People of my generation know “(We’re Gonna) Rock Around the Clock” as the theme song to Happy Days. Bill Haley rerecorded it for the show’s first season, but his original 1954 recording was later used once the show was syndicated. This is a perfect rock and roll song, so simple yet eloquent when you think about it, because it explains how kids felt about this brand new music.
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
Put your glad rags on and 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 till broad daylight.
We’re gonna rock, gonna rock
Around the clock tonight
Every generation wants music to call their own. But there really was something different about rock and roll, something more dangerous than previous generations of parents thought jazz and blues music were. Looking at pictures of Bill Haley and His Comets, it is difficult to imagine why anyone thought these plaid-coated nerds would lead their children down the path of decadence and crime. But if you consider the fact that this music became popular during the Cold War when Americans were afraid of anything and everything that was different, it makes a bit more sense. Rock music was giving kids ideas about freedom and independence and sexuality that they had never understood before.
“(We’re Gonna) Rock Around the Clock” was also the theme song to the 1955 film Blackboard Jungle, which highlighted the growing concern over juvenile delinquency. This association added to the growing anti-rock sentiment expressed by many adults. Can music create juvenile delinquents? Can it create good citizens? The debate over the influence of the arts—whether it’s movies, TV, music, or video games—on youth has been going on for decades. We all have free will, and we can take positive or negative influences from pretty much anything. Rock and roll has been one of the major positive influences on my life. Many people have been saved by it. It’s given millions of human beings around the world reason to live. What would the world be like without rock and roll?
This is one of the best rock songs in history, definitely in my top 10, despite the fact that Rolling Stone ranked it at 159 on its list of the 500 greatest songs of all time. I’m not sure what they were smoking when they decided that. Bill Haley is one of the most important figures in early rock history, though he is only mentioned in the same breath as Elvis and Chuck Berry by a few experts. That’s a shame. His shows created a frenzy before Elvis ever swiveled his hips in front of a crowd. I was an Elvis fan before I knew about Bill Haley, but when I started studying rock history when I was a child I learned about him and his place in the formative years of the music. As a historian I am always looking deeper to find the roots of whatever it is I am studying. Bill Haley and His Comets helped plant the original seeds of the rock and roll tree.