by Alex Frazer-Harrison
ROCKABILLY HALL OF FAME® MERCHANDISE & SERVICES
Originally posted: April 1999
Major revisions: July 2000, May 2001, August 2001, January 2002, April 2002, January 2004, 6 April 2004; November 2010; 2 April 2014
EXTRA! News About Bill Haley and the Comets (and more)
Click above to visit Frazer-Harrison's column at the Rockabilly Hall of Fame website.
Milt Gabler (producer)
James E. Myers (aka. Jimmy DeKnight; co-writer)
Max C. Freedman (co-writer)
Marshall Lytle (bass)
Johnny Grande (piano)
Danny Cedrone (lead guitar)
Billy Williamson (steel guitar)
Billy Gussak (drums)
Put Your Glad Rags On ...
A Celebration of "Rock Around the Clock"
***Table of Contents***
The Story of 'Rock Around the Clock'
In the early 1950s, Rock and Roll was an underground form of music.
Introduction: The Song That Started It All
It was a music style the general public knew nothing about. Oh, there were occasional glimmers of Rock and Roll to be found in novelty songs, and the building blocks of the music dated back decades, and beginning in 1951-52, a growing number of recordings beginning with Bill Haley's country western-influenced cover version of Jackie Brentson's "Rocket '88" had started to make audiences either sit up and take notice -- or dive for cover. But Rock and Roll was still an underground music form, enjoyed primarily by black audiences and those relatively few whites like Alan Freed who braved the racial intolerance of 1950s America to visit the back of the musical bus, so to speak.
All that changed in 1955 when "Rock Around the Clock" by Bill Haley & His Comets finally broke down the barriers that had prevented mainstream America from enjoying Rock and Roll music. It took a long time in coming, and, for some, it might have seemed as if neither the breakthrough nor the recording of "Rock Around the Clock" would ever happen.
True, "Rock Around the Clock" wasn't the first Rock and Roll record. It wasn't even the first Rock and Roll record to become a national hit -- Bill Haley's own "Crazy Man Crazy" had hit the charts in 1953, and whole "Clock" gets all the press, in truth the Comets had scored a major worldwide hit with "Shake Rattle and Roll" in 1954, months after recording "Rock Around the Clock". Meanwhile, an obscure truck driver in Memphis named Elvis Presley has started to generate some buzz in the summer of 1954 with his own brand of rockabilly recordings out of Sun Records in Memphis. One early rocker, Fats Domino, had been hitting the charts with his New Orleans-flavoured mix of jazz and rhythm & blues since the late 1940s. But it was "Rock Around the Clock" that finally opened the floodgates to everybody.
This tribute was originally written in the lead-up to the 50th anniversary of Bill Haley and the Comets' seminal recording of "Rock Around the Clock" on April 12th, 2004. Now, it is 2014 and the 60th anniversary is here. Over the years, many writers have tried to this song's impact on popular music, just as revisionists continually try to reduce if not eliminate Haley's place in the history of Rock and Roll (it's just as bad now, in 2014, as it was a decade ago). Several major publications and documentaries on the so-called 60th Anniversary of Rock and Roll omitted Haley and "Rock Around the Clock" completely, and as I put together this slight revision of the article I wrote years ago, the 60th anniversary appears set to be virtually ignored except by a few speciality publications such as the ever-reliable Now Dig This out of the UK. In the US, greater emphasis is being placed on the 50th anniversary of the Beatles' first appearance on Ed Sullivan. A milestone, to be sure, but with the Beatles openly crediting Haley as an influence in interviews dating back to the mid-1960s, it could be argued that their seminal appearance on Sullivan may never have happened without Haley opening that floodgate nine years earlier.
The facts speak for themselves. "Rock Around the Clock" was one of, if not the most influential single recording of the second half of the 20th century. Not just Paul McCartney and John Lennon, but many other musicians have acknowledged the influence of Bill Haley and "Rock Around the Clock" on their careers. Graham Nash still proudly carries a Bill Haley concert ticket stub in his wallet.
"Rock Around the Clock" was in many ways the perfect Rock and Roll song (if such a thing is possible), and even if you don't agree with that assessment, the facts show it was the right recording at the right time. And the world has been rockin' ever since.
In 1999, I created this page to mark the 45th anniversary of the original recording of "Rock Around the Clock" on April 12, 1954. I have been pleased to find that it has become a major resource for those seeking to find out more about this famous recording. In 1999, BBC Radio referenced the site, and a major BBC2 Radio documentary scheduled for broadcast in April 2004 once again used this site as a resource, as did music historian Jim Dawson for his 2005 work, Rock Around the Clock: The Record That Started the Rock Revolution. It also served as a springboard for Peter Ford to set the record straight about his involvement in helping get the song into the opening credits of Blackboard Jungle.
With the 60th anniversary now here, this archive page remains to celebrate the ongoing legacy of "Rock Around the Clock" and to pay tribute to those who made it a reality. The text has been revised and rewritten several times over the years, as new information comes to light. Along the way, I have added a partial list of just some of the many versions of "Rock Around the Clock" that have been recorded by artists other than Bill Haley and the Comets over the years (this list is no longer being updated as there are simply too many to list now). According to James Myers, who spoke to Comets bass player Marshall Lytle not long before his death in 2001, if you were to add up all copies sold of every version of "Rock Around the Clock" ever recorded, an estimated 200 million copies of the song exist. For many years, the Guinness Book of World Records listed Haley's version as the top-selling pop single of all time with 25 million copies sold -- a record that stood until 1997 and which technically remains intact as Elton John's "Candle in the Wind" tribute to Princess Diana was issued a CD-single, not a vinyl 45.
I hope this page gives a sense of what "Rock Around the Clock" means to me -- and what it means to rock and roll. "Rock Around the Clock" has always been my favorite song -- ever since I was a little child.
Indeed, it remains a very important link to my childhood. But now that I'm in my mid-40s, I now also appreciate the playing, the melody, that incredible and never-to-be-equalled guitar solo by the late Danny Cedrone -- all the elements that made this worthy of becoming Rock and Roll's first truly international hit. And it truly deserves the title of "Rock and Roll's National Anthem", bestowed upon it by Dick Clark, among others.
This update, dated April 2014, is tinged with a bit of sadness. I had the honor of getting to know several of the Comets who took part in the historic recording session that produced "Rock Around the Clock," and sadly all but one of them have now passed away. Marshall Lytle we lost on the eve of the anniversary year in 2013, and Johnny Grande we lost in 2006. As of April 2014, sax player Joey Ambrose is the last surviving musician who played on the record, but fortunately he and drummer Dick Richards (who was a member of the Comets in April 1954 but did not play on the record) continue to perform as the Comets and as of this writing recently completed a very successful tour of Europe as special guests of the Bill Haley's New Comets tribute group, alongside Gina Haley (Bill's youngest daughter) and 1970s-era Comets guitar player Bill Turner.
