Rock ‘n’ Roll: 60 years of Rocking Around the Clock

ImpossibleRockNRoll

 

It’s 60 years today that Bill Haley and the Comet’s Rock Around the Clock was released, just the mainstream push that rock’n’roll needed…

ROCK‘N’ROLL.  IT HAD BEEN BUZZING AROUND FOR A WHILE OF COURSE… The word ‘rock’ bubbled around in song titles, instruments came and went…  In a few short years it consolidated from blues, jazz, gospel music, swing, folk and country and more, just as it would continue to evolve, consume and spawn genres for decades to come.  It was the mid 1950s that saw  guitar move to the lead, knocking saxophones and piano down the band order to the point where the Comets and their contemporaries came in.

One, two, three…

The legendary recording of Rock Around the Clock, saw Bill Haley and his Comets with customary tenor sax and piano sat alongside steel guitar, piano drums, string bass and electric guitar… With Bill Haley taking both lead vocals and rhythm guitar of course.  Sax and piano would take centre stage in some of the genre’s greatest moments in years to come, but this was the groundbreaking sign of things to come: African-American styles had fully fused with European instruments to make enough noise in just the right way to grab the world’s attention.

Rock Around the Clock was recorded over a year after it was written and would take another year to become a success.  But when it was, those decades of influences and near attempts combined in that adapted 12-bars blues structure to announce Rock‘n’Roll to the world.  With a few inevitable riots in America of course, linking the young movement to juvenile delinquency in a way it would never shake off.  And like a true classic, when it was issued in spring 1954, it was a B-side.

Its legacy can’t be doubted, selling over 1.4 million copies and becoming the first million selling single in the UK; creating myths, rumours and hanging itself out for analysis ever since.  Almost every major rock guitarist of the next three decades were influenced or forced to pick up a guitar thanks to this infectious landmark.

Join me, Hon…

I was lucky – growing up in a household that seemingly only contained two albums: ABBA’s Arrival and Boney M’s Nightflight to Venus.  As such I was free to take a leisurely stroll through rock, and inadvertently it was from near the beginning.  The Reader’s Digest and Buddy the Musical conspired in my favour, leading me from Buddy Holly to Bill Haley via Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry.  Then, as the 60s loomed on the playlist, a kindly (legendary) teacher handed me a 45 cassette tape containing all of Sgt Pepper’s and most of The White Album.  I still have that today, recorded from vinyl; that’s how I still hear those albums.

Before that, it was in the late ‘80s that I came across the Comets’ version of Rock Around the Clock.  But little did I appreciate then just how brilliant it is.  Not just how simple, nor how hypnotic and infectious nor how perfectly it all mashes together; just how it makes a great manifesto for what Rock’n’Roll (and later/simultaneously) rock music would be and is.

A statement.

“One, two, three o’clock, four o’clock rock

Five, six, seven o’clock, eight o’clock rock

Nine, ten, eleven o’clock, twelve o’clock rock

We’re gonna rock around the clock tonight”

Love and intent.

“Put your glad rags on, join me, Hon

We’ll have some fun when the clock strikes one

We’re gonna rock around the clock tonight

We’re gonna rock, rock, rock, ’til broad daylight

We’re gonna rock, gonna rock around the clock tonight”

Revolution.

“When the clock strikes two, three and four

If the band slows down we’ll yell for more

We’re gonna rock around the clock tonight

We’re gonna rock, rock, rock, ’til broad daylight

We’re gonna rock, gonna rock around the clock tonight”

Cue brilliant guitar led interlude. 

(every sentiment from rock classics already there: From The Who to Kiss)

And then repeat

“When the clock strikes twelve, we’ll cool off then

Start a’rockin’ round the clock again

We’re gonna rock around the clock tonight

We’re gonna rock, rock, rock, ’til broad daylight

We’re gonna rock, gonna rock around the clock tonight”

Round the Clock Again…

If Rock is all of those things, it’s a cycle in particular.

Of course, as many of those eager to sound its death knell point out, rock should have burnt bright and disappeared in a flash.  But it will never go away.  True, they ran out of guitar riffs and ways to fill a bar years ago, but somehow they keep digging them out.

I think it was in Ian MacDonald’s indispensible Revolution in the Head that first introduced me to the concept of popular music’s 11 year reinvention cycle, all hanging from the undead carcass of rock.  The Comet’s outstanding breakout Rock‘n’Roll in 1955; the mind expansive creativity of psychedelic rock spearheaded by The Beatles and spawning progressive and metal in 1966; the veritable embarrassment of riches posed by punk tussling with disco in ’77 and; the breakout of House from its Chicago roots in 1988 while in Seattle the Sub Pop label coined the term “Grunge”.  Sadly 1999 and 2010 didn’t prove so fruitful after those blistering 40 years, but popular music just has to be awkward.

’til broad daylight…

Still, as all that splintering and evolution threatened to weigh down or overtake a movement defined by being a flash in the pan, it persists.  Every once in a while a rock band will undertake soul crushingly expansive tours, meet The Beatles’  prodigious work rate for just a few albums or issue ‘immediate’ singles – like the Manic’s Masses Against the Classes in 2000, deleted on day of release, para-quoting Gladstone complete with a Chuck Berry cover – not the latest X-Factor winner.

But overall, rock knows what it has to do, there’s a primal flame of life that refuses to be snuffed out.  That was always going to be more than a flash in the pan.

As Alex Arctic Monkey succinctly mumbled, rather amusingly I thought, at this year Brits, after Bowie had became the oldest ever recipient of the Best Male Award…

“That Rock’n’Roll, eh? That Rock’n’Roll, it just won’t go away. It might hibernate from time to time and sink back into the swamp. I think the cyclical nature of the universe in which it exists demands it adheres to some of its rules.

“But it’s always waiting there, just around the corner, ready to make its way back through the sludge, and smash through the glass ceiling, looking better than ever.

“Yeah, that Rock’n’Roll. It seems like it’s faded away sometimes but, uh, it will never die. And there’s nothing you can do about it.”

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