This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.
KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #410: Rock Around the Clock by Bill Haley and the Comets.
If you want to have a starting point for the birth of Rock n’ Roll, you could do a lot worse than to begin with “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley and the Comets. By today’s standards, “Rock Around the Clock” seems almost quaint and sepia-toned in our recollections. But, in 1955, when it was released, it was destined to become the anthem for a teenage rebellion that had been percolating since the end of World War II. Into a buttoned-down America, “Rock Around the Clock” helped launch a culture of souped up cars, slicked back hair and pent up sexual longing. And it all really began with a movie soundtrack.
In 1955, the #1 hits of the day included, “Mr. Sandman” by The Chordettes, “The Ballad of Davy Crockett” by Fess Parker, “Sixteen Tons” by Tennessee Ernie Ford and “Ain’t That a Shame” by Pat Boone. By comparison, “Rock Around the Clock”, with its speedy tempo and jangly guitars didn’t quite fit into the musical landscape of the time and was almost viewed as more of a novelty song than a song to be taken seriously. As a result, initial sales of “Rock Around the Clock” were disappointing and the song seemed destined to become a musical after-thought. That was, until a new movie was made called, “Blackboard Jungle”. Starring Sidney Poitier, Glenn Ford and Vic Morrow, “Blackboard Jungle” was a movie about life at an inner-city high school. It featured gangs, insubordination and violence by students against teachers. It was viewed as “shocking” and “gritty” when it first came out. When the movie was still in the production stage, producers were toying with the idea of pairing the movie with a soundtrack that featured modern music suitable for the “urban” environment depicted in the film. Lead actor Glenn Ford turned to his own teenage son and asked to borrow some of his newer records. Among those he borrowed was the single for “Rock Around the Clock”. “Rock Around the Clock” appeared over the opening credits of “Blackboard Jungle” and immediately came to symbolize the teenage rebellion being seen onscreen. In fact, the song was so inspiring that many teens danced in the aisles of theatres as it played and, in some cases, there were actual riots, resulting in damage to the theatres showing the film. In time, some theatre owners boycotted the film out of fear for the safety of patrons and of the interior of their theatres. A cultural revolution was launched with a rock n’ roll beat, which went a long way toward pairing Rock n’ Roll music with uncivilized, unseemly behaviour. Many who love Rock n’ Roll revel in the unseemliness of it all but, even today, you will find others who think of it as one of the reasons for the decline of our civilization. Regardless of your stance on the virtues or, lack thereof, of Rock n’ Roll, most critics agree that the revolution began with Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock”.
Because of its’ societal impact, “Rock Around the Clock” has been inducted into the Song category of The Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame, as well as, being enshrined in the US Library of Congress. It was Bill Haley’s biggest hit, as well (in a musical catalogue that also included songs such as “Shake, Rattle and Roll”.) As you watch this video, I will leave it to you to determine whether you are looking at the Devil Incarnate or, as my girls would probably say, a nerdy white guy with greasy hair. Either way, “Rock Around the Clock” and the movie, “Blackboard Jungle” changed the way music could be played and the impact that it could have; especially, on teenagers. Get ready to move and groove because here are Bill Haley and His Comets with the history-making, “Rock Around the Clock”. Enjoy.
The link to the music video for Rock Around the Clock by Bill Haley and The Comets can be found here.
There is a website dedicated to maintaining the legacy of Bill Haley and The Comets. It can be accessed by clicking on the link here.
Thanks to KEXP for supporting new and important music since….well, forever, it seems! A link to their website can be found here.