Special acknowledgement to Denise Gregoire for providing several of the scans on this page. Also, special thanks to Chris Gardner, the late Marshall Lytle, David Hirschberg, John Haley, the late Herbert Kamitz, Rik Hull and many others who helping me out over the years. Some information used on this page, including some quotes, originate from the books Bill Haley by John Swenson and Sound and Glory by John Haley and John Von Hoelle and are credited accordingly. Of course, considerable gratitude to Bill Haley, Max C. Freedman and James Myers (aka. Jimmy DeKnight), and all the original Comets, without whom this page would not be possible at all!.
August 2001: Additional thanks to Ake Roos, Jose G. Cruz Ayala, Lothar Mackenbach, Klaus Kettner, Jo "Bill" Clifton, Tapio Vaisanen and all the other "Razor Bunnies" for their valuable help in compiling the new list of "Rock Around the Clock" recordings, located elsewhere on this page. January 2002: Thanks also to Don Shorland for providing a number of entries in the Clock Versions list, and to Daniel Kortenkamp for his memories of the song. April 2002: More thanks to Rockin' Henri Smeets of the Heerlens International Rock & Roll Archive for more input into the Clock Versions list. January 2004: A huge thanks to Mr. Peter Ford, son of legendary actor Glenn Ford, who provided me with invaluable information -- and helped me correct some major information about how RATC came to be chosen as the theme song for Blackboard Jungle. November 2010: Over the years a number of people have provided me with additional names to add to the list of Clock versions below; I am no longer updating this list, which was never intended to be complete, but I nonetheless thank everyone who has sent me suggestions.
Courtesy Denise Gregoire
The Story of 'Rock Around the Clock':
The First Cuckoo of Spring
Let's start with the simple facts. "Rock Around the Clock," recorded by Bill Haley and the Comets on April 12, 1954, changed the course of American music. It turned popular music on its ear, and opened a Pandora's box of uninhibited, raucous, joyous noise.
As the late Ian Dury once said, "Big Bill Haley was the first cuckoo of spring."
Certainly there was rock and roll before this deceptively simple, two minute, eight second-long novelty tune was put to wax in a converted Masonic temple in Manhattan. Haley himself had been recording bona fide Rock and Roll since his version of "Rocket '88" in 1951, while others, such as R&B bandleader Louis Jordan, can make legitimate claims to have been toying with the style for many years before that.
Elements of rock and roll can be identified in blues recordings dating back to the 1920s. In fact, one of the only things Rock and Roll fans can agree on is that they can't agree on when Rock and Roll truly began. Some say Rock is simply rhythm and blues played by white musicians, but that logic doesn't work as it implies that the likes of Chuck Berry and Little Richard aren't rock-n-rollers. Better not tell them that.
The generally accepted view is that Rock and Roll -- as originally conceived -- is the melding of rhythm and blues and country and western musical styles with the application of a backbeat. Of course this evolved over time, but it does cover most of the true Rock and Roll performances of the mid-1950s, be they by Haley, Elvis, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, or Fats Domino, to name a few.
But whether you think Rock and Roll began with Bill Haley, or with whoever sang "My Daddy Rocks Me with a Steady Roll" back in the 1930s, or even if you start the clock with the July 1954 recording session when Elvis laid down "That's All Right" for Sam Phillips and choose to ignore all that came before, "Rock Around the Clock" was the first true worldwide Rock and Roll success. It was the first Rock and Roll record to reach No. 1 on the mainstream musical charts in America. And its success did not come easily.
In fact, it nearly became just another in a string of disappointments for Bill Haley during 1953 and 1954.
The origins of "Rock Around the Clock" are somewhat shrouded in mystery. For one thing, we're no longer certain when it was written.
For years, it was believed that the song was written in 1953 by Max C. Freedman and "Jimmy DeKnight," whose real name was James Myers. Myers had been a collaborator and promotional force for Haley since the late 1940s. In 1950, Bill Haley and the Saddlemen recorded the DeKnight composition "Ten Gallon Stetson" for Keystone Records. Some sources suggest that Myers became Haley's first drummer, participating on a 1950 Atlantic Records session with the Saddlemen.
It was felt that Myers and Freedman wrote "Rock Around the Clock" for Haley in the wake of Haley's substantial success on Essex Records with "Crazy Man, Crazy," which had been The Comets' first national hit in 1953, becoming the first rock and roll recording to make the Billboard charts.
But recently discovered documents reveal that a songwriters agreement between Freedman and Myers for "Rock Around the Clock" was signed on October 23rd, 1952, months prior to the date the song is believed to have been published.
The true authorship of the song is also not known for certain.
"When I met him in 1979, (Myers told me) Max Freedman heard him playing the melody with one finger on the piano, came into the room, and helped him to finish the song," recalled Haley historian Chris Gardner. "He also says that he persuaded Freedman that 'Rock Around the Clock' was a better title than 'Dance Around the Clock.'"
In a July 2000 interview on National Public Radio, Myers said he had most of the words to the song written down when Freedman helped him finish the tune.
Gardner said there are differing opinions about the creation of "Rock Around the Clock."
"There are plenty of people who were around at the time who doubt that Myers had any involvement in the creation of the song at all," he said. "We shall never know now as Freedman died many years ago and can't speak for himself."
Comets piano player and founder Johnny Grande told NPR, simply, "Freedman wrote the song." Some say the "DeKnight" credit was a publisher's arrangement, in much the same way Alan Freed is credited as a co-writer on Chuck Berry's "Maybelline" but never had any actual input into the composition.
Adding to the confusion is the presence of a handwritten early version of the song's sheet music that credits Henry Filler with arranging "Clock," but does not credit Myers/DeKnight at all. Exactly what Filler's impact on the original composition was, we don't yet know.
There has been speculation that "Rock Around the Clock" existed even prior to 1952-53. This stems from the existence of a 1952 song of the same name by Wally Mercer and an earlier 1950 recording called "Rock Around the Clock" by Hal Singer, although both songs are completely different from the Freedman/Myers tune. Some have erroneously stated that "Rock Around the Clock" is a remake of a 1940s Big Joe Turner tune called "Around the Clock Blues" but I've heard that song and there is no similarity, either. Duane Eddy once suggested RATC was based upon Hank Williams' "Move it On Over," while others trace its roots to an old blues number called "My Daddy Rocks Me with a Steady Roll." Again, though these songs occasionally follow similar lines, in the end they are different songs.
But, as preparations for the 50th anniversary approached, another discovery was made: the original arrangement actually closely resembles the Leroy Anderson instrumental "Syncopated Clock," a similarity driven home by a rare later recording of the original arrangement by the Living Guitars group. There is even doubt that "Rock Around the Clock" was written as a Rock and Roll song. Certainly, anyone who plays the original arrangement on the piano can tell that the song simply doesn't have the swinging feel of a rock classic. It would take other talents to make it so.
All that said, whether he co-wrote the song or not, Myers still deserves much of the credit for making "Rock Around the Clock" the hit it was. Myers felt "Clock" could be Haley's ticket to fame and fortune and became the song's champion, pushing hard for The Comets to put the song onto wax at Essex Records, their record label at the time. Label owner Dave Miller, apparently, felt differently.
Miller refused to let Haley record the song. The story goes that on several occasions Miller found Haley in possession of the sheet music in the recording studio and tore the paper up in front of his star musician.
