On this date: “Rock Around the Clock” goes global

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Oct. 26–the date fails to register widespread significance. However, a little research on what happened on this date reveals that the date proved important in regard to popular music. On Oct. 26, 1958, Bill Haley & His Comets made rock ‘n’ roll history by bringing the genre where it had not gone before.

Rock ‘n’ roll: early days

In 1958, rock ‘n’ roll was still young, and still suspected of being an agent of moral decay. It was not clear that the genre was “here to stay” as a classic rock song would proclaim.

In the 1950s, rock ‘n’ roll was preached against and Elvis Presley’s hips had to be hidden by a giant black bar, to protect the innocence of television viewers.

Teddy

So much that Americans associate with essential Americana is rooted in the 1950s: drive-ins, sock hops, classic cars and saddle shoes are among the artifacts of the time that are linked to rock ‘n’ roll.

Bill Haley & His Comets

Bill Haley & His Comets performed in West Berlin, Germany for a crowd of several thousands. A riot ensued. It is largely believed that the group’s performance was the first rock concert in West Berlin.

In some respects, the story here is that rock ‘n’ roll was making its presence felt globally. The other story is that Bill Haley & His Comets at that point had to their credit a string of hits, including the iconic, “Rock Around the Clock.”

“Rock Around the Clock” was actually a cover song for the long-running band. It had been recorded by Sunny Dae in 1952. Whatever success Dae might have had with the song, Bill Haley & His Comets seemed to have surpassed. The latter band’s success might been the result of their version appearing in a movie called, “The Blackboard Jungle” about juvenile delinquents.

What isn’t discussed enough, are the interesting performance aspects that Bill Haley & His Comets brought to rock ‘n’ roll. Haley’s delivery has a vigorous roughness to it, that broadened the idea of what rock ‘n’ roll should sound like.

Further, the instrumentation incorporated elements of country and western and r&b. The combination of these styles established rock ‘n’ roll as both a hybrid form and distinct form of music.

Anyone who has seen the song performed in archival clips, or at least witnessed 1950s-themed dances in his or her hometown, can attest to the danceable beat of “Rock Around the Clock.” The lyrics are easy to remember, and the narrative is far from complex. The song’s engaging guitar work and straight-ahead rhythm made it a crowd favorite for years.

Bill Haley & His Comets made rock ‘n’ roll history in West Berlin, Germany by introducing the genre to the public there. But in the US, the group diversified the foundations of rock ‘n’ roll, and probably contributed to the form’s staying power, and that is significant.

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Dodie Miller-Gould is a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana. She has BA and MA degrees in English from Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, and an MFA in Fiction from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her research interests include popular music and culture, 1920s jazz, and blues, confessional poetry, and the rhetoric of fiction. She has presented at numerous conferences in rhetoric and composition, and creative writing. Her creative works have appeared in Tenth Muse, Apostrophe, The Flying Island, Scavenger's Newsletter and elsewhere. She has won university-based awards for creative work and literary criticism.

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