When Bill Haley and the Comets recorded their song in 1954, they never could have guessed it would become a pop music staple. The band delivered the sound of rebellion to dissatisfied young people.
It was 11 in the morning on April 12. A certain Milt Gabler, self-described as a producer, had reserved a huge ballroom in New York to record two songs with Bill Haley and His Comets for their new label, Decca Records. An hour and a half later, there was no sign of the band. Gabler is said to have roared: Where the hell are they? Why didn't those idiots at least call?
From yodeling to the Haley sound
Bill and his back-up band were stuck on a car ferry that had gotten stranded on a sandbank along the Delaware River. Originally, Bill Haley had made his name as the best yodeler in the United States, then in the country music scene, where he took the stage in a cowboy outfit with his Saddlemen backers.
Meanwhile, though, he had developed a style that was brand new to audiences. Lacking another word for it, people spoke of the "Haley sound." It was only later that "rock 'n' roll" came into favor.
The recording session started two hours late. Most of the time was used for the single's a-side because Haley and the Comets were playing the title track "Thirteen Women" for the very first time.
The B-side blues
In the end, there were just 40 minutes left for two takes of the B-side, the song "Rock Around the Clock." Although it had already been recorded in March by Haley's friend and fellow musician Sonny Dae and his Knights, it belonged to Haley's repertoire, and he insisted on doing his own version.
But on April 12, 1954, something was off. The instruments were drowning out Bill Haley's voice, leaving him sounding too quiet. There were just 20 minutes of studio time left to repeat the recording. This time, sound technician Larry McIntire just recorded Haley's voice and later mixed it with the first take. The single's A-side landed at number 23 on the pop charts but soon plummeted.
Discovered by accident
Radio stations didn't play B-sides at the time. "Rock Around the Clock" was on the verge of being forgotten, were it not for die-hard Haley fans such as Peter Ford, the son of the famous Hollywood actor Glenn Ford.
One day, director Richard Brookes, who was working on his film "Blackboard Jungle" about rebellious youth and their understanding teacher, stopped at the house of his star during a break. Peter Ford was absolutely mesmerized by Haley's B-side, which he had cranked up full blast. The filmmaker quickly recognized the song's potential.
Brookes decided to put "Rock Around the Clock" in his movie, securing the rights from Decca Records for just one dollar.
The film hit American theaters on March 19, 1955 and became a hit around the world. "Rock Around the Clock" also became a charts smash, staying at number one for over eight weeks. Decca released the track again in the summer of 1955, this time as an A-side.
Inspired by the tune's success, Columbia released the film "Rock Around the Clock," which catapulted its title song into the charts in countries around the globe. Rock 'n' roll as a global phenomenon had been born - later becoming the sound of a rebellious youth movement that protested against racial segregation in the US, discrimination against political dissenters and the rigid social world of their parents' generation.
The song went over the counter 200 million times, and at least 40 cover versions have been recorded. "Rock Around the Clock" may just be one of the most widely distributed works in music history.