Rumors of a Haley demo recording of "Rock Around the Clock" from 1953 were spurred by the appearance of this 45 featuring "Clock" on the Essex label. This turned out to be a 1960s-vintage bootleg of the Decca recording. It's still a collector's item if you can find it. The flipside was Essex's "Crazy Man, Crazy." (Courtesy Rik Hull).
"Jimmy (Myers) and Dave Miller didn't like each other," Haley said in an interview later reprinted in John Swenson's biography, Bill Haley. "Three times I took the tune into the recording studio ... every time Miller would see it, he'd come in and tear it up and throw it away. So I never could record it."
The song was, nonetheless, a popular part of Haley's stage act at this time. Ralph Jones, who would become drummer for the Comets in 1955, told Swenson he remembered seeing Haley performing the song in 1953, and audiences loved the tune, even then. According to a late-career interview by Haley, his first public performance of "Rock Around the Clock" was in Wildwood, N.J.
Miller's reasons for turning down "Rock Around the Clock" may never be known for certain. With the recent revelation that the early arrangement of the song resembled "Sycopated Clock," there is now some speculation that this might have been a contributing factor. Years later, Miller was interviewed by Stuart Colman on BBC Radio (an interview later reprinted in Now Dig This magazine), and denied turning down "Rock Around the Clock," saying that the song simply came about at a time when Haley "flew the coop" from Essex in favor of a Decca Records contract.
Legend also has it that Haley nonetheless succeeded in recording a demo of the song while he was at Essex, without Miller's knowledge. If this recording exists, it has never surfaced and Comets from that era denied a demo was ever made, as did Haley himself in later interviews. In the 1960s, a bootleg of the Decca version of "Rock Around the Clock" (backed by "Crazy Man Crazy") appeared under an Essex label, and was the likely source of this musical urban legend. However, even in 2004 there were still claims that the demo exists as collectors search for the rock and roll equivalent of the Holy Grail.
In 1953, Haley's manager at the time, Jack Howard, and Myers did manage to get the song recorded on his Arcade label, which Howard co-owned with Haley and which, according to NPR, was created specifically to release "Rock Around the Clock." (The label continued to release rockabilly and country singles for many years, a large number of these featuring Comets members as session musicians.) The recording -- which differs considerably in arrangement and melody from both the original sheet music and the more familiar Haley version -- was taped by a group called Sonny Dae and His Knights. Dae was a friend of Haley's, his real name being Paschal Vennitti.
The Sonny Dae recording of "Rock Around the Clock" failed to attract a substantial audience and is all but forgotten today, with some reference books referring to it as an R & B recording by a black vocalist (Dae/Vennitti was white); another rock history scribe once wrote that Sonny Dae was an accordion player, though said instrument is nowhere to be heard on this track. As the first known recording of "Rock Around the Clock," however, its existance has made some modern-day critics unfairly dismiss Haley's recording as a cover record, lumping it in with Pat Boone's controversial cover version of Little Richard's "Tutti Frutti," and Haley's own rendition of Joe Turner's "Shake Rattle and Roll."
The furore over Essex's refusal to record and release a Haley version of "Rock Around the Clock," coupled with a string of relatively unsuccessful post-"Crazy Man Crazy" singles for the label, such as the disasterous novelty "Ten Little Indians" and "Straight Jacket" (an excellent Joey Ambrose sax instrumental undermined by droning background vocals) inspired Haley and his management to look for a new record deal. According to the biography Sound and Glory by John Haley and John von Hoelle, Myers helped secure a contract with Decca Records by meeting with producer Milt Gabler.
During this meeting, Myers reportedly played a demo recording of "Rock Around the Clock" for Gabler. It is not known if this was the rumored recording made by Haley - more likely it was the Sonny Dae recording, or perhaps a private demo recorded by Myers himself. Whatever Myers played, it apparently did the trick in selling Gabler on the idea of taking on The Comets. Having recently lost the services of Louis Jordan, perhaps Gabler was looking for a suitable follow-up in the stylings of Bill Haley and the Comets. Gabler had a long history in producing jazz and R&B, having helped launch Billie Holiday's career. He also produced many of the Andrews Sisters' classic Second World War-era recordings, including "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" which contains more than a few elements of Rock and Roll.
In early 1954, Haley finally broke away from Essex and the group were booked for an April 12, 1954 recording session at a converted ballroom/Masonic temple in downtown New York called the Pythian Temple, which was used by Decca to record some of its top acts. Gabler scheduled two songs to be recorded that day: "Thirteen Women (and Only One Man in Town)," a bizarre rhythm and blues tune with a topical H bomb-related lyric, and, at long last, "(We're Gonna) Rock Around the Clock."
But, as recounted in Sound and Glory, things didn't quite go according to plan.
The most important day in Haley's career was almost derailed when a grounded ferry left the Comets stranded in the middle of the Delaware River en route to New York. The group finally arrived at the Pythian Temple, hours late, with their allotted studio time fast running out and another performer -- some sources say it was Sammy Davis Jr. -- waiting in the wings for his booking.
On this fateful day, The Comets consisted of Haley, steel guitarist Billy Williamson, piano player Johnny Grande, sax player Joey Ambrose (aka. d'Ambrosio) and bass player Marshall Lytle. Gabler chose to pass over Comets stage drummer Dick Richards in favor of session drummer Billy Gussak, who had also done session work for the Comets at Essex. (Using a session drummer in lieu of the stage drummer was common practice on Haley recordings until Ralph Jones successfully lobbied to be allowed to record in 1955). Lastly, Haley retained the services of veteran session guitarist Danny Cedrone to round out the group.
Guitarist Cedrone had been a session man for Haley in 1951 and 1952 (back when the Comets were called the Saddlemen), and also recorded and performed with his own group, The Esquire Boys -- for whom Haley wrote the original version of "Rock-a-Beatin' Boogie." Cedrone, who never became an official member of The Comets, had only recently resumed doing session work for Haley near the tail end of the Comets' Essex contract. Lytle, meanwhile, had been with Haley since 1951, while Williamson and Grande were founding partners in both the Saddlemen and the Comets, dating back to 1949. Ambrose was a relatively new member, having joined the Comets only a few months earlier. Richards (aka Richard Boccelli) had been Haley's first choice when he decided to add a drum kit to his band in late 1952, but he turned him down. He eventually agreed to join in 1953.
By all accounts, Haley and the Comets were chomping at the bit to record "Rock Around the Clock," but Milt Gabler had other plans.
"Gabler had a piece of the action on 'Thirteen Women' so we had to record it first," Lytle recounted in a 1998 interview.
The Dickie Thompson composition is a strange yet compelling rhythm and blues piece about a nuclear war that leaves one guy left alive to take care of 13 women. Of course, it is all a dream. Interestingly, Thompson's original version makes no reference to The Bomb at all. A feminine variation of the song, "Thirteen Men," was later recorded by the likes of Ann-Margret.
According to Sound and Glory, Haley was unfamiliar with Gabler's baby and needed some two hours and six takes to get the song right. The results are ample evidence that Gabler felt Haley could fill the gap left by Louis Jordan - "Thirteen Women" sounds like something directly out of the R & B bandleader's repertoire. Over time, it has come to be recognized as a classic recording in its own right. But on April 12, 1954, Haley was probably just happy to get it off his plate.
