MUSIC 162 - SPRING 2008
American Pop Song
Rock 'n' Roll: 1954-1959
Bill Haley and the Comets [NYC, 1954]: "Rock Around the Clock" (J. DeKnight and M.
A former disc jockey and country-and-western bandleader from Chester, Pennsylvania, Haley
was the first white musician to achieve major success by emulating R&B.; This song is
considered the first big rock 'n' roll hit (#1 on the pop charts in 1955), partly due to its
association with Blackboard Jungle, a film about high school juvenile delinquents. Haley's band
featured Rudy Pompilli on sax, and Haley on electric guitar and vocals. "Rock Around the
Clock" is a country-tinged version of the jump band sound of Louis Jordan, and is a 12-bar blues.
After several hits in the 1950s, and a successful tour of Europe in 1957, Haley's career went into
decline. He died in 1981.
Bill Haley and the Comets [NYC, 1954]: "Shake, Rattle, and Roll" (Jesse Stone)
It is important to compare Bill Haley's version of "Shake, Rattle, and Roll" to Joe Turner's
version from CD #3. Composed by Jesse Stone, a black producer for Atlantic Records in 1954,
Big Joe Turner's recording from the same year was in a jump blues R&B style. Bill Haley,
former leader of a country and western band, recorded a cover version of this song in 1954 as
well. His version differs from Turner's in that he emphasizes the guitar over Turner's
saxophones, and his rhythm is derivative more of Western Swing than of jump blues R&B.
Significantly, the highly erotic lyrics of Turner's are partially censored in Haley's version.
Whereas Turner sings: "Well you wear those dresses, the sun come shinin' through, I cain'
believe my eyes all that mess belong to you", Haley sings "Wearin' those dresses, your hair done
up so nice. You look so warm, but your heart is cold as ice". Interestingly, the line "I'm like a
one-eyed cat, peepin' in a seafood store" was retained in Haley's version, a double entendre that
likely went right over the censor's head.
Unlike later cases of white artists covering songs from black artists and generating huge profits,
both recordings of "Shake, Rattle, and Roll" sold well. The difference was that Turner's version
made both the pop and the R&B charts, while Haley's version never made it onto the R&B
charts. Black audiences appreciated Turner's jump band approach over Haley's approach. This
song was one of the first of many future hits for Haley, while it marked the beginning of the end
of Joe Turner's career. Though obviously influential in early rock 'n' roll, Turner's time had
passed and he was forced to take a backseat in the rock 'n' roll explosion.