Recorded a month before in two takes (which were spliced together by a studio engineer) “(We’re Gonna) Rock Around The Clock” was released in the USA as the’ B’ side of a single today in 1954 by Bill Haley and His Comets. Things would never be the same again…
A cover version of a song whose actual composer credits of Max C. Freedman and James Myers aka Jimmy DeKnight are disputed, Haley and Co. were first lined up to record this track while on the Essex Record label (who had released their single “Crazy Man, Crazy” in 1953).
By the time the group came to record “(We’re Gonna)…” they had moved on to Decca, convening at The Pythian Temple building off Broadway in Manhattan on April 12th 1954. Joining 28 year-old Haley were pianist Johnny Grande, saxophonist Joey Ambrose, steel guitarist Billy Williamson and bassist Marshall Lytle. The ensemble was then completed by two session musicians: drummer Billy Gussak and guitarist Danny Cedrone.
Session producer Milt Gabler devoted most attention to the song “Thirteen Women (And Only One Man in Town” (supposedly because he owned a share of the publishing rights) and that track duly appeared as the A side of the single, selling only modestly and being overtaken by Haley’s next release, “Shake, Rattle and Roll”.
However the inclusion of “Rock….” on the soundtrack of the MGM movie “Blackboard Jungle” saw it truly take off. First screened in late March 1955, by July of that year, the single – now re-released as an “A” side and titled merely “Rock Around The Clock” – was at number one in both the Billboard and Cashbox charts.
In the UK meanwhile, “Rock…” charted as early as January 1955 but wouldn’t hit number one until November of that year, falling then returning to top spot early in 1956. A new film starring Haley and the band was hastily shot and “Rock Around The Clock” began showing to packed houses that March, amid reports of riotous behaviour.
Excerpts of the track in question appears no less than three times – along with other Comets songs and material from other groups including The Platters – but bizarrely plays in the background as the film reaches its climax with some spoken dialogue followed by a general crowd shot of dancers, with the band almost out of sight to the rear.
As a postscript, one of the performers on the original recording never lived to see it become a worldwide smash hit. Danny Cedrone – responsible for the classic guitar break - died in the summer of 1954 after accidentally falling down a flight of stairs.
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And here’s some footage of Bill and his theme: