogie" - Haley
  5. "Rudy's Rock" - Haley
  6. "Happy Baby" - Haley
  7. "Mambo Rock" - Haley
  8. "See You Later Alligator" - Haley
  9. "We're Gonna Teach You to Rock" - Freddie Bell and the Bellboys
  10. "Giddy Up Ding-Dong" - Bell
  11. "Only You" - The Platters
  12. "The Great Pretender" - The Platters

The soundtrack also included several Spanish-language numbers by Tony Martinez.


  • "No matter how bad a show might be going some night, I know that song will pull us through. It's my little piece of gold." -- Bill Haley


  1. Template:Anb Gundersen, Edna (March 18, 2005). "Rock 'Clock' strikes 50 (". USA Today, p. E1.

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