With barely 40 minutes left in their first session, The Comets were finally able to record "Rock Around the Clock." Fortunately, the song was already familiar to most of the group, so it required minimal in-studio rehearsal.
"We worked on the arrangement of 'Rock Around the Clock' at Bill's home," Joey Ambrose recalled in Sound and Glory. "First we all listened to Sonny Dae's recording. Then we decided the record would have more bounce if we added stacatto riffs throughout the song." (Ambrose's comments makes one curious about how early live performances of the song by Haley and the Comets such as those in Wildwood must have sounded.)
Cedrone wasn't a regular player with the band and didn't know "Rock Around the Clock," so Marshall Lytle (some sources say it was Ambrose) suggested the guitarist replicate his trademark guitar solo that he'd used to great effect a third of the way through Haley's Essex recording of "Rock the Joint" in 1952.
Danny Cedrone's guitar solo on 'Rock Around the Clock'
is considered an absolute classic. Sadly, he never lived to see its success.
Johnny Grande noted in 1998 that "The Cedrone Solo," as it is known by some, was not unique to "Rock the Joint" nor "Rock Around the Clock," and that Cedrone had performed it on a number of other recordings: "It was his gimmick," Grande said.
According to Cedrone's relatives in a 1998 news report, the guitarist received all of $21 for performing one of the most famous solos in music history. A complicated modified boogie-woogie that leads into a lightning-fast, remarkably clean run down the scale, this solo has become one against which many other rock and roll solos are judged.
Although it was not written with "Clock" in mind, it is impossible to think of this song without "The Cedrone Solo." This becomes clear if you hear the Sonny Dae version, a couple of early Haley live versions on the Hydra CD Rock and Roll Show where Billy Williamson subsitutes a steel guitar break, or any of the innumerable cover versions and knock-offs that followed the Decca single's release (compare Pat Boone's mid-1950s recording for instance, or Chubby Checker's later twist version).
A variation of the whole-band riff that leads into the conclusion of the song can actually be heard in extremely shortened form on the Sonny Dae recording, however with the addition of Joey Ambrose's sax, this break is made far more powerful, remarked noted Haley historian Chris Gardner. The arrangement of the riff is almost identical to a riff that appears in the Esquire Boys' 1952 recording of Haley's "Rock-a-Beatin' Boogie." It's also similar in spirit to the Andrews Sisters vocal scatting that drives their version of the Gabler-produced "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" to its climax.
According to Ambrose in Sound and Glory: "The second break was supposed to be a sax solo, but the song was building to a point where I thought we'd get more excitement out of it by doing something the whole band could join in on."
The entire performance by Haley and the band completely outstrips the earlier Dae recording and definitely improves upon what Myers and Freedman (or Freedman on his own, or Freedman and Henry Filler, depending on your point of view) put on paper. Gardner once again: "They changed the melody and made it much stronger. They added the sax and made the riffs punchier. These simple changes by Haley transformed the song from the ordinary to the extraordinary."
And no one thought it sounded like "Syncopated Clock," either.
Getting the sound right proved a challenge for Decca's engineers. In those days, singer and band often sang together, over the same microphones. With the strong arrangement of "Rock Around the Clock," however, this proved to be a detriment. On the first take, Haley's vocals were drowned out by the instruments.
With minutes to spare, a second take was quickly mounted, with Haley singing to minimal accompaniment.
The studio session now over -- the engineers were already being paid overtime -- it was time to go home. Two takes of "Rock Around the Clock" were all that was accomplished, along with the bizarre "Thirteen Women," and Haley was reportedly frustrated over what he felt was a failed session.
A Decca engineer would later splice the two extant takes of "Clock" together, taking the best of both worlds, until a 2:08 master was ready to be released. Years later, a "master tape" version would begin to appear on compact disc, running at 2:10 and including a "count-in" by drummer Billy Gussak (which rather spoils the punch of the opening).
It's hard to believe it today, but "Rock Around the Clock" was initially released as the B-side of "Thirteen Women."
Perhaps to recapture some of Louis Jordan's audience, or perhaps to get a bigger "piece of the action," Gabler chose to promote the Jordanesque "Thirteen Women," relegating "Clock" to the flip side. In those days they used to put on the records what kind of dance it was, and "Clock" was designated a "Fox Trot" for lack of a better term. And as an A-side, "Thirteen Women" didn't exactly set the charts on fire.
"I hated 'Thirteen Women,'" said Peter Ford, who remembered buying the single when it first came out and playing it in his Beverly Hills home where he lived with his parents -- Hollywood legends Glenn Ford and Eleanor Powell. He will re-enter our story later.
If "Thirteen Women" was a non-starter, it was also hard for some programmers to take "Clock" seriously. Lytle recalled one 1955 performance on the Milton Berle Show: "We did 'Clock,' but a copy of that show has not surfaced, to my knowledge. An old Hollywood actor that played the part of a drunk walked in front of us dragging a grandfather's clock as we played (the song). If you could find a copy of that show, it would be quite a find!"
Although this exact performance has yet to be found, another Milton Berle appearance from 1955 was quite raucous, with the Comets lip-synching to their recording in a Basin Street setting, with dancers cavorting around. After finishing the song, the band walks to the front of the stage where they begin to sing the sing again, only a capella. This leads into a chaotic musical number with Berle and his guests all taking turns on verses of the song.
Initial sales of the single were about 75,000, which was on par with Essex singles such as "Rock the Joint," and really wasn't that bad for a band that wasn't well known outside the Philadelphia-New Jersey area. The single even registered on some charts, but it was still seen as a disappointment on the national level.
Gabler had enough confidence in Haley to schedule another recording session for June 7, 1954. This session produced a version of Big Joe Turner's rhythm and blues hit "Shake, Rattle and Roll" and the swinging "A.B.C. Boogie." The same personnel from April 12 were used, except drummer Gussak was replaced by legendary Savoy Sultans leader David "Panama" Francis (although in a letter written a few years before his death, Gabler denied that Francis was involved), while Dick Richards was brought in to provide additional percussion and backing vocals. "Shake, Rattle and Roll" finally provided Haley with his first big hit for Decca, and is remembered as one of the first substantial rock and roll hits, though the brass ring No. 1 position eluded it in the U.S.
Danny Cedrone died less than a month after recording his guitar parts for this second single; his nimble guitar playing stilled forever by a sudden fall down a flight of stairs, apparently only days before he was due to sign his own contract with RCA Victor. Haley hired former Benny Goodman and Buddy Greco musician Franny Beecher to replace his late session guitarist and Beecher would later graduate to become a full-fledged Comet. A guitarist named Joe DeNick reportedly also worked with Haley briefly during this time, but little information is available on him.
Meanwhile, the story goes, Jim Myers didn't want to give up on "Rock Around the Clock," and sent copies of the single to every movie studio and producer he could find, hoping to spur interest in the song. Ultimately, according to Sound and Glory, he needn't have bothered -- a producer for MGM was looking for a song to reflect the spirit of teenage rebellion in a new movie called Blackboard Jungle, and found what he was looking for ... playing on his daughter's phonograph.
