Bill Haley and the Comets were originally founded as the Saddlemen by then-country singer Bill Haley in 1952 and continued to perform until his death in 1981 with a rotating lineup that eventually came to include more than 100 other musicians at various points in the band’s career, notably Rudy Pompilli, Haley’s tenor saxophonist and guitar player Danny Cedrone. Mixing rhythm & blues with country and rockabilly as well as a heavy and fast backbeat, Bill Haley and the Comets are the archetypical 1950’s rock n’ roll band. Bill Haley and the Comets influenced groups as diverse as The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Pink Floyd and the Sex Pistols and have continued to tour in various incarnations to this day.
10. Rip it Up
First recorded by Haley’s contemporary, Little Richard in 1956 and released in the same year, this energetic early rock and roll song combines their country roots with Richard’s blues roots. “Rip it Up,” was one of the first straight rock and roll songs to chart, rather than a sped up R&B or country cover. “Rip it Up,” was also covered by Elvis Presley, Gene Vincent and Chuck Berry just to name a few. Bill Haley’s version reached number 25 on the billboard charts in the US and number 4 in the UK. Haley’s version was the most popular next to Little Richard’s and the two of them appeared together the same year in the early rock film Don’t Knock the Rock which is named after another early Comets song.
9. Rock The Joint
Originally a boogie song, “Rock The Joint,” was written by Harry Crafton, Wendell “Don” Keane, and Doc Bagby, Haley’s version is widely considered to be one of the first real rockabilly songs, combining his background as a country musician with a heavy blues influence to create his early rock and roll sound, augmented with energetic slap bass from Al Rex and electric guitar by Danny Cedrone, who would go on to play the solo on “Rock Around the Clock,” before his untimely death in 1954.
8. Rudy’s Rock
One of the first rock and roll instrumental singles to ever be released, Rudy’s Rock was written by Bill Haley and his best friend and Comet’s. saxophone player, Rudy Pompilli. It has an upbeat, catchy sound typical of the Comets, but instead of Haley’s vocals, Rudy’s Rock is dominated by Pompilli’s saxophone playing, including an extended sax solo as well as an early drum solo performed by Ralph Jones. It appeared in Rock Around the Clock, the first movie to feature Haley and the Comets.
7. Razzle Dazzle
This early rock and roll song was written by Charles Calhoun in 1955 and recorded by Bill Haley and the Comet’s later that year. Unlike his earlier songs which tended to be covers of country or blues songs, Razzle Dazzle was written as a rock and roll song, with a backbeat and sax riffs marking an important step in the evolution of the genre from country and jump blues to rockabilly and finally rock and roll.
6. Crazy Man, Crazy
The first hit by Bill Haley and the Comets, “Crazy Man, Crazy,” propelled the band to stardom. It was an original, rockabilly style song composed by Haley and the first rock and roll song to chart nationally as well as the first rock song to ever be televised. It featured a rowdy chorus with group vocals and is generally considered to be the first true rock and roll single. It was also one of three songs to be featured on Roundup of Rhythm, the first ever movie to feature rock and roll music.
5. Skinny Minnie
Composed and released in 1958 by Bill Haley, Rusty Keefer, Milt Gabler and Catherine Cafra, “Skinny Minnie,” was one of Haley’s later 1950’s hits and has a pure, rock and roll sound to it as Haley moved further from his country and blues roots and settled into his own specific sound. At that time Franny Beecher was on lead guitar, Rudy Pompilli on tenor sax, Billy Williamson on steel guitar, Johnny Grande on piano, Ralph Jones on drums and Al Rex on the slap bass.
4. Rocket 88
This song was written by Jackie Brenston, Ike Turner’s saxophone player, in 1951 and recorded by Bill Haley later that year. It was based on a 12 bar rhythm and blues format and was Haley’s first real foray into playing rock and roll music after performing country music with an early incarnation of the Comets as Bill Haley and the Saddlemen. It combined the blues with Haley’s country background to form an updated, rockabilly sound for the song that favoured saxophone and a fast backbeat over lap steel guitar.
3. See You Later, Alligator
First written and recorded in 1955 by rhythm and blues artist, Bobby Charles, Bill Haley’s more upbeat and energetic version was recorded the following year and became a top ten hit, selling over a million copies and turning “see you later, alligator” into a popular catchphrase. The Comet’s version became the most well-known and featured their trademark high energy performances, slap bass and sax heavy sound over a classic 12 bar R&B structure.
2. Shake, Rattle & Roll
Written in 1954 and first recorded by the blues artist Big Joe Turner, “Shake Rattle & Roll,” is Haley’s second most popular recording and the Comets released their own version of the song that same year. Like many early rock and roll songs it uses a 12 bar blues format, however Haley’s version is much livelier than Turner’s, especially with the inclusion of the Comet’s trademark guitar, slap bass, call and response saxophone based sound and full group vocals. The lyrics of the song are sexually suggestive and several are altered on Haley’s version to make it past the censors.
1. Rock Around the Clock
The number one selling rock & roll single of all time, “Rock Around the Clock,” defined the sound of 1950’s rock music and shaped the direction of the entire genre. Written in 1952 by Max C. Freedman and James E. Meyers and recorded by Bill Haley and the Comets in 1954, this track is a sped up 12 bar blues song with elements reminiscent of earlier country music vocal melodies but with a steady, rock n’ roll back beat, bluesy guitar solo and saxophone adding entirely new dimensions.
This single turned Bill Haley and the Comets into a household name and it became so popular that it wove itself into American culture, first appearing in the opening credits to Blackboard Jungle and spawning its own 1956 movie starring Haley, also called Rock Around the Clock. Subsequently the song appeared in the later film American Graffiti, as well as the famous 70’s sitcom, Happy Days and it is the only song ever to appear on the charts in five consecutive decades.
Author Jack Blare is a published poet whose work can be found on Amazon.
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