This Day In Rock. July 6, 1925: Bill Haley.
Bill Haley (1925-1981). The first Rock 'n' Roll star.
Bill Haley didn’t invent rock and roll, and he wasn’t the first white artist to cut a rock song. 'Rock Around the Clock' wasn’t even his first rock and roll achievement. But it was Haley who brought rock into the mainstream.
The song was put on vinyl on April 12, 1954 by Bill Haley and the Comets, who recorded the two minutes and eight seconds long song (originally titled 'We're Gonna Rock Around the Clock Tonight' - with the title shortened to 'Rock Around the Clock') that became the biggest-selling UK single in the Fifties, and is reported to have sold around 40 million copies in all.
It is rather amusing to think that it was a middle-aged man, Philadelphia's songwriter Max C Friedman, who wrote the lyrics that stirred up a generation of teenagers in the Fifties.
Haley and his band recorded the song only as a late add-on to their rather odd A-side single called 'Thirteen Women (And Only One Man In Town)'.
The single would have remained forgotten had it not been for a 13-year-old boy in Los Angeles who kept playing the b-side.
In 1954, production began on the MGM film Blackboard Jungle, starring Glenn Ford star as teacher Richard Dadier. Ford’s son Peter, then a 13-year-old rock ‘n’ roll fan, had bought a copy of Haley’s 'Thirteen Woman' when it was released.
“[Director] Richard Brooks and my father would meet away from MGM during production to discuss the film,” Peter Ford later recalled. “Richard stopped by our house on occasion to visit Dad and talk about the production. It was on one of these visits that Richard heard some of my records. One of them was ‘Rock Around the Clock.’ I now know that he borrowed that record and some others on one of his visits.
“Joel Freeman, who was the assistant director on the film, recalled that toward the end of production, which would have been mid-December 1954, Brooks called him into his office to hear some records that he thought might possibly be used in the opening of the film. He played Joel three songs and they agreed that Haley’s up-tempo ‘jump blues’ tune was the perfect choice for inclusion the film.”
The song had been recorded in 35 minutes and Haley's vocals were almost inaudible on the first take, so a Decca Records engineer painstakingly spliced together segments from the only two takes that had been recorded. Shrewdly, the engineer kept the powerful sound of the guitar solo of Danny Cedrone, who had not had time to work up a new solo for the instrumental break so had re-purposed one from an earlier Haley recording called 'Rock This Joint'.
Haley was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, and The Comets were inducted in 2012. Haley and the remaining Comets went on playing the song until the singer's death on February 9, 1981, aged 55.
The singer from Michigan once said: "I was always proud of Rock Around the Clock. It sold many millions of records and rock and roll was born”.