At least ... that's how the legend goes. The reality appears to be somewhat different.
The credit for discovering "Rock Around the Clock" now appears to lie elsewhere. Peter Ford, the son of Blackboard Jungle star Glenn Ford and 1930s MGM musical dancing legend Eleanor Powell, contacted me in 2003 to help set the record straight about how the song was introduced to the world via the movie.
Ford conducted research, contacting the children of producer Pandro Berman (director Richard Brooks' children have also been credited with discovering the song, but in 1954-55 Brooks had no children). He came to the conclusion that it is unlikely that Berman or Brooks would have found the record spinning on their kids' phonographs. In fact, Berman's son recalled his father bringing the record home from work, not the other way around.
Ford recalls growing up listening to a wide range of music, particularly his mom's collection of jazz and rhythm and blues. "I was the only 'black' white kid I knew in Beverly Hills at the time, and I was proud of it," he said. One of his early favorites was Bill Haley and the Comets, and Ford recalls having a copy of "Rock Around the Clock" at the time Richard Brooks was looking for a theme song. "I know now that he borrowed that record on one of his visits," he said.
Thus, we now know that the credit for sparking the use of "Rock Around the Clock" as the theme for Blackboard Jungle actually belongs to Peter Ford, the son of the film's lead actor!
When the movie was completed in the spring of 1955, the song was grafted over the opening credits and the rest, as they say, is Rock and Roll.
The film was a smash hit, with many going to see the film simply to hear the music behind the credits. Actor Howard Hesseman, of WKRP in Cincinnati fame, said on a Rock and Roll Revival TV special in the mid-1980s that he fell in love with the song after seeing Blackboard Jungle and scoured the record shops in his hometown searching for a copy -- but "nobody had ever heard of it!"
Added Lytle in 1998 -- again referring to the initial promotion of "Thirteen Women" as "Clock's" A-side: "People finally realized they were playing the wrong damn side!"
Hessman's dilemma was repeated in schools and record shops across North America, as teens scrambled to find copies of the elusive single. This sudden demand for the song spurred Decca to re-issue the record, this time with "Clock" in its now-familiar position on the A-side.
Blackboard Jungle hit movie screens in March 1955. By July 5, 1955 -- the day before Bill Haley's 30th birthday -- "Rock Around the Clock" was the top single in America, where it stayed at the top of the charts for eight weeks.
Not long after, it repeated this success in Britain and many other countries. Within months, if not weeks, Rock and Roll was a worldwide phenomenon. Within a year, performers such as Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Buddy Holly would dominate the airwaves and record sales.
Whether Dave Miller felt regret at not recording RATC at Essex, we will never know, but he soon had an LP's worth of Haley's Essex label recordings on the market -- in the process creating the first known rock and roll album release.
Haley himself would continue to score more hits for Decca over the coming years, most notably the million-selling "See You Later Alligator" in 1956, but nothing would come close to matching the success of "Rock Around the Clock." The song remained in the public eye when it lent its name (and music) to what is considered the first full-length Rock and Roll movie, 1956's Rock Around the Clock, which also provided Haley with his acting debut (playing -- of course -- Bill Haley). It also re-entered the charts a number of times in Europe.
Sadly, Haley's greatest success proved to be a limiting factor in his career from 1955 onwards. Although he continued to score hits in America until 1960 (the chart appearance of the instrumental, "Skokiaan," led to an American chart drought that lasted for 14 years), followed by a number of hit records in Latin America through the mid-1960s ("Florida Twist," etc.), Haley found that "Rock Around the Clock" remained THE song everybody wanted to hear. He even recorded a sequel, "Dance Around the Clock," versions of which appeared on the Newtown, Orfeon and Sonet labels during the 1960s and early 1970s. Although Haley recorded many excellent recordings throughout his career, none came close to recapturing the magic of "Rock Around the Clock."
For Haley, the original "Rock Around the Clock" proved to be a reliable and almost indestructible part of his show.
"No matter how bad a show may be going one night, I know that song will pull us through," Haley told a British newspaper in the 1970s. "It's my little piece of gold."
In 1972, he told a Canadian radio station that he was always looking for that next big hit -- a hit that continued to elude him: "If I (knew where music was heading) I'd have another 'Rock Around the Clock' real quick!"
Haley ended up re-recording the song numerous times over the years, beginning with Warner Brothers in 1960, and again for the Orfeon label in Mexico and Sonet in Sweden. Each had its own charm, but once again, none recaptured the Decca magic. And, of course, the song remained a staple of Haley's concerts for the rest of his life, though in later years Haley tended to abbreviate his performances of the song, trimming the second last verse and second instrumental break, though for the last known recording of Haley performing it -- at a November 1979 command performance for Queen Elizabeth II -- Haley and the Comets performed a complete rendition that is fondly remembered 25 years later.
Actual sales figures for "Rock Around the Clock" may never be known with absolute certainty. The most accepted number is 25 million, cited by the Guinness Book of World Records, making it the second highest-selling single of all time, after Bing Crosby's "White Christmas." Elton John's 1997 tribute to Princess Diana, "Candle in the Wind," sold 37 million copies, but only in CD single format. And "White Christmas" could in no way be considered rock and roll. Therefore, "Rock Around the Clock" remains the highest-selling rock and roll classic vinyl recording, based on Guinness' reckoning. Other sales tallies range from 15 million to 35 million copies sold, to James Myers' estimate of 200 million for every version ever recorded. It is said that at any given minute, the song is playing (or being played) somewhere in the world.
The song made a welcome return to the U.S. Top-40 in 1974, when it was used as the theme for the George Lucas film American Graffiti, after recharting in Britain twice during the 1960s. Yet another version of the song was recorded by Haley in 1973 for the opening credits of the sitcom Happy Days at about this time, too (this version would finally see release in 2007). And in 1982, it made the British charts once again, as part of a hastily compiled "Haley's Golden Medley" single released on MCA. A snippet of Haley's 1954 recording was also incorporated into the hit mash-up "Swing the Mood" by Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers in the 1990s, meaning the song was in some form or another a chart hit in five consecutive decades. (Some versions of "Swing the Mood" use the 1968 Sonet version or a version recorded by another artist, but the original release used the Decca version.)
Countless performers have recorded and played the tune, from Mae West to college marching bands. There have been rap versions, campfire versions, even a version re-written with new words for singing while saying grace! An arrangement intended for playing at recorder recitals apparently caused some controversy, though. The science fiction classic The Illuminatus! Trilogy by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson gives the song a cameo (sung by "Clark Kent and His Supermen"), and you never know when the song will pop up in a movie or TV show. For example, an American documentary on hearing showed incredible footage of an extracted human hair cell virtually dancing to -- you guessed it -- "Rock Around the Clock." And during a recent appearance on the Graham Norton Show on the BBC, Elton John told of dancing to "Rock Around the Clock" at Prince Andrew's 21s birthday party with no less than the Queen herself.
Not bad for a song that nearly got derailed by personal feuding, a stranded ferry, an end-of-the-world blues tune, and technical problems in the recording studio.
