Bill Haley: Clocking in to rock'n'roll
Legendary musician born 95 years ago today
On its first release in January 1955 it spent five weeks on top of the British charts, on it's second in April 1968 it reached number 20 and on a third release in March 1974 it got as high as number 12. In all it spent 57 weeks in the British charts and was the only release by the legendary Bill Haley to reach number one in the UK.
But irrespective of all the great records that came before it and all those that have followed, Bill Haley's Rock Around The Clock stands out as one of the most iconic tracks of the rock'n'roll era and is widely regarded as the first of the genre to make it to the top of the charts after being featured in the 1955 film Blackboard Jungle, a movie about unruly students and teenage rebellion.
But before Rock Around The Clock topped the US charts in 1955, Haley recorded Crazy Man, Crazy... a song he said was inspired by slang he heard at the high school dances where he and his Comets cut their teeth in the music business.
That became Haley's first rock'n'roll song to land on the Billboard charts, peaking at number 15 in 1953 and beginning a revolution that brought the likes of Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis into the charts.
William John Clifton Haley was born in Highland Park, Michigan, 95 years ago today, on 6 July 1925. His father played the banjo and his mother was a classically trained pianist. The family moved to Pennsylvania and by the time Haley was 13 he was playing professionally... albeit for only one dollar a night.
At age 15 he hit the road with his guitar and soon formed his own band Bill Haley And The Four Aces of Western Swing, while also working as a late-night DJ.
That band became Bill Haley and The Saddlemen and then, in 1952, Bill Haley with Haley's Comets after the band began exploring a new rockabilly style that brought releases such as Rocket 88, recorded for the Philadelphia-based Holiday Records in 1951, and the 1952 cover of Rock The Joint, for Holiday's sister company Essex Records.
In 1954, Haley left Essex to sign with Decca Records and the group was renamed again, this time to Bill Haley and His Comets. Decca originally released Rock Around The Clock as a B-side that only saw modest commercial success in the US but soon became a hit in the UK, Germany and Australia and reached the top of the charts in the US after it was featured in the hit teen movie Blackboard Jungle. The band also released the cover Shake, Rattle And Roll which reached number four in the UK charts in December 1954.
In 1957 the band became the first American rock'n'roll outfit to tour Europe and their appearances had a catalytic effect. Though in America Haley's star was soon eclipsed by upstarts such as Presley and Gene Vincent, he continued to be popular well into the 1960s in Europe and South America. Though he struggled with alcoholism throughout his life, he continued touring with the band through the 1970s, one of his final performances being a 1979 command performance for Queen Elizabeth II.
In 1980 it was revealed that Haley was suffering from a brain tumour and he died on 9 February 1981.