Wednesday, November 10, 2010

"(We're Gonna) Rock Around the Clock" (1955)

39. Bill Haley & His Comets, "(We're Gonna) Rock Around the Clock" (May 14, 1955, #1, 8 wks.)

You have heard this, if only as the opening theme for TV's "Happy Days," so you know what we're talking about. What's harder now is to reimagine it in its context, when it could simply be used as the opening theme for a gritty movie of inner-city strife (Blackboard Jungle) and literally cause riots to happen across England. Bill Haley was just barely on the right side of 30 when he scored this definitive hit. Paunchy, sweaty, already obviously losing his hair, he was never going to make a suitable object of desire for the masses in the new world that his classic song (and already fifth top 20 hit) was ushering in. That would be a job for Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry and perhaps Little Richard, who each had oceans more of sex appeal. Nonetheless, it was Bill Haley who got his shoulders up above the Pat Boones and Patti Pages of the deadening mid-'50s radio fare, opened his arms wide, and welcomed one and all with a kind of infectious and undeniable and mad joy. Even now it's not hard to hear its appeal—the country twang of Haley's singing, the rhythm and blues elements marking out the arrangement, the chanting and insistent nursery rhyme mentality that never lets it fade into the background. The drums hit hard, the band swings, the guitar rocks, and the tune quickly tattoos itself to the inside of your head. Nothing was ever going to be the same again, and even if this were atrocious crap it would still belong on a list like this simply for the impact and lasting influence. Fortunately, it's an altogether nifty concoction, even if you (and I) may be rather tired of it at this juncture.

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