As the 60th anniversary arrived in 2014, only one person involved in the actual recording of "Rock Around the Clock" on April 12, 1954, is still with us - Joey Ambrose. And as of April 2014 he is still performing and touring the world with the Comets and his drumming collegue, Dick Richards - who sadly never appeared on the original record but was the Comets' drummer at the time. All the others - Haley, Lytle, Gussak, Cedrone, Williamson, Grande, and Gabler - have left us. But they left the world with a true musical legacy: two minutes, eight seconds of near perfection for a rock and roll song. Certainly the form was improved upon. Certainly there may have been rock and rollers with more drive and sex appeal than the former radio station announcer from Chester, Penn. But "Rock Around the Clock" was very much THE song for the time -- in the mid-1950s, it set the world of popular music spinning, and it's never stopped.
More than a half-century later, "Rock Around the Clock" can still excite audiences, says Bill Turner, Haley's lead guitarist from 1974 to 1976, who continues to include RATC when he performs with his own Blue Smoke Band.
"'Rock Around the Clock' is not a leftover for the 'over 50' or 'retro' trendoids---EVERY generation of children will re-discover Rock Around The Clock...and the effect will be THE SAME!" said Turner. "The song speaks the same message to everyone, and you don't need to be a musicologist, or an angst-ridden 'rebel' to understand what this means."
Adds Chris Gardner: "Here's a word of advice. Try to imagine yourself back in 1954, and that you are hearing it for the very first time. Play it VERY LOUD, and try to imagine yourself actually inside the recording, and just let it take over your whole being. I can't think of anything to beat that experience!"
"Rock Around the Clock" became the title song (and the title) of the first true rock and roll movie. This is an Australian LP release -- Down Under was one of the only places to actually get a "soundtrack" LP release for the movie. Courtesy Denise Gregoire.
I asked some of my friends and other rock and roll fans to pass along their memories of "Rock Around the Clock."
Rock Around the Clock Memories
DANIEL KORTENKAMP (fan):
In 1955, I graduated from high school. One evening that summer, my high school buddy Bob King and I were cruising, looking for girls to pick up. We heard about some girls who were having a slumber party, so we crashed their party. They had a bunch of 45 rpm records of Perry Como, Doris Day, Patty Page, Dean Martin, etc. We were dancing to these records until they put on Bill Haley's "Rock Around the Clock." We stood around trying to figure out how to dance to that kind of music. The only fast dance we knew was what we called jitter bug (now usually called swing). So, we ended up doing swing dance steps to rock & roll music! It's not surprising that when the movie Rock Around the Clock came out the next year, the people in the movie were jitter bugging (swing dancing) to rock & roll music.
DAVE KNEISSEL (fan):
When I hear or even think of the song "Rock Aound The Clock," I am immediately transported to a totally different era, one that I am not even associated with, as I was born a few years before "Clock" made its second appearance on the Billboard Top 40 in 1974. As a young boy, I first heard the song as the opening theme to "Happy Days." Believe it or not, I remember being about three or four years old, riding with my parents in their Camaro, listening to "Clock" on the radio. "Rock Around The Clock," to me, always sounded different than any other Fifties or Sixties song - it had a beat and rhythm that set itself apart from anything else I ever heard.
CHRIS GARDNER (Haley historian):
It was "Rock Around the Clock" that really got me into Rock 'n' Roll. It must have been around 1972. I was a fairly listless teenager, spending a lot of time just mooching around and listening to the radio. One day on Radio Luxembourg "Clock" came crackling over the airwaves. It made me literally sit bolt upright. I had never heard a record with so much energy, so much propulsion and force.
Haley's voice was the best voice I had ever heard -- crystal clear, urgent, and bang in tune. The crashes on the drums, different every chorus, were electrifying, sending great surges of electricity through the record. The pent-up excitement which finally bursts when Joey comes in on the second chorus. The blinding guitar work, the best guitar solo of all time, and underneath it all, Marshall's bass driving the whole thing forward. On Luxembourg it was difficult to hear Johnny or Billy. Sorry guys, I didn't discover what you contributed to the record until later!
DAVID HIRSCHBERG (Longtime Haley fan who helped organize the reunion of Bill Haley's original Comets in the late 1980s):
My first recollection of hearing "Clock" was at the relatively advanced age of 16, in 1969. Since the British Invasion of 1964, no commercial radio station in the U.S. would be caught dead playing classic rock În' roll, much less anything from as far back as 1954! Fortunately, my older brother had a copy of the disc in his record collection, so on a summer afternoon with nothing else to do, I decided to give it a spin. Needless to say, I was immediately hooked. This was head and shoulders above the boring, self-indulgent "Rock" music prevalent in the late 1960s. Toe-tapping rhythm, blazing guitar, explosive drums, exciting vocal -- all this in a record 15 years old!
I wondered about the possibility of seeing the band live: was Bill still performing? Was he any good? My dream came true on Oct. 19, 1969 when Bill Haley and His Comets came to New York as part of Richard Nader's first Rock 'n' Roll Revival show. I remember I was somewhat apprehensive while waiting on line before the show (by far the youngest person there, by the way -- this was advertised strictly as a nostalgia show), not knowing what to expect and hoping not to be disappointed. Of course, I was even more blown away hearing Bill perform "Rock Around The Clock" live than hearing the record. I'm proud to have been part of the famed 8-1/2 minute standing ovation Bill was given at the end of the song.
"WANDA" (posted to the Rockabilly Hall of Fame Discussion Group):
As one of the "old time" DJs in the U.K., Fifties Flash, says just before he plays "Rock around the Clock" -- "Pray be upstanding for the National Anthem!"
This is probably the most identifiable song ever. People hear this song and they instantly think of The Fifties. I think this is probably true of some of the teenagers of today too. It'd be interesting to know what would happen if you went out on the streets, played a bit of "Clock" to people, and asked what it was and what images it conjured up. I'd say seven out of 10 people will know what it is. I personally love the song. I love Bill Haley, so much so that a Bill Haley number is included in the songs I want played at my funeral!
Bill Haley recorded "Rock Around the Clock" more times than any other song in his repertoire. To list all the times he was recorded performing the song in public would be pointless, as new recordings come to light on occasion. In 2007, Hydra Records released Bill Haley and Friends Vol. 3: The Story of Rock Around the Clock, which collected not only the extant studio versions of the song (including the previously unreleased Happy Days opening credits version from 1973), but also numerous previously issued and previously unissed live performances.
Rock Around the Clock:
Studio Recording Chronology
Studio Recordings1. April 12, 1954. The classic is born. Only two takes were recorded and the single was edited together from both. (Release: Decca Records). In 1981 the recording was edited into "Haley's Golden Medley", an MCA UK release that hit the charts in Britain.
2. January 1960. First studio remake, for Warner Brothers records. Released on a single and the LP Bill Haley and the Comets.
3. January 1966. A samba-influenced version recorded for Orfeon Records of Mexico, and released on a single and the LP Bill Haley a Go Go.
4. June 25, 1968. Haley records a rather laid-back version in a Sonet recording studio in Sweden. First release on the Sonet LP Biggest Hits, and it charted as a single. In 1989, Sonet producer Kenny Denton dubbed new instrumentation over Haley's vocals and released it on an EP titled, simply, Bill Haley.
