Contrary to popular belief, "Rock Around the Clock" by Bill Haley and the Comets was not the first rock 'n' roll record to be recorded. In fact, it wasn't even Bill Haley's first rock 'n' roll record. "Rock Around the Clock" was, however, the first ever rock 'n' roll song to hit the number one spot on the pop charts. It transformed rock from a novelty and curiosity to a dominant force in popular music. It paved the way for the brilliance of Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Buddy Holly, and of course, Elvis Presley.
And it almost never happened.
In fact, if it wasn't for the musical taste of one teenage boy, the song that made rock 'n' roll cool might have disappeared into obscurity, opening the door for popular music evolution to travel down a completely different path.
When Bill Haley recorded "Rock Around the Clock," his producer insisted on slapping the song on the B-side of the record. For anyone who doesn't know, the B-side of almost any record is the lesser important side. It is traditionally reserved for experimental songs, halfhearted instrumentals, and throwaways. In other words, the B-side is usually "filler."
Selected for the A-side was a song called "Thirteen Women (and Only One Man in Town)." Know it? Of course not. No one does.
Having spent most of their studio time on the A-side, Bill Haley and his session band had only 40 minutes to arrange "Rock Around the Clock." Session guitarist Danny Cedrone just used a guitar solo he'd already used on previous records. The band ground out the soon-to-be-legendary song in just two takes.
As a great piece of trivia, I have to add one irrelevant, but fascinating, true factoid. As Bill Haley and his band recorded "Rock Around the Clock," a young African-American singer waited outside for his turn, next, at the mike, to do some recording of his own. Who was that next young singer to record after "Rock Around the Clock" was cut? Sammy Davis, Jr.
"Thirteen Women (and Only One Man in Town)" was released and barely touched the lower reaches of the charts before quickly disappearing from American culture. And that's where our story would have ended, if it weren't for a teenage boy named Peter Ford.
Peter's father was the popular actor Glenn Ford. Glenn was about to star in a gritty film called Blackboard Jungle. It was the story of a teacher (Ford) trying to cope with a classroom filled with tough juvenile delinquents, led by a young Sidney Poitier. (In another classic example of Hollywood's "age cheating," Sidney Poitier, the angry delinquent high school kid, was actually 28 when he appeared in the film.)
Ford and the producers decided that they needed some music in the film that represented what the kids were listening to. Hmmm... Glenn Ford had a teenage son, so they decided to raid Peter Ford's record collection. "Rock Around the Clock" filled the bill perfectly. They set the opening and closing credits to the song.
Blackboard Jungle was released on March 25, 1955. The movie and the song both proved to be smash hits. Kids flocked to the theater, but for an unprecedented reason: they came not to watch the film, but to hear its theme song play in the credits. In England, there were actually teenage riots where Blackboard Jungle played, as young "teddy boys" (English for tough gang members) would often rip out seats from the theater.
"Rock Around the Clock": and rock 'n' roll inevitably became associated with youth and rebellion. After it was hastily reissued as an A-side, "Rock Around the Clock" shot to number one on the charts. It stayed there for eight weeks.
The song would go on to sell 25 million copies, making it the biggest-selling rock 'n' roll record of all-time, outselling any record ever issued by the Beatles, Elvis, the Rolling Stones, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Little Richard, or any British Invasion group.
"Rock Around the Clock" is actually the fourth biggest-selling record of all time, behind Bing Crosby's "Silent Night."