Bill Haley and His Comets lit up the skies of global pop culture with a meteoric new sound when they recorded “(We’re Gonna) Rock Around the Clock” in New York City on this day in history, April 12, 1954.
It became rock ‘n’ roll’s first hit song — on both sides of the Atlantic.
“Rock Around the Clock” topped the U.S. Billboard singles chart for an incredible eight straight weeks in the summer of 1955 and was a major hit in the United Kingdom earlier that year.
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“We premiered it,” Haley told Rolling Stone Magazine in 1967.
“We put country & western together with rhythm & blues, and that was rock. The first three years were ours, all ours, ’til [Elvis] Presley came along.”
Bill Haley and his Comets perform onstage in 1955 in New York. They recorded “(We’re Gonna) Rock Around the Clock” in New York City in 1954. (PoPsie Randolph/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
“It was not the first recording of ‘Rock Around the Clock,’ nor was it Bill Haley’s first rock and roll record,” music scholar David Deacon-Joyner wrote for the Library of Congress.
“It was, however, the seismic event that kicked off the rock revolution.”
“We put country & western together with rhythm & blues, and that was rock.” — Bill Haley
The 12-bar blues tune with bouncy bass beat and blistering guitar solo, which would become a signature of the genre, was the first rock song heard by millions of people around the world.
“Rock Around the Clock” was recorded as an afterthought for Decca Records at Pythian Temple Studios, 135 West 70th St. on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
Bill Haley and His Comets rehearse at the Dominion Theatre in London, where they will open their British tour. The Comets include accordion player Johnnie Grande, bassist Al Rex, and saxophonist Ruddy Pompilli. (Getty Images)
The session was “set up not for the recording of ‘(We’re Gonna) Rock Around the Clock,’ but of a song called ‘Thirteen Women (and Only One Man in Town),'” reports History.com.
“It took the group nearly all of their scheduled session to get a useable take of “Thirteen Women’ … With time running out and no chance of extending the session, Haley and his Comets were eager to lay down the song they’d been playing live for many months to enthusiastic audience response.”
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That song, “Rock Around the Clock,” was recorded in just two takes that “were synchronized later and mixed onto a third tape” by producer Milt Gabler, Deacon-Joyner wrote.
It was remarkable engineering for its time.
“I thought, ‘WOW this is great!!!! … The song just rocks.” — Ringo Starr in 2021, of hearing “Rock Around the Clock” the first time
The raucous song’s repetitive lyrics are an ode to partying all night — a theme repeated by numerous rock acts to follow — punctuated by slick licks from session guitarist Danny Cedrone, who barely rehearsed the song.
Ringo Starr, left, of The Beatles and Joe Walsh of the Eagles celebrate Starr’s 77th birthday at Capitol Records Tower on July 7, 2017, in Los Angeles, California. Starr recorded a remake of 1955 landmark hit “(We’re Gonna) Rock Around the Clock” in 2021, featuring Walsh on guitar. (Scott Dudelson/WireImage)
“A certified jaw-dropper,” GuitarWorld.com enthused in a 2018 tutorial of the classic rock riff.
Cedrone was paid just $21 for the session and died two months later after falling down a staircase, “never understanding the effect his solo would have on the next few decades of popular music,” the outlet noted.
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“Rock Around the Clock” failed to make an impact when it was released as the b-side to “Thirteen Women” and was destined for artistic anonymity before fortune intervened.
“A 10-year-old kid in Los Angeles flipped ‘Thirteen Women’ and fell in love with the now-famous B-side,” notes History.com.
A poster for George Lucas’ 1973 comedy “American Graffiti” starring Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard and Paul Le Mat. (Movie Poster Image Art/Getty Images)
“That kid, Peter Ford, happened to be the son of actor Glenn Ford, who was slated to star in the upcoming teenage-delinquency drama ‘Blackboard Jungle.’”
The movie was released in March 1955 with “Rock Around the Clock” as its rebellious teen anthem.
The energetic tune inspired kids to dance spontaneously in theater aisles and “made the song became a worldwide smash,” Marty Ostrow wrote of the song on behalf of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
“It was … a seismic event that kicked off the rock revolution.” — David Deacon-Joyner, music scholar
Liverpool teenager Richard Starkey, later known as Ringo Starr, was among the youngsters on both sides of the Atlantic blown away by the movie theme song and the reaction it inspired.
“They ripped up the cinema!!! They just threw the chairs and went crazy,” Starr said in 2021, after recording and releasing his own version of “Rock Around the Clock.”
“I thought, ‘WOW this is great!!!!’ I remember that moment like it was yesterday, it was incredible. And the song just rocks.”
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Legendary rock guitarist Joe Walsh plays the signature solo on Starr’s recent remake.
Bill Haley and His Comets, featuring Al Rappa standing on his double bass, perform on “Thank Your Lucky Stars” TV show at Aston Studios in September 1964 in Birmingham, United Kingdom. Image is part of David Redfern Premium Collection. (David Redfern/Redferns)
“Rock Around the Clock” enjoyed a rebirth in the 1970s as the opening song to 1950s period movie “American Graffiti” and the original theme song of the popular TV hit it inspired, “Happy Days,” which debuted in 1974.
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“Other records may lay claim to really being the first,” writes music history outlet Rebeatmag.com, “but ‘Rock Around the Clock’ was the first heard by millions around the world.”