5. 1973. Haley re-recorded "RATC" for the opening credits of the TV series Happy Days. A soundtrack version of this recording was finally released by Hydra Records in 2007.
6. Early 1980s. A contingent of Bill Haley's Comets led by singer Joey Rand recorded a version that was released on a small label, and later included in the Hydra collection.
7. Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers used samples from both the Decca and Sonet remakes as part of its hit "Swing the Mood" in 1989. Later, Haley's vocals were replaced by those of a house singer.
8. August 1999. Bill Haley's original 1954-55 Comets re-record "Rock Around the Clock" in Las Vegas for the Rollin' Rock CD Still Rockin' Around the Clock. Released under the credit "The Original Band," this again features Jacko Buddin on vocals.
9-10. A "Swing Cats Remix" of "Rock Around the Clock" by Danny Harvey was released on a recent compilation of Orfeon recordings, featuring an overdubbed version of Haley's 1966 remake. Another Harvey remix, "Porl King Mix," exists but release information is unavailable.
11. Spring 2001. Comet Marshall Lytle records a hip-hop version with Chad Z. It is released in July 2001.
12. July 2001. The 1954-55 Comets record another studio version of "Rock Around the Clock" in Las Vegas which appeared on the 2002 CD Aged to Perfection on Rollin' Rock Records.
-- Additional released versions of the song exist recorded by one-time Comet piano player Joey Welz (including rap and country versions), and a privately recorded version by Comets and Jodimars co-founder and bass player Marshall Lytle..
RATC Sheet Music Australia:
By 1956, "Rock Around the Clock" was a worldwide smash, as evidenced by this sheet music from Australia.
You didn't even necessarily have to speak English to enjoy Haley's hit. Look closely at this Japanese 78 release if you want to know how to spell "Rock Around the Clock" in that language.
Movies and TV shows featuring "Rock Around the Clock"
This is not a complete list:
The Blackboard Jungle (1955)
Rock Around the Clock (1956)
London Rock and Roll Show (1972)
Let the Good Times Roll (1973)
American Graffiti (1973)
"Happy Days" (TV series) (1974-c.1976?)
Superman: the Movie (1978) (some prints do not have the song)
Princess Daisy (mini-series) (1983)
Karate Kid Part II (Paul Rodgers version) (1986)
Bull Durham (1988)
Mr. Rock and Roll: the Alan Freed Story (made for TV, 1999)
Shake, Rattle and Roll (made for TV, 1999)
The song has also been heard on a number of TV show episodes, including the Quantum Leap episode, "Hello Peoria," the 1989 Just the Ten of Us episode "Dream Girls," and the 1987 Doctor Who episode "Delta and the Bannermen, Part One."
It is estimated "Rock Around the Clock" has been recorded by at least 10,000 different artists since 1953. Here is a list of just some of the many versions that exist. Add the sales of all these versions together, coupled with the 25 million copies claimed sold by Bill Haley, and it's easy to see why "Rock Around the Clock" is the biggest-selling rock and roll song of all time.
Due to the large numbers of non-English group names, these artists are listed in alphabetical order by first name/first word, with country and year noted, if known (US and UK artists have only the year listed).
As of 2010 this list is no longer beiung updated; thanks to all those who suggested additions!
How many of these have you heard?
A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z
Adalbert Lutter (West Germany, early 60s)
Adriano Celentano (Italy, 1980s)
Agents (Finland, 1980)
AKS Powerforce (rap version) (1995)
Ali Sommar and Dogs Four (Finland, 1962)
Alvin and the Chipmunks
Andreas Hartmann (European)
Arne Domnerus and "SIL-IA-BLUE" (Sweden, 1955)
Artie Malvin and the Rhythm Rockets (1955)
Band of an Garda Siochana
Benny Hill (!)
Big Ben Accordion Band
Bill Coates (early 60s)
Bill Harris and the Rock Around the Clock Band (Germany, 1957)
Bill Haley and His Comets Revival (Germany, 1992 and 2000)
Bingo Reyna (Argentina 1964)
Black and Blue and the Rockets (1983)
Boston Show Band (1968)
Brett Somers (1970s?)
Bubblerock, produced by Jonathan King (waltz version!) (1973)
Buddy Knox (1957 and 1974)
Burt Blanca and The King Croles (Belgium 1965)
Burton Cummings (Canadian TV performance, early 60s)
The Caballeros (Netherlands 1956)
The Cadillacs (Hungary, 1999; not the doo-wop band)
Carlos Campos (Mexico, 1957?)
Carl Perkins (1960s and 1970s)
Cesar Costa (Mexico, 1981)
Chubby Checker (1960)
Col Joye and the Joyboys (Australia 50s-60s)
Columbia Pops Orchestra and Chorus (1978)
The Creation (1964)
Daimi (Sweden, 1962)
Danny (Sweden, 1977)
Dave Edwards (1982)
Deep River Boys (1956)
Dick Warren (1955)
Dinah Lee (New Zealand)
Dixie Harmonaires (late 50s/early 60s)
D. Katz Klein (new lyrics for children to teach about Jewish faith, "Light the Chanukiah") (1997)
Don Lang and the Frantic Five
Don Lang and the Twisters (same group as above?)
Don May and the Gigolos (1962)
Doo Wop Cajuns (circa 2000)
Eddie Cochran and Gary Lambert (1956)
Edith Butler (Canada, 1987)
Ellis Rex (Netherlands)
Eric Buehle (West Germany, late 50s)
Ernie from Sesame Street (musical toy, 1999)
Eva-Lill Wallentin and Oskar Rundquist (Sweden, 1955)
Evve (Sweden, 1988)
Fats and His Cats (West Germany, 1968)
Four Bells and Jimmy Carroll's Orchestra (1955)
Frank Zappa (!) (1964)
Franny and the Fireballs (Germany, 1996)
Franny Boye (1960-61)
Freddy Cannon (1968)
FSU Marching Band
Fun Country Band
Galenskaparna (Sweden, 1996)
Gene Simmons (1964)
George Mitchell Minstrels
Girlsmen (ska version) (Sweden)
Gloria Rios (Mexico, 1956)
Goran Odner (Finland, 1955)
Gottlieb Quintet (jazz group) (Sweden, 1955)
Gunter Noris (European, 1991?)
Happy Elephant and the Hit Makers (1990)
Harmony Sisters (Finland, 1955)
Harry Nilsson (1974)
Helga Vaananen (Finland, 1972)
Henry Mancini Orchestra
Hermanas Julian (Mexico, 1956)
Hermanas Navarro (Mexico, 1956)
Hermanas Ramos (Mexico, 1961)
Hisao Sudo and New Downbeats Orchestra
The Housemartins (rap version, 1986)
Isador Fertel ("jiddisch" version; produced by Tiny Tim)
Jack Richards with Vic Corwin and his Orchestra
Jack Scott (1979)
James E. Myers/Jimmy De Knight (instrumentals) (c.1959)
James Last (1960s)
Jeff Chang (Singapore)
Jerry Lee Lewis (60s)
Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers (1989)
Jochen Brauer Sextett (European, 1976)
Johannes Fehring (West Germany, 1957)
Johnny Cooper (1955)
Jokers (aka The Fabulous Jokers) (Belgium 1966)
Junie Low (1978)
Jussi Raittinen (Finland, 1974)
Larry Harding and the Hornets (Canada, 1998)
Las Chicas del Can
Lasse Liemola (Finland, 1962)
Lee Jackson (samba/rock version; Bill Haley credited as producer) (Brazil, 1976)
Les Humphries Singers (France, 1982)
Living Guitars (1974)
Los Llopis (Cuba, 1957 or 1962)
Los Reyes del¾Twist (Mexico, 1962)
Los Zethas (Mexico, 1969-70)
Low Budget (Germany, 1997)
'Lubbock Babes' (Just the Ten of Us TV series, 1989)
Luis Marquez (Mexico, 1956)
Macky Kasper (West Germany, 1956-57)
Mae West (!!!) (1972)
Manolo Mu-Oz (Mexico, 1960?)
Marimba Chiapas (Mexico, 1957?)
Marimba Hnos (Mexico 1970s)
Mark Bradford Music Ministries (religious version, 1990s)
Mario Patron (Mexico, 1957)
Marko Simsa and Boogie Woogie Gang (Germany, 2000)
Maureen Rene (West Germany, 1956)
Max Greger (1956; 1961; 1981)
Melody Sisters (Netherlands, 1956)
Meyer Davis Orchestra (1961)
MGM Studio Orchestra (1955)
Mickey Katz (parody version)
Mickey Mouse (musical toy)
Mike Rios (Spain, 1965-66)
Morton Music Machine
Myron Lee and the Caddies
Nalle Lindstrom (Finland, 1974)
Noe Fajardo (Mexico, 1956)
Normal en Langeres
North Star Musicians
One More Time Around Again Marching Band
Optimisten (Austria 1956)
Courtesy Lothar Mackenbach
Pablo Beltran Ruiz (Mexico, 1978)
Pat Boone (1957)
Pathmark Supermarket (circa 1975)
Paul Revere and the Raiders (1980s)
Paul Rodgers (1986)
Petar Introvic (Czech version)
Pete Anderson and the Archives (Latvia, 1989)
Peter Horton (1976)
Peter Kraus (West Germany, 1964/80s)
Phil Flowers (mid-1960s)
Pirron and Knapp (Austria, 1950s)
The Platters (1962)
Portsmouth Sinfonia (1975)
Haley lent his image to promoting this version of "Rock Around the Clock" by Phil Flowers. Haley only recorded the b-side, a remake of an early Decca classic.
Raulzito E Os Panteras (Portugal, 1973)
Ray Anthony Orchestra (1962)
Ray Martin Marching Band (1961)
Reijo Kallio (Finland, 1955)
Renato Carosone (Italy, 1956)
Ricky and the Rockets (1986)
Rob Hoeke Group
Rocking Ghosts (Denmark, 1968)
Rock'n'Roll Band Marcela Woodmana (Czech Republic, 1995)
Rock n Roll Gang (France, 1983)
Rock-Olga (Sweden, 1972)
Rock-Ragge (Scandinavia, 1970s, several versions)
Roland Cedermark (1992)
Ronmar Concert Orchestra
Roseville Big Band (1998)
Royal Blues (choir version)
Royale Orchestra (1956)
Sam Hui (Hong Kong, 1979)
Sam "The Man" Taylor and Alan Freed's Rock 'n Roll Band and The Modernaires (1956)
Sandy Nelson (1962)
Sergio Hofweber (Mexico, 1970s)
Sex Pistols (1979)
Sha Na Na (1973, etc.)
Sing-a-Song Storybooks (children's version)
Sonny Dae and His Knights (1953)
Spelbrekers (Netherlands, 1957)
Star Accordion Band
The Starlite Orchestra (Germany, 1995)
Stars on 45
Sten and Stanley (Sweden, 1962)
Steven J. Towers
Strings of Paris
Swiss Ballroom Orchestra
Sussie and Leo (Denmark, 1990s)
Tapani Kansa (Finland, 1979)
Ted Herold (West Germany, 1964)
Telex (electronic and extended dance versions) (Italy, 1978)
Terry and the Hot Sox (Switzerland, 2000)
Tiny Tim (!!!)
Tom Green (the comedian)
Tonica-Koren (choir version!) (Sweden)
Trimble Tones (late 70s)
The Troublemakers (Sweden, 1968; top 10 hit)
Ty Tender (Austria, 1987)
UC Mens Octet
Ulf Erik (Finland, 1965)
Vesa-Matti Loiri (Finland, 1968)
Vic Sabrino (Australia, 50s)
Virtuoso and Rollerson (rap version) (1993)
Winifred Atwell (1957)
Will Farrell (the comedian)
W. Merrick Farren (symphony version)
In addition to the above, a number of instrumental karaoke versions of "Rock Around the Clock" have been released over the years, as have a number of unidentified marching and school band recordings. Versions of the song also exist in Midi-format sound files on the Internet. And, since I began compiling this list more than a decade ago the explosion of user-submitted video sites like YouTube have resulted in literally hundreds of additional performances of the song entering circulation in the last few years.
It is believed Elvis Presley may have been recorded performing "Rock Around the Clock" during one of his Louisiana Hayride radio performances in the mid-50s. A tape of this reportedly emerged a few years ago, but for reasons unconfirmed is not (last I heard) being considered for commercial release, though this may, of course, change in the future. It's possible the song may have also been performed by The Beatles in their early days, particularly during their 1961-62 tenure at the Star Club in Hamburg, West Germany. Since recordings of both the Beatles and Bill Haley performing at the Star Club survive, it's remotely possible a Beatles performance of "Clock" might exist (we can only hope!).
Also, Big Joe Turner recorded a song called "Around the Clock Blues" which may or may not have been based on the Haley song. A 1970s live recording by Turner of "Everyday I Have the Blues" features a lengthly sax solo that incorporates the melody of "Rock Around the Clock."
Two pre-1953 recordings exist of songs by the name of "Rock Around the Clock": Hal Singer (1950) and Wally Mercer (1952). These are different songs than the DeKnight/Freedman classic. Contrary to popular belief, the 1930s blues song "My Daddy Rocks Me With a Steady Roll" sounds nothing like "Rock Around the Clock," and similarities between RATC and Hank Williams' "Move it On Over" (a claim that has been made by at least one notable 1950s musician in his autobiography) appear to be coincidental.
Lastly, "Rock Around the Clock" has been referenced by name in countless other songs, ranging from "The Bedrock Twist" from The Flintstones to the Billy Joel classic "We Didn't Start the Fire," as well as two recordings by the 1954-55 Comets, "We Ain't Dead Yet" (2000) and "Let's Rock and Roll Some More." (1993)
1. James Myers Rockabilly Hall of Fame Web page.
Learn more about the man who co-wrote "Rock Around the Clock."
2. Bill Haley tribute Web page at the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.
3. Bill Haley Central. Portal to all the best Bill Haley websites, including Chris Gardner